DAISY MAYME -- At the Eisenhower Theater through December 15.
Junk no older than many healthy people is being labeled "antique" now. Things that may have been serviceable and even attractive in their time but are now worn -- things that never had the timeless virtues of beauty or truth, or the uniqueness to become historical curiosities -- are peddled as being valuable simply because they are out-dated.
George Kelly's 1926 play "Daisy Mayme," in which Jean Stapleton is starring at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater, is in this category. Fine in its time, perhaps, it has neither insight nor wit to offer a modern audience, and yet it's not quaint enough to be amusing as a period piece.
The story, updated to 1931 for unspecified reasons, concerns a man who has neglected to lead a life of his own (he has never "had a girl," it's stated many times by people who are referring to a social, never mind a sexual, relationship) because he has been too busy with duties to his aged mother, widowed sister and orphaned niece. The play's question is whether, after the death of two of these burdens, his habit of caretaking and the selfish interests of his remaining relatives will prevent him from marrying the only lively woman he has ever met, a woman of a suitable age who also exhibits the virtues of self-reliance, cheerfulness and kindness.
Is this a problem for our times? In self-neglect the curse of our age? Are there thousands of sexually repressed people out there in the theater audiences who have, out of an exaggerated sense of duty to their extended families, never realized that they are entitled to some happiness of their own? f
If so, here is the antidote, as stated by the play's star: "It's all right to do the right thing by other people, but make sure you do the right thing by yourself, while you're at it."
That Jean Stapleton delivers the message vivaciously is an attraction. For those who know her only from her highly successful television role of the intimidated Edith Bunker, it's good to see her being jaunty and confident with equal success. But like the Bunker role, it's a one-note character.One still wishes to see Stapleton do a full role, with a character -- however humorous -- who shows some development.
Others do their one-note roles with varying degrees of success. Polly Rowes and Margaret Hill Ritter, as the two sisters, are quite good; Rex Robbins, as the dutiful man, perfectly acceptable; Wil Love, as a feeble old man, an enlivened cliche; and Kristen Lowman, as the niece, an irritatingly pert ingenue. But each of these roles is a stereotype, and a dated one at that.
There's richer material in the past than that for all of these people, and one would think especially for Jean Stapleton.