Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jean Arthur at the Westport Country Playhouse

The Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut has drawn, aside from appreciative audiences, luminaries from the world of stage and screen to perform, including one night in 1934.

“The Bride of Torozko”, in its English translation world premiere, featured Jean Arthur, who was still working out her metamorphosis from the dark-haired silent screen ingénue to, when she returned to Hollywood, the blonde comedienne with the unique voice that seems to defy accurate description. Sam Jaffe co-starred, and a young Van Heflin. According to the correspondent to the New York Times reporting July 9th on this out-of-town tryout headed for Broadway, among those “first-nighters” in the audience were producer Max Gordon, crime novelist Dashiell Hammett, and lyricist Ira Gershwin, among other society glitterati.

The play, written by Otto Indig, and adapted from Hungarian to English by Ruth Langner, was an old-world comedy of social commentary about relations between Jews, Catholics, and Protestants in a small Hungarian village.

The production hit Broadway a couple of months later in September, but also ended in September. It was Heflin’s Broadway debut, and Jean Arthur’s fifth crack at bat. We’ll discuss their work together in the movie “Shane” (1953) on my “Another Old Movie Blog” on Thursday.

Despite its short run, more typical that we might believe, the cast were mostly lauded. Sam Jaffe gave “a performance that may be too mannered but that it is warm, skillful and comic,” said Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times in his review on September 14th.

“As Klari, the beautiful Jean Arthur may still be a trifle too heavy for ideal comedy acting, but this is the best acting of her career, and it is modestly enchanting.”

We can see here a snapshot in time of the metamorphosis of the silent ingénue on her way to becoming the sassy actress with the perfect timing and delivery who, in a few more years, was said by directors and her colleagues to be the best at screwball comedy.

One wonders what Ira Gershwin and Dashiell Hammett thought.