I Dare Say – Christmas in January (1-14-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (January 14, 1944)


Christmas in January

By Florence Fisher Parry

New York –
The theater is my business when I’m in New York, so to the theater I hide, and let who will attend the exhibits, the concerts and the opera. If you have a week here with a dozen shows to cover, there’s little time left for the other arts.

Tired? Tired of show-doing? What a silly question. What physical exertion is employed in going to the theater I have always been at loss to imagine. One sits in a comfortable orchestra seat in pleasant darkness surrounded by civilized persons who keep quiet and mind their own business. At intermission one can limber one’s bones and partake of refreshment.

As for this employment taxing the brain, what call the current attractions can make upon the cerebral centers is beyond my powers to conjure.

Not the real McCoy

We had scarcely arrived here last Thursday morning when word came to us of the smash hit of Ruth Gordon in her very own play Over 21. I have already reported the enchantment we found in the matinee performance, albeit the comedy purported to show the “hardships” endured by the camp-following wives of our men in training, and succeeded only in giving us a glorified version of the real McCoy.

To returned wives, who have known what it was to live without plumbing, heat, refrigeration, electricity and even more basic conveniences, the “living room of 26D, Palmetto Court, Miami, Florida,” was a palatial Eden, and Miss Gordon’s Mainbocher wardrobe the war’s most cruel anachronism. But the comedy and its star and cast – directed with uncanny skill by George S. Kaufmann – is definitely my favorite of all the new pieces in town.

Because we would have had to stand to see it, we eschewed The Voice of the Turtle that same evening, hoping for a better break later in the week. As you know, this three-character comedy with Margaret Sullavan and Elliott Nugent playing the bemused kismetters is the smash comedy hit of the season, and it is to the everlasting credit of the “press” handling it that it has not gone to their heads, but that they continue to bend backward to assist the desperate out-of-town reporter who, perversely, MUST see only the hits for which no seats can be got at any price.

The temptation for press and box office to grow heady over a hit is one all too often yielded to, transforming the most affable box office into a kind of restrained Gestapo headquarters. Standing beside a certain box office the other night, a little heady over my own blessed fortune in being able to bag a rare two-on-the-aisle for a distinguished success, I overhead a customer say to the Lady-Behind-The-Window:

What YOU need, Miss, is another Depression!

The dusky Moor

We went that same night to see Early to Bed, for after such a prolonged run the assumption is that there must BE something there, and found it to have the most apt title of any show in town, full of broad buffoonery, bright dancing, dull innuendo and many, many costumed performers whose names on the program were as plentiful as upon the credit sheet of a super-movie.

It is not, to be quite frank, my kind of show, but the quantity-seekers will get their money’s worth, for had it been a circus it would have required four rings, not three with the sideshow and concert thrown in for good measure. There is always room and need, in New York, for exactly this kind of musical; and I recommend it heartily to the couple of whom I write yesterday, who didn’t, you remember, like Othello.

Which brings me to this highly-publicized and discussed prestige production of the season, the Theater Guild’s ambitious and unique Othello with the powerful Negro Paul Robeson as the dusky Moor. I shall give a fuller report of this production in Sunday’s column; suffice it to say here that I am resolved never again to accept the critical opinion of my betters when it comes to this most personal of all the arts, the theater.

Othello, as presented by the Theater Guild, is NOT the Othello of my strictest dreams. It is challenging, powerful, sensational and popular. But Paul Robeson, in my opinion, does not give a powerful or even distinguished performance; rather does he produce a sonorous and tragic figure of solitary and somehow touching inadequacy. His Othello commanded my pity, but never my admiration or deep homage.