Excerpts from the reviews
“Mores are changing fast. Absurd dictators in remote foreign lands threaten the world’s peace . . . Even more interestingly, Behrman paints a portrait of three generations of intelligent women in transition . . . [But] the problem with this production is not so much that it lacks proper 30’s style, but that it lacks style at all. . . Director Kent Paul has literally removed the play from the drawing-room and removed the play’s wit in the bargain, [changing] the scene to a vast open terrace . . . it seems more like Monte Carlo than Maine . . .“ – Jacques LeSourd, Gannett Newspapers
“Flat, stale and unprofitable, both as staged and as written . . . Will the poor undergraduate marry the heiress? Will the young radicals get their magazine off the ground? Will the flighty heiress marry a fortune-seeker? Will that fortune-seeker marry the mother or the daughter? Who cares?. . . . Janet Zarish as the lead enlivens the proceedings . . . T. Ryder Smith is very effective in a small part . . . All told, ‘End of Summer’ has it’s moments, but they are too few in a long evening.” – Irene Backalenick, Backstage
A thoughtful, skillfully-wrought rendition . . . The Maxwell Parrish-style set with it’s haunting veranda and coastline always seems in the thrall of forces larger than life . . . T. Ryder Smith is excellent as the Russian lover . . . an outstanding cast that performs with admirable poise [and] clarity . . . “ – Michael Iachetta, The Enterprise
“Limply directed . . . the glue and emotional force around the whole – the message that it may well be the end of a long carefree summer for the wealthy – is left adrift . . . The fact that there is a plot . . . becomes the surprise of Act Three. . . .“ – Edward Burroughs, The Putnam Courier-Trader
New York Times, Alvin Klein – In a memoir published a year before his death, S. N. Behrman (1893-1973) wrote, “Comedy is the saving grace which makes life bearable.”
Graceful is the apt word for Behrman’s plays, a score of them. Mostly, they are concerned with the rich and the frivolous, but not the mindless. The playwright’s works epitomized drawing-room comedy, a genre that has been hopelessly out of fashion for more than three decades. The genre has had little impact on the American theater — serious playwrights don’t bother much with the privileged class — and it is rarely thought to be revivable.
Still, Behrman had a handle on morality and a perspective of the cosmic calamities of the 30’s, when his plays were in vogue. Listen to Paula Frothingham, the heiress in “End of Summer.” “I can’t help being rich; I didn’t ask for it,” Paula declares to her fiance, Will Dexter, a young radical who talks of bread lines and flophouses.
Now that Behrman’s plays (“The Second Man,” “No Time for Comedy,” “Biography”) have been relegated to the shelves, where are the inveterate theatergoers who saw “End of Summer” in 1936 or in 1974 as a Manhattan Theater Club production — the play’s only traceable professional New York staging.
Thus, one is beholden to the Phoenix Theater Company for bringing to light Behrman’s curio, which runs through next Sunday. The contrivances of “End of Summer” are dispatched from the drawing room and onto the veranda of Leonie Frothingham’s retreat on the coast of Maine, “a masculine Riviera,” as a sybaritic, parasitic house guest describes it. Outside or in, this is one of those settings where a butler delivers the telephone on a tray and stands by during the conversation. After all, someone has to hang up.
Leonie, Paula’s mother, has made a career of flirtation, someone remarks. Let a conversation wander and she will push it farther afield. “I adore irrelevancies,” she announces. Talk about finances, and she asks, “Where is escrow?”
But Leonie is good. And generous. Indeed, she is given to “impulsive altruism.” For Will, she will start a national magazine. “It never occurred to me that anyone would read it,” she says. To a would-be lover, the psychoanalyst Dr. Rice, the sybaritic one, she offers a sanatorium, and then chuckles, “What fun!”
Still, Leonie is beginning to feel useless and scattered within a new “theory-ridden generation.” Now that we know who Leonie is, the question is where to find her.
Given the decline of the shimmering comic high style the role craves, that’s a problem. In Janet Zarish, Leonie has not been found. Bizarrely directed by Kent Paul to be quirky, jumpy and a giddy flibbertigibbet, Miss Zarish gives an oddly contemporary, idiosyncratically wired performance. Why?
Enid Graham makes a self-conscious effort to be top draw as Leonie’s daughter, who must stand thanklessly in her mother’s shadow and, what’s worse, be chastised for charmlessness. More authenticated performances are given by Grant James Varjas as Will, Robert Creighton as Dennis, his revolutionary cohort; Reno Roop as Sam, Leonie’s estranged husband and Louisa Horton as Mrs. Wyler. Bruce McCarty is sneeringly effectual as the ruthless, bluntly bright Dr. Rice.
Whether he presaged “the vogue for vituperative biography” or the advent of psychobabble — listen to Dr. Rice — Behrman was prophetic. In “End of Summer” he wrote of the timelessness of hypocrisy, yet he held out hope for civility. Though Mr. Paul’s staging strikes too many false notes, the play rings true. 7-11-93