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Critical Moments

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The event of the week theatrically was the opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre of Noel Coward’s very latest drama, “Point Valaine,” in which Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt and Osgood Perkins play the leading roles, and play them very well. It is unfortunate that this able trio were not given a better play on which to lavish their talents.

“Point Valaine,” with its setting in the Caribbean, is the story of what happens in a tropical hotel when love runs amuck. It seems that Stefan (Alfred Lunt) is an amorous, brutal waiter — a great lover and somewhat of a beast. He is very much taken with the forty-year-old im-keeper, Linda (Lynn Fontanne), who seems to object but slightly to the attention of Stefan. But one day she finds a young aviator who is recovering from an accident. Linda believes that a change of lovers will do her no harm and then she feels that she needs more than the brutal lust (strong words) of Stefan. Her affair with this young man has terrific repercussions. Stefan becomes violent and alternately chokes and caresses Linda. Finally he cuts his own wrists and tosses himself into the sea.

You must admit that the foregoing sounds pretty melodramatic but the extremely sensitive and intelligent acting of the principals saves it from banality. Of course, Mr. Coward is an able and clever dramatist and he has written enough brilliant dialogue to take the edge off his plot. Yet, after all is said and played and although there are moments of great intensity, “Point Valaine” lacks the spark of conviction and reality that lifts a play to greatness.

PRIESTLEY’S GROVE

The work of another Englishman was presented during the week when Gilbert Miller, in association with Milton Shubert, brought over from London, where it enjoyed a long run, J. B. Priestley’s “Laburnum Grove” and set it down on the stage of the Booth Treatre.

Mr. Priestley, whose novels are bought in great numbers in this country, displays a lighter side in this mystery play in which the comic element far outdistances the other ideas of the author—that is, if he had any other ideas. Anyway, it is all very delightful, amusing and rather entertaining. Edmund Gwenn, who plays the role of a prosperous gentleman of impeccable tastes living quietly in a London suburb, is a fine comedian whose work is a delight to the audience.

As “Laburnum Grove” is a mystery it would be unethical to tell you exactly what happens. You may know that the prosperous gentleman, mentioned above, finds himself saddled with a brother-in-law and sister-in-law who wish to borrow money from him. He tells them that his wealth comes from counterfeiting activities. What transpires after that makes Mr. Priestley’s play something for your amusement.

FLY AWAY HOME

“Fly Away Home,” which faced Broadway at the Forty-eighth Street Theatre, is also a comedy but there is enough substance in it to satisfy those who demand a little thought with their entertainment. The work of Dorothy Bennett and Irving White, it is a rollicking, robust, yet provocative tale about modern children and their views on life. Specifically, “Fly Away Home” recounts the experiences of a father who learns the facts of life, as they are quaintly called, from his children.

It seems that twelve years before (stage time) Mother had divorced Father because he was domineering. The children were allowed to bring themselves up without the influences of parental care. New Mother wishes to remarry and being broadminded, she invites Papa home for the wedding. It is at this point that he meets his children again and the shock nearly drives him to apoplexy—not the mere meeting but his attempt to understand the youngsters.

Thomas Mitchel, as the father, is convincing. His reaction to his children’s casual views on all the things he held sacred make fine theatre. The children, of whom there seem to be a great many, are equally believable.

CREEPING FIRE

“Creeping Fire,” a melodrama by Marie Baumer which opened at the Vanderbilt Theatre, might better be titled “Everything Goes” because before the evening is over just about everything that could happen in a melodrama does happen. About the only thing missing is the girl tied to the railroad track.

Desite its high color, “Creeping Fire” is first-rate melodrama. The story it tells smacks of O’Neill yet never loses the flavor of the old thrillers. A young son falls in love with his stepmother but she, dear girl, loves her husband yet has room in her heart for her husband’s best friend. The son knows this and plans violent deeds. A dynamiter by profession, he blows up the cave in which his stepmother’s lover is supposed to be working. But unfortunately the lover is home with Ma, while Pa is in the cave with some other men. The remainder of the play shows how the friend, filled with remorse, digs Pa out of the wreckage. Finally Pa dies but not before he vindicates the lover, accuses his son of murder and cements to his widow’s impending nuptial.

THE CINEMA

Three “big” pictures came to Broadway this week-end. “Clive in India,” with Roland Colman at the Rivoli; “David Cooperfield,” with W. C. Fields at the Capitol, and “Romance in Manhattan,” with Ginger Rogers and Francis Lederer at the Music Hall. This is the most promising line-up in weeks. “Lives of a Bengal Lancer” holds over for another week at the Paramount. Starting Monday at the Astor, the latest Charlie Chan picture “Charlie Chan in Paris” will get under way. Advance reports on this are also laudatory.

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