HOME AND BEAUTY - At the Eisenhower Theater through July 21.
Darling, we simply must have the drawing room done over. The drawing-room comedy. It's unspeakably shabby, and those little touches that were once so amusing are now too awful for words. What on earth will people think we ever had in mind?
You cannot ask people into the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater to see "Home and Beauty," which was considered smart in 1919, without falling all over the place with apologies: "Well, you know, it is Somerset Maugham," or "Everybody thought it was funny at the time."
Whatever it was once, it looks perfectly dreadful now, with all the worn spots showing. This is not merely a matter of vintage. The fact is, darling, that it was not, at the time, ttthe very best quality available. No one can say that Mr. Wilde's drawing-room comedies aren't as fresh as ever. The classic look, as you know, ages beautifully. But the merely stylishly flashy, once it's out of its period, does date appallingly.
"Home and Beauty" represents what the English gentlemen were fighting World War I for, as personified by a lady on a chaise longue, as played here by Rosemary Harris. By an accident of war statistics, she represents home and beauty of two husbands simultaneously, these parts being undertaken by Keith Baxter and Remak Ramsay. Jose Ferrer, as the director, has told these people how to circle about the drawing room, and then he appears on stage to discuss with them how to get out of it all.
Now that is this drawing-room comedy's joke. Oh, dear, whatever does one do when one has two husbands, both of them being frightfully gentlemanly about it all, and each really much prefering to back out gracefully, and one has a much better prospect than either one, just waiting to be one's third husband, and everyone is trying to resolve things in a civilized way?
The answer is that the gentlemen run about saying, "Now, see here," and the lady sighs a great deal about the war atrocites she has experienced in the way of boring committee meetings, and says, "It's lucky I have no personal vanity" while powdering her nose. That is the wit, because, you see, she does have personal vanity, doesn't she, or why else is she powdering her nose at such a time?
Anyway, you see the problem. Tis is not the first time such a perfect fight has moved into the Kennedy Center to serve as a drawing-room comedy. Of course, one sees the need. We are all simply starved for plays with amusing conversation, and the fact is that the drawing room is a better place for that than the bedroom, let alone the inside of the soul, where modern plays tend to take place. As the comtemporary copy of drawing-room comedy has been as unsuccessful as any other faked antique, it is only natural to search about in the past, getting out and dusting off things that used to serve perfectly well.
One simply must make a truly new design to fit the purpose, or one must search harder, and come up with something old of sufficient quality tohave lasted.