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The Theater: Little Theater’s Big Hit

2 minute read

Los Angeles’ Beachwood Theater Studio holds 73 people. By last week it was shoe-horning in 85 every night—most of them Hollywood’s great. Its unpaid, unprofessional performers had a thundering hit on their hands, a vivid war play called Cry Havoc which Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has snagged for $10,000 and the Shuberts have snatched for Broadway.

Written by 35-year-old, Canadian-born Allan Kenward, an M.G.M. director of shorts, Cry Havoc has an all-female cast, tells of volunteer nurses huddled for weeks in a bomb shelter on Bataan. Its minimum of plot deals with the Fifth-Column finaglings of one of them. But Cry Havoc does not need much plot: it points a fierce picture of driving war, provides a grim drama of doomed women.

Playwright Kenward’s baker’s dozen of women is carefully—perhaps too carefully —varied: a hard-bitten doctor, her tough-as-leather assistant who lives on benzedrine, a hen-brained Southern girl, a vengeful English one, a onetime burlesque queen, a Brooklyn babe, an unconscious Lesbian. Under incessant gunfire, they grow jittery, wisecracking, quarrelsome, valiant. In the last tense scenes, as realistic bombs and anti-aircraft fire literally rock the theater and the audience, the Fifth Columnist holds the other girls at bay with a revolver after the shelter entrance is blocked. At the end the Japs drive them out of their shelter: a moment later comes the rat-tat-tat of machine guns.

Pink-cheeked Playwright Kenward has drifted about the West Coast for years, acting, teaching, directing. Visualizing women’s role in modern war, he wrote Cry Havoc (the title comes from Julius Caesar: “Cry ‘havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war!”) nearly three years ago with a different setting, shelved it, rewrote it after Bataan.

Started two years ago on a shoestring by Actor-Coach Vladimir Sokoloff, the Beachwood Theater Studio has tried out plays by such big names as Preston Sturges (Strictly Dishonorable) and Elliott Nugent (The Male Animal) with only mild success. With Cry Havoc it will move this month from its tiny stage to a full-sized Los Angeles theater.

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