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Critical Moments

Those who are keeping an anxious eye out for signs indicating the lifting of the depression should not overlook Broadway. By last night’s count no fewer than thirty theatres, exclusive of the moving picture houses, were ablaze with electric lights, each announcing some theatrical attraction. Furthermore I gather from the releases that come each day from the diligent press agents that there are fifty-four new productions in the offing, most of them planning premieres before the year 1934 ends. Broadway statisticians put forth the claim that this is the best record the Theatrical Belt has made since those balmy and yearned-after 1929 days.

THE WEEK’S NEW SHOWS

This past week’s openings, and I do not include the opera and the D’Oyly Carte troupe, include, “A Sleeping Clergy,” “Order Please,” “Briday Quilt” and Green Sticks.” Of this quartet, three of them can be disposed of with little comment. “Order Please’ at the Playhouse is another mystery play called by its author, Edward Childs Carpenter, a “comedy with murder.” It really isn’t bad, if you like that sort of thing, but it can be missed with impunity.

The Provincetown Playhouse, once a force in things dramatic, offers “Green Sticks” as its bid for new recognition. This drama by Jay Doten will do little good to attract attention from Broadway. It is a dismal, unreal play about the descendants of New England sailors, all of whom (the descendants) go, what appears to be, willingly mad.

Tom Powers, well known as an actor, made his Broadway debut with a play at the Biltmore called “Bridal Quilt.” It is one of those improbable, unreal stories about an uncouth Kentucky mountaineer and the elite society woman who having been befriended by him in his native haunts, invites him to visit her in her palatial New Jersey manor. Of course his arrival gives the author a chance to do the old “fish out of water” act again.

THE GUILD’S CLERGYMAN

The Theatre Guild, which produced James Bradie’s play “A Sleeping Clergyman” at its own theatre, seems to be the Guild once again. For the first time in too many seasons they have not been guided entirely by the “hit” possibilities in a production but strangely enough I believe that they will make the piece pay. It will find many supporters and at the same time there will be dissenters as to its merit. Such a situation causes talk and that is what sends people to plays.

The author is a Scotch physician (by the way what is there in the practice of medicine in Scotland that turns so many of its practioners to writing?) who uses his medical knowledge as a background for a play that is both dramatic and forceful.

In plot, “Clergyman” concerns three generations of a family. Glenn Anders and Ruth Gordon act a part in each generation. The play opens in Glasgow in the year 1867 when a young medical student (Anders) who is suffering from consumption, seduces the sister (Miss Gordon) of his best friend. The student dies before he has discovered a cure for tuberculosis and the girl he has seduced passes away in childbirth, leaving a daughter behind. The baby grows up and after a hectic career gives birth to twins, a girl and a boy. Both of them are unrestrained and always getting into trouble but before the play is over, the boy discovers a cure for a plague and the girl becomes a dignified woman of intellect.

The title, “The Sleeping Clergy-man,” is derived symbolically from a clergyman character who is shown in the two prologues, sleeping peacefully in the clubrooms while the members discuss what has happened and will happen to the other characters.

There is a great deal more to the play than the mere theatrical plot. The discussions about politics, science and sociology are sometimes brilliant and always worth listening to. The acting, especially that of Mr. Anders and Miss Gordon is full, warm and vibrant. Theodore Newton, Harry Mestayer and a large cast are also to be commended for their fine work. “The Sleeping Clergyman” is honest, sincere drama.

THE CINEMA

The pictures that will be talked about this week will be “Now and Forever,” at the Paramount; “The Merry Widow,” at the Astor; “Judge Priest,” at the Music Hall, and “Happiness Ahead,” at the Strand. In addition, “Wake Up and Dream” will be at the Mayfair and “The Case of the Howling Dog” is the attraction at the Rialto.

I haven’t seen all these pictures yet (the thought is a little disturbing) but I can report that you will like Warner Brothers’ “Happiness Ahead” in which Josephine Hutchinson and Dick Powell are co-starred. It is a typical Warner musical, filled with good tunes and pretty faces. The plot might be labeled “a millionaire girl among the window cleaners.”

“The Merry Widow,” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s further attempt to force Maurice Chevalier down the hearts of film fans will, I am afraid, be futile. Gorgeously arrayed, the picture lacks the subtlety it deserves. It is the same Lehar story of the great lover in the mythical kingdom who is sent to Paris to lure back the merry wealthy widow who has left the country and caused a corresponding loss to the nation in taxes. Jeanette MacDonald, a lovely looking lady, plays the merry widow and sings surprisingly well. Chevalier is, as he always is, Chevalier. However “Merry Widow” is so lavish a production and the music is so catchy that as a film it is not devoid of some entertainment value.

As for the Will Rogers picture, “Judge Priest,” I will have to let you down. I cannot divorce Mr. Rogers in print from his nasal drawl in the films. I am afraid that as a screen star I might judge him as a writer and vice versa. “Judge Priest” is adapted from some of Irvin Cobb’s stories and concerns the exploits of a not too literate southern judge. The love interest is not supplied by Mr. Rogers.

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