Thursday, April 7, 2011

Of Cocktails and Chestnuts

By Neena Arndt, Literary Associate

In Stage Kiss (which starts April 30 in the Albert), modern-day actors are cast in a 1930s play, and we see them rehearse and perform sections of this delectably dated comedy. The play-within-the-play does not actually date from the era; Sarah Ruhl concocted it after reading several 1930s comedies. Sarah’s dialogue exaggerates the overwrought style that was typical of 1930s plays, and the setting and characters resemble those from the era: the play takes place in the home of a wealthy family who employ a butler and a maid, consume cocktails in their solarium, and engage in an endless stream of melodramatic banter.

Unlike most regional theaters, which were founded in the 1960s or later, the Goodman dates back to 1925. The theater’s early programming resembled today’s programming: it was a mixture of classics and contemporary plays. Some of the contemporary plays were hits from around the country, and some were world premieres penned by early Goodman artists. Throughout the 1930s, the Goodman produced works which resemble the plays that Sarah Ruhl now parodies—light, melodramatic comedies. Although the Goodman does not have archived scripts from the 1930s, we do have production photos, which provide us with some information about what actors and audiences might have experienced at the Goodman eight decades ago. The sets, costumes, and acting style evident in the photos make it clear that a night at the Goodman in the 1930s bears only a slight resemblance to a night at the Goodman today. The titles of the plays alone conjure up potent images. A few choice examples: Paris Bound, The Romantic Young Lady, For Services Rendered, The First Mrs. Fraser, Mr. Pim Passes By (penned by none other than A.A. Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh) and Let Us Be Gay.

Top: Let Us Be Gay (1934)
Middle: For Services Rendered (1934)
Bottom: The First Mrs. Fraser

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