Critical Moments

"Don’t let the title "The Petrified Forest" (Broadhurst) fool you. It isn’t nearly as hard and fore-boding as it sounds. In fact Robbert Sherwood, whose "The Road to Rome" and "Reunion in Vienna," are still fondly remembered by those who appreciate satire, has again set down a wholly delightful, entirely enjoyable piece. This time, however, he has stayed at home and written a melodrama, a modern western, but if you expect one of those rip-snorting, gun-flashing (there is shooting) typical killers, you will be pleasantly surprised. Mr. Sherwood is too clever a playwright to indulge in such stagey stuff.

"The Petrified Forest" is, to put it vaguely, the story of what happens to an assorted group of characters collected around a gasoline station and lunch counter in a tiny town in Arizona when some gangsters who are escaping the law stop off for a bit of lunch. Actually not very much happens, but these two sets of characters have a strange effect upon each other. Before the sheriff’s posse arrives and the fireworks commence, they become engagingly autobiographic. Mr. Sherwood finds time to give you some very pertinent ideas about what Americans think.

His conclusions are exceedingly mature and not a little disturbing, especially to those who believe there is real security in complacency.

HOWARD GETS GOOD SUPPORT

Leading the cast is Leslie Howard, who as a thoroughly disillusioned young man trying to find some answer to the evasive question—what is life—again demonstrates that America has yet to produce an actor who can approach him in suaveness, smoothness and the ability to create an air in which you take for gospel any lines he speaks. Arthur Hopkins, who directed the production, has surrounded Mr. Howard with a bright, understanding cast.

Peggy Conklin, one of the three ladies in the entire cast, is particularly fine as the girl who hangs around the gas station and keeps the boys on their toes. The other, as E. E. Cummings would say "non-man," is played by that old favorite, Blanche Sweet, who gives an amusing characterization of an angry wife married to a boring gentleman of means.

Others in the play whose work stands out are Frank Milan, a college football player who can’t forget he was a hero. Walter Vonnegut as a member of the American Legion. Charles Dow Clark as the old man who talks too much, and Humphrey Bogart as the gangster who turns out to be a pretty good fellow after all.

"The Petrified Forest" will enjoy a long run. It should. It is well-conceived, well-acted, intelligently-directed and thoroughly fresh and engrossing. I hope you like the "surprise" ending a most unusual one.

THE OLD MAID

Zoe Akins, whose name is more familiar to readers of the printed page rather than to playgoers, has fitted Edith’s Wharton’s novel into a play which Harry Moses produced at the Empire Theatre the other night. The novel dealt with the problems of a mother, disappointed in love and whose husband has left her, who tries to hide this from her daughter. Such dramatic material may be fashioned into a moving drama, especially with Judith Anderson and Helen Menken in the cast, but something went wrong somewhere, with the result that "The Old Maid" emerges as a thin, brittle and tiresome play.

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