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Critical Moments

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This week’s Broadway sermon will be devoted in part to a faintly erudite discussion of five new legitimate arrivals in which you will find only a trace of carping. I refer to “Roll Sweet Chariot,” “Spring Song,” “Divided By Three,” “The First Legion” and “Continental Varieties.”


To those interested in things Jewish, Bella and Samuel Spewack’s play, “Spring Song,” (Morosco Theatre) holds forth the greatest attraction, not only because of its almost “all Jewish” cast, but because of its theme— the old struggle of modernism versus orthodoxy.

In “Spring Song,” the authors have gone to the East Side for their setting and have peopled their play with familiar characters. This realistic touch adds to the enjoyment of the piece. The story concerns Florrie Solomon (Francis Larrimore), a young, vital, though flighty, creature who in a moment of recklessness has a sexual affair with her sister’s (Frieda Altman) fiance, a young doctor.

Although Florrie has a sweetheart of her own, a travelling salesman (Sam Levene), she cannot resist the impulse to make love to the doctor (Sam Mann). Her indiscretion results in pregnancy. Florrie’s mother (Helen Zelinskaya) when she learns what has happened rushes to the Rabbi and he, faithful to the religious laws, advise# Florrie’s marriage to the doctor. The mother insists upon this ceremony which, of course, has a tragic effect not only upon the life of Florrie, but also upon the existence of her sister, mother and the two suitors.

With this framework, the Spewacks have fashioned a sincere honest moving play that escapes by a safe margin the label of maudlin sentimentality. Its only weakness lies in its lack of timeliness. In these days few mothers, especially one who did not dominate her children’s lives, could force a daughter into the situation set down on the stage of the Morosco. But the acting is so fine, warm and understanding, the directing so true and realistic, that you will still enjoy “Spring Song,” despite the fact that it pictures something which has become foreign to Jewish life in New York today.


“Roll, Sweet Chariot,” Paul Green’s symphonic play about negroes, is one of the most unusual things to come to Broadway since Gertrude Stein’s opera, “Three Saints in Four Acts.” Like that strange fantasy of jumbled lyrics, it should find a ready response from the intellectuals who do not care “to see what they see when they see it.”

The cast is composed of negroes, the action in the play is continuous and there is no intermission. The actors talk, sing and dance their lines and throughout the performance a hidden negro choir supplies a background of musical effects. “Roll” is a symbolic play built around the arrival at Potter’s Field, a negro quarter, of John Henry. If you know your negro folk lore you will recognize John Henry as the all-powerful, enormously strong negro who could perform legendary feats of strength. Paul Green makes his John Henry into a faker, an escaped convict posing as a preacher who walks into this little community of negroes and disrupts their lives so that there is a murder and finally the destruction of the community itself. The ###scene finds most of the char### by John Henry, on a ###ain gang digging their way forward to a goal of true emancipation.

As John Henry, Warren Coleman gives a superb performance. Frank Wilson as a carefree laborer; Dorothea Archie as the wife of another escaped convict who comes home to break up her love affair; Lucian Ayres as the blinded worker, and Lloyd Horton as the hysterically religious boy were especially outstanding but the rest of the cast also earned a share of the applause. The orchestral score by Dolphe Martin was impressive and beautiful. The directing, a difficult task, was intelligently executed by Emsjo Basshe who was assisted by Stauley Pratt. “Roll Sweet Chariot” is something that should be seen and heard. If you are interested I would suggest that you get to the Cort Theatre as soon as possible. It is unlikely that it will run very long.


Margaret Leech, who has written novels and is the wife of Ralph Pulitzer, and Beatrice Kaufman, whose husband, George, is not entirely unknown in the theatre belt, have proven to their respective mates that they can do things in their own right. At the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, their play, “Divided By Three,” is offered as proof of this ability.

“Divided By Three” is a problem play, the problem being what should a woman (Judith Anderson) do when she finds that she must divide her time, attention and affection among three men, her husband, her young son just home from college, and her lover? The ladies, Leech and Kaufman, offer no pat solution but they unfold a tale that is extremely fascinating to watch. The son, played very well by James Stewart, discovers his mother’s infidelity. Her lover (James Rennie) is one of those strong-willed wealthy men who helps his mistresses’ business ventures. She tries to explain this to the boy but he will have none of it, slaps her face and departs from the house. What eventually happens makes it all seem very real and natural. “Divided By Three” is not great drama but it will do until some does come along.


“The First Legion,” a play by Emmet Lavery which is housed at the Forty-Sixth Street Theatre, is nearly an exceptionally good play. Its extensive verbosity slows it up but even at that it remains a pleasant theatrical stroll. In its eleven scenes it tells of the happenings among a group of Jesuit priests, some of whom are intensely religious while others are inclined to scoff at dogmatic belief. There is a fake miracle which is exposed but finally a real miracle is enacted and all ends with Faith triumphant. An all-male cast acts with dignity and conviction.


Arch Selwyn and Harold Franklin have brought a typical Paris “variety” show to the Little Theatre and now that American vaudeville has been indecently buried by the talkies and the radio, there should be a steady stream of patrons wending their way to the newly-decorated theatre.

“Continental Varieties” is really vaudeville in evening clothes. The slapstick comedian is missing, the playlet is absent, the trained seals are being fed fish somewhere else, but vaudeville itself remains intact. Lucienne Boyer, favorite of the Parisiene music halls sing her songs with an appealing charm and grace; Escudero dances steps never before seen on a stage; the Sacre Monte Gypsy orchestra from the caves of Granada plays both soulfully and hot; De Rose, with nothing more than a pitcher filled with water, performs magical miracles; Raphael demonstrates what can be done in the way of music via a concertina; Carmita whirls through a dance routine with caprice and skill and through it all, Nikita Balieff acts as master-of-ceremonies in a delightful misuse of English as we speak it. “Continental Varieties” is sheer entertainment. You will like it.


“Power,” a Gaumont British production directed by Lothar Mendes and adapted from the novel by Lion Feuchtwanger is the current picture at the Music Hall. I expect to write at some length about it in Tuesday’s colmun. The Strand offers an adaptation of Willa Cather’s famous novel, “Lost Lady.” It is not an unusually good picture and has little of the feeling of spirit of the novel … King Vidor’s picture, (he wrote, directed and produced it himself). “Our Daily Bread,” is at the Rialto and it is one of the best things done in months….”Peck’s Bad Boy” is at the Roxy. … The holdovers for this week are “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” at the Capitol, “Count of Monte Cristo” at the Rivoli, “Thunderstorm” at the Cameo and “Belle of the Nineties” at the Paramount.


The D’Oyle Carte Opera Company will offer for the first half of the week “Cox And Box” and “The Pirates of Penzance.” The second half of the week, which commences on Thursday evening will be devoted to “Patience” and it will be the first presentation of this operetta in this country by the troupe. This opera was not originally included in the repertory but it being given by public demand, and this is one time when the announcement of “by public demand” really means something.

Mickey Mouse celebrated his sixth birthday on October 1st. This animated creation of Walter Disney was first flashed on a screen six years ago; since that day Mr. Disney has become a millionaire and Mickey Mouse a household word the world over…

The American Children’s Theatre has finally gotten underway with its first production, “The Chinese Nightingale,” at the Theatre of Young America, Columbus Circle….

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