Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Emlyn Williams has found a fresh source for one of his delicious solo entertainments, previously drawn from Charles Dickens and Dylan Thomas. Saki, a joy of the Edwardians and subsequent literature students, is the source of "The Playboy of the Week-End World," which had the first of only two performances Tuesday at the Hartke Theater.
Saki? H. H. Munro? Williams begins in the questioning vein, aware that probably more will not know than will. Born in 1870, this witty, fantastical writer recognized that the name Hector Hugh Munro did not fit his personality. So he chose to call himself "Saki," not as a link with Japanese prints but possibly because his spirit was that of a very fine wine. Think of champagne, high spirits and fantasy. That was Saki.
Saki's was quite another world. He died in the trenches in 1916 in that war that swept his away, a world of politeness and manners but also of whimsy and childlike, eerie imagination. He used words with the relish of his contemporary, Oscar Wilde, and the people he wrote of weren't unlike those one meets in the Wilde plays.
Here are samples of what Williams has chosen, not intended to mar his surprises but to supply the flavor for those non-Saki players who might enjoy his word games:
"The grass looked as if it had been left out all night."
"To be clever in the afternoon is to admit one is dining nowhere in the evening."
"She wears her jewelry with the indefinable air of having more at home."
"There is one thing to be said for vice. It does keep young boys out of mischief."
"Don't you hate posterity - so fond of having the last word?"
Munro wrote enough for a very fat anthology and shows that the Scottish do, too, have a sense of humor. Williams' choices give a taste of Saki's variety, and he saves the sole touch of pathos for his final selection, words about birds on the Western Front sent home in the weeks before he was killed.
The brightest, most theatrical material may come from sections of "The Unbearable Bassington," though I'm not sure. They do have to do with a youth's relationship with proper relatives, archdeacons and bishops, dukes and duchesses, the daughter of one pair, named Laura, having turned into an otter at the time of her death.
Saki's companion quality to fey was his sense of the eerie, which gives Williams opportunity to act. My childhood recollection of "The Open Window" was scarier than Williams chooses to present it, but "Gabriel-Ernest" was gloriously new to me, as were many of his picks.
The veteran actor-playwright showed almost no sign of a recent London traffic accident, and his "costume" of white slacks and shoes, blue jacket and bow tie, evoked the wonderful weekend world of Edwardian country houses. Should Williams succeed in educating a new generation of Americans to the pleasures of Saki, the reprint houses will have a new seller.
Arthur Cantor's production is on its way to New York.