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A CurtainUp Review
Philip Goes Forth
Celebrated during the 1920's for such popular and lauded plays as The Torchbearers(1922), The Show Off(1924) and Craig's Wife(1925, for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize), Kelly would subsequently have his share of Broadway flops, one of which was Philip Goes Forth in 1931. It was a disappointing enough a venture (only 97 performances) to send him off to Hollywood for what proved to be a dispiriting five years before heading back to Broadway and a few more flops.
While Kelly's three major successes pop up now and again, Philip Goes Forth arrives as a complete surprise and not because the play was deemed good enough for further inspection, but because the company assigned to it is demonstrating an esprit de corps that makes the tedious doings bearable. Not as amusing, clever or as insightful as perhaps the author had intended, it follows the trajectory of its plot with an effortless grace that comes close, but not close enough, to being disarming.
In it, Philip (Bernardo Cubria), a young man being trained to one day take over the reins of his widowed father's (Cliff Bemis) prospering business is restless and unhappy. Why? Because he doesn't see himself as a business man, but as a playwright. . . to the dismay of his distraught father and the consternation of his maternal, nurturing aunt Mrs. Randolph (Christine Toy Johnson)
Before we have had chance to fully enjoy designer Steven C. Kemp's white-on-white Art Deco sitting room in Mrs. Randolph's home, Philip is bidding a fond farewell to family and job security (this is the middle of the Depression). His adoring girl friend Cynthia (Natalie Kuhn) is surprised with his news but about to depart on the Ile de France for an indeterminate stay in Paris with her mother Mrs. Oliver (Carole Healey), a society matron. One Act and six months later, Philip has found employment and residing in a boarding house in New York City owned by Mrs. Ferris (Kathryn Kates), a former stage star who offers sage advice to Philip as well as bringing comforting support to an assortment of artistic wannabes.
At first we are in awe of the garishly colorful setting, the common room of the boarding house. Theatrical memorabilia adorns the furnishings and the walls have the look of a gallery under siege of modern art, presumably the work of a former resident. But we are not under siege by the vivid theatrical types that George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber were yet to create for their 1936 collaboration Stage Door. Kelly's young hopefuls are a somewhat poignant group, and despite their various personalities they exhibit (except for the comically garish clothing they wear designed by Carisa Kelly) a rather muted portrait of young aspirants trying to validate themselves and find their niche.
The problem with them and for us is that they aren't interesting or revealed as more than types. They include an eccentric Mr. Shronk (Teddy Bergman), Philip's former college mate, an aspiring writer; Miss Krail (Rachel Moulton), a head-in-the-clouds poetess; and the melancholy Haines (Brian Keith Macdonald), a despairing pianist with a flair for Chopin's funeral march. Oh, yes, there's a maid played with verve by Jennifer McVey. Where is Cole Porter when we need him?
The visit to New York six months later by Philip's father and others brings the play to a resolve that is predictable and also predicated on events that are too precisely manufactured. What are not visibly manufactured but rather viably real and credible are the performances under the buoyant direction of Jerry Ruiz. Previously having directed Love Goes to Press, Ruiz shows us again that he knows how to put a strong imprint on a faded text.
Kates, who recently returned to New York after spending over twenty five years in Los Angeles, as a founding member of the award-winning Colony Theatre, stepped in to the role the compassionate Mrs. Ferris during previews. Welcome back! She is absolutely wonderful, losing not a second bringing us into the faded orbit of her character's once formidable career in the theater. Cubria plays the impetuous Philip with an appealing earnestness and the same can be said for Bemis, as the stern but loving father who "comes forth.
I suppose a play like this needs one deliberately scene-encroaching larger-than-life caricature like the frivolously funny Mrs. Oliver, and Healy has her down pat. I was very impressed with the warmth and the depth of Johnson's performance as Mrs. Randolph. Kuhn is making a winning Mint debut as Cynthia who never falters from her support for Philip. How strange that my only issue is with the play that does falter.