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The Stage in Review

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Some playwrights use a feather #nd others swing a sledge-hammer #hen trying to make an impression. There may have been times #hen Albert Maitz, young Jewish #amatist, has been subtly persua#ve in denting the consciousness ### the playgoer, but when he wrote Black Pit” he must have been in very muscular mood.

For “Black Pit,” as put on by #e same Theatre Union which successfully produced those other #ard-hitting plays, “Stevedore” #nd “Sailors of Cattaro,” and at the same Civic Repertory Theatre, ### that kind of play.

It’s full of sledge-hammers figuratively swinging at one from #very corner of the large Four-teenth street stage and if the in#ocent purchaser of a ticket who has come in for a couple of hours amusement doesn’t look out he’s #pt to get in the way of a wild wing and come away with a dent.

To drop the metaphors, “Black Pit” is a not-so-effective bit of #ap-box drama. It concerns the #opeless, bitter, entirely just struggle of a group of miners in West Virginia “patch” against #e intolerable brutalities of ex#tence they are forced to endure #y grasping heartless mine#wners.Joe Kovarsky, played by Alan #axter, gets a three-year jail term in a false charge of dynamiting during a strike. Married on the #ve of being taken away to serve is sentence, he returns after his #ojourn in “stir” to find his brother #rippled by a mine accident, himself on the blacklist and a company union replacing the union #or which he had vainly fought. #unted from one job to another #y his blacklist record, Joe, with his wife about to become a mother #nd the whole family threatened with eviction unless he accepts an offer of the mine superintendent #o turn stool pigeon, turns traitor #o his mine buddies. For the sake of his dependents, he takes the #oin of Judas and he lives to regret it.

That’s the plot and that’s the #lay. There are brief moments in #t when one is moved by the tale of economic slavery that is un#olded in all its unadorned reality. But those moments are dimmed by a vast feeling of depression that engulfs the observer. A feeling that is probably engendered by the fact that there is little get-up in the blunt blows the dramatist tosses around with such #bandon.“Black Pit” is sheer propaganda. None can doubt the veracity of what Mr. Maltz has written. None out the most callous can doubt the #ustness of the cause in which he #s writing. But because he has been so unrelentingly realistic, so #plunt and so merciless in his pro#agonism, few who have not already been convinced of the undeniable rightness of the miners’ fight for human treatment will be other than mildly impressed.

What I mean to convey, if the reader hasn’t already gathered it, is that “Black Pit” might have been much more palatable if propelled at the public by a feather rather than a sledge-hammer. As it is, the public, which sometimes isn’t as dense as it is bruited to be, is very likely to come away with the impression that these miners are a grubby, grimy lot of people who don’t deserve too much consideration anyway—and that would be an entirely false and needlessly harsh view to carry away.

But for all that “Black Pit” is not altogether as black as it paints itself. Although the action is strident, brittle and lacking in that fluidity that makes for an enjoyable evening no matter what the subject, there are some rich, pithy characterizations.

The play is worth seeing, perhaps, from that point of view alone. Alan Baxter, who plays Joe Kovarsky as a strong guy gone spongy because of the wife and baby, does an excellent job. Wolfson delivers a corking performance as the crippled but game-to-the-last Tony Lakavitch. Millicent Green is fine as Iola, the American wife of Joe, who is responsible for Joe’s character retrogression. And one of the finest characterizations of the lot is that of the mine superintendent Prescott, done by Clyde Franklin.

H. W.

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