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Critical Moments

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Perhaps it was the energy expended in holiday shopping or else New York was simply in a state of deep apathy but regardless of the cause very few theatrical attractions enjoyed what is satirically called a gala week. Not only was there a dearth of attendance at the already established plays but even the new productions failed to attract amusement hunters into the Times Square area.

Added to this almost enthusiastic neglect of things theatrical there was also a number of postponements. Instead of six new plays opening only three—”Valley Forge,” “Sailors of Cattaro” and “Calling All Stars”—found themselves ready for action.

I told you with some fervor of the excellency of “Sailors of Cattaro” which the Theatre Union is presenting at the Civic Repertory Theatre. On second thought I still believe that it is a vital, exciting and enthralling spectacle, but I must warn you of the let-down you will experience in the second and last act of Friedrich Wolf’s play about the sailors who almost succeeded in casting off their oppressors.


The first act is all action and the audience follows with close interest the planning of the mutiny and the capture of the ship by the sailors, but when the author attempts to explain how and why the revolt fails he slows up the action.

In the first act he is a playwright who burns with a zeal to expose the injustice and stupidity of the ruling class. Here he can attack things that are palpably unfair and he is at his best, but when it comes time to picture the disintegration of the high feeling the sailors hold towards their superior officers and show the men who live in the forecastle divided by petty bickering, he drops his role of advocate and becomes just a trifle pedantic. He slowly dissects the emotion of these men and points out their failings and inability to recognize some of the basis principles of a successful revolt. His method smacks too much of after-thinking. Perhaps, if Mr. Wolf had pitched his first act in a lower register the difference between his first and second acts would not have been so noticeable. However, despite this fault which keeps “Sailors of Cattaro” from being a truly great play, it is still something very much worth seeing.


Maxwell Anderson whose list of successful plays has reached alarming proportions has helped the ego of other playwrights by writing “Valley Forge” which the Theatre Guild presented at its own theatre the other night. For a time the other boys and girls who write for the stage were becoming pretty discouraged by Mr. Anderson’s hits, and ability to win prizes, but with “Valley Forge,” his thirteenth effort, he proves that he is no superman and can bow down with the least of them.

“Valley Forge,” following the historical tradition of Mr. Anderson’s “Mary of Scotland,” is not a really bad play. Mr. Anderson could not write a completely indifferent play, but it is far from being something that will excite you. As his locale Mr. Anderson has chosen Valley Forge in 1778 where George Washington and his ragged army of patriots had boarded themselves up for the Winter. Things were in bad shape, what with the Continental Congress playing politics and the people not entirely sure they wanted to break away from Great Britain. Washington was having his worst moments and Mr. Anderson was confronted with the problem of creating a living Washington and showing how he meet the crisis.


Sad to relate the Washington that Mr. Anderson offers the subscribers of the Guild turns out to be as unreal a character as you will find on the stage and this despite the fine acting of Philip Merivale. Instead of presenting a man he has made his Washington in the image of Parson Weems, a saint-like general who is worshipped in the school rooms. Mr. Anderson has created a stuffy fellow for whom you feel no sympathy because you instinctively know no such man ever lived.

The lighter and better moments in the play are supplied by the minor characters who strike a responsive cord because they are fashioned into very modern soldiers, the kind who swear and quarrel among themselves and wonder what they are fighting for. They show the same disgust with war as the characters in Anderson’s great play “What Price Glory.”


At the Hollywood Theatre the new musical “Calling All Stars” finally arrived. At this writing I have yet to see Lew Brown’s production but I am told that Lou Holtz has not lost his ability to convulse his audience with his dialect stories and that Phil Baker and his stooges are still able to cause giggles. Others in the cast are Gertrude Niessen, Mitzi Mayfair which means that there is some dancing, Everett Marshall and Jack Whiting. Harry Askt wrote the music and Lew Brown and Dorian Otvos supplied the lyrics.


The Newspaper Guild of New York will sponsor a benefit performance Sunday night at the St. James Theater, donated by Eddie Dowling whose new revue, “Thumbs Up,” comes to that house Christmas week. The entire proceeds of the benefit, the first given by the Newspaper Guild, will be turned over to a fund for the striking members of the Newark Ledger.

Heywood Broun and Mark Hellinger will act as masters of ceremonies and many stage, screen, and night club stars are scheduled to appear.

Tickets may be purchased at any Postal Telegraph office or at Joe Leblang’s, Forty-third street and Broadway. Prices range from one to three dollars.


Although Greta Garbo has been held over for a second week at the Capitol in “The Painted Veil” she has failed to draw the crowds usually present at her pictures…. Douglas Fairbanks, making a comeback in “The Private Life of Don Juan” at the Rivoli, was even more of a disappointment. The film itself is not any too strong and even though Fairbanks, who has passed the half century mark, is as agile as ever, he cannot carry the burden of the weak story. The Paramount holds “The President Vanishes” for a second week and business for this exciting and unusual film is building. “Flirtation Walk,” Warner {SPAN}#{/SPAN} idea of life at West Point in which Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell play the leads is being kept at the Stand for a third week. The new pictures include, “Music in the Air,” at the Music Hall. This one has Gloria Swanson and John Boles in it with music by Jerome Kern. “Hell in Heaven” is at the Mayfair and at the Astor, Victor Herbert’s “Babe’s in Toyland,” has opened for a special run.

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