With "Oh, Kay!" in the Opera House and the arrival Saturday of "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney" across the Hall of States at the Eisenhower, the Kennedy Center's current brace of revivals from the '20s begins to smack of grave-robbing. Beautifully dressed but inert, "Mrs. Cheyney" will be on view through Sept. 30.
Deborah Kerr, looking as smashing as ever in gorgeous outfits for all four scenes, unquestionably is the reason for this exhumation of Frederick Lonsdale's one-time smash. One always gapes at vibrant, beautiful Kerr and as Mrs. Cheyney she does not disappoint. One does fear, however, that at any moment, her vehicle will turn to dust.
Legendary actresses evidently adore being Mrs. Cheyney. Gladys Cooper created her, Ina Claire introduced her to New York two years later. Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Greer Garson starred in three film versions.
So, why not Kerr? -
It is, to be sure, pleasant to visit four rooms in elegant homes equipped with butlers and footmen, the Hon. This, Lday That and two members of the House of Peers. In such surroundings, Lonsdale concieved jewel thieves at work, but his individual twist was in showing that their Betters stole more immediate jewels in "the good name," as Gentle Will put it others.
Regrettably, one's interest is mainly anthropological: So this is what high comedy was after the fall of Oscar Wilde and before the fall of Noel Coward. Come to think of it, Coward had his own one-act variation on Lonsdale's theme in "Ways and Means," one of the "Tonight at 8:30" [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
Lonsdale, whose other plays included "On Approvel," one of Beatrice Lillie's all-too-few movies, apparently lacked the Wilde-Coward gift for witty dialogue. His action plods with tony allusions flatly stated. Post opening repetition may find more snap in them.
The scene which matters the most, when Mrs. Cheyney reveals her honorable intentions, is, however, better written than played.
Here, with the house party gathering for breakfast, William Ritman's set boasts two heavily laden sideboards, but only four chairs. Where are guests to sit on Mrs. Ebley's otherwise well-equipped terrace? Shouldn't the hostess consider firing Roberts, her butler?
Such homey questions grip one's mind while the twists and turns of the play's what-it's-all-about scene progress Director Frank Dunlop must look to this needless, distracting traffic problem. While at it, he might also advise his star that, clever as she is, not even Kerr can play a two-handed piano arrangement with one hand resting on her thigh.
To Monte Markham falls one of the tritest lines, 'Are you all that I think of as a woman?" I admired the manly way Markham faced up to that chestnut and, indeed, how genially he acted the frivolous peer once played by Roland Young Markham is considerably more at ease and ingratiating here than he was while "Irene' was trying out. Of its sort, it's a very good performance.
Donal Donnelly, as Kerr's guide to crime; Joyce Worsley as her hostess and Gavin Reed as the Hon. Willie lead the others in this cast of 15 one more, I discover, than the New York original. A maid has been added to the staff. Apparently nothing has been stinted. But a resurrection does not take place.