As the Depression years of the 1930s descended on the world, American theater began to exude social concerns that were pro working class and political philosophies that were decidedly “left of center.” S.N. Behrman (1893-1973) approached the complicated social issues of the 1930s from a different angle. He chronicled the period from the witty and urbane viewpoint of the “privileged” classes as they desperately attempted to continue enjoying their privileges. One of Behrman’s most successful creations is the world-trotting, celebrity-devouring expatriate artist Marion Froude (Cynthia Merrill), the heroine of his 1932 Broadway hit, “Biography.”
Marion moves through all strata of society (whether it be among the emerging Russian proletariat or the insecure glitter mongers of Hollywood) with a genuine love of humanity and a sensuous nature that literally beams over all she favors and she can’t help favoring all. Cynthia Merrill is perfectly cast for the role. Unfortunately, most of her efforts are defeated by this flimsy Hollywood Theatre Club production.
Portrait artist Marion has returned to her Manhattan apartment with her ever-present maid and companion Minnie (Victoria Alonso
) in tow. The Depression has caught up with her and though her recent sojourn to Europe left her rich in adventure and experience, she is on the verge of financial collapse. Salvation arrives in the form of callow youth magazine editor
Richard Kurt (Squire Nichols), who offers a generous sum for Marion’s “tell-all” biography. Marion not only accepts the money, she eventually accepts the insufferable but idealistic Kurt as her lover.
It soon becomes apparent that Marion’s literary trip down memory lane is causing a fervor of controversy among lovers past and present. Everyone has a different agenda. Marion’s first love and now successful lawyer and senatorial candidate Leander Nolan (Jerry Neill) wants to prevent publication (some things never change). Film star Warwick Wilson (Richard Hill) only wants to make sure she spells his name right. The misanthropic Kurt wants the work to be a missile aimed at the heart of a society he detests.
Director Todd Mitchell Felderstein never successfully melds these elements of S.N. Behrman’s work to their comedic intent. Merrill radiates in vain about the stage but the pace of the action moves just slightly ahead of inertia. Scenes are never cleanly realized and at times allowed to just flounder to completion.
Adding to the problems is Squire Nichols’ less than adequate “acting” of the role of Richard Kurt. He cannot be believed as a man who could win the heart of Marion Froude.
Much more successful is Borah Silver as Marion’s friend, the composer Melchior Feydak. Though he tends to waltz in and out of his Viennese accent, Silver lends an endearing melancholy charm to the role of a failed musician who must assume his dead brother’s identity in order to find work.
Neill also has his moments as the insecure senatorial candidate Nolan, who is under the dictatorial thumb of financial backer and future father-in-law Orrin Kinnicott (Rowland Kerr). Barrie Page Davis offers an energetic but pouty presence as Slade Kinnicott. Victoria Alonso as a brooding maid Minnie and Richard Hill’s tiredly flamboyant movie star Warwick Wilson complete the ensemble.
The production design credits for this production go uncredited and deserve to be.
(Theatre Rapport; 65 seats; $ 14 top)
Crane Jackson's Theatre Rapport and the Hollywood Theatre Club present "Biography," a play in three acts by S.N. Behrman. Exec producer
, Crane Jackson; director, Todd Mitchell Felderstein. Costumes, George Jeffrey Garner, Meg Moynihan; stage manager, Beth Humphrey. Reviewed Nov. 21, 1992; runs through Dec. 12.
Marion Froude ... Cynthia Merrill
Richard Kurt ... Squire Nichols Leander Nolan ... Jerry Neill
Minnie ... Victoria Alonso
Feydak ... Borah Silver
Orin Kinnicott ... Rowland Kerr
Slade Kinnicott ... Barrie Page Davis
Warwick Wilson ... Richard Hill