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October 4, 2013

TT: George Kelly gets the old one-two

In today's Wall Street Journal drama column I report on an important off-Broadway production, the Mint Theater Company's revival of Philip Goes Forth. Here's an excerpt.

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George Kelly was nothing more than a name to me until four months ago, when Connecticut's Westport Country Playhouse produced "The Show-Off," the 1924 play for which he is remembered--barely--by students of American theater between the wars. I was expecting a modestly interesting historical exhibit. Instead "The Show-Off" turned out to be a serious comedy of unusual force and emotional complexity. It set me to wondering about Kelly's other plays, no less than nine of which made it to Broadway between 1922 and 1946. Might any of them be as good?

Now the Mint Theater Company, an Off-Broadway troupe that specializes in exhuming forgotten shows deserving of a second chance, has answered that question by reviving "Philip Goes Forth," which was last seen on Broadway in 1931. Given the quality of "The Show-Off" and the track record of the Mint, it seemed likely that "Philip Goes Forth," directed by Jerry Ruiz, would be worth seeing--and sure enough, it's a gem, mounted with the company's accustomed skill and resourcefulness.

2918D39A0-DC84-2045-639A1AFE382791DD.jpgLike "The Show-Off," "Philip Goes Forth" gets underway in a deceptively predictable-sounding manner. The scene is a fancy drawing room in a city that is, according to the stage directions, "500 miles from New York." The characters are Philip (Bernardo Cubría), an affable, earnest young gent, and his anxious Aunt Marion (Christine Toy Johnson). Philip, it seems, works for his father (Cliff Bemis), a no-nonsense businessman, but confesses to Aunt Marion ambitions of a radically different sort: He longs to move to New York and become a playwright....

Were all this not managed with the lightest of touches, you might well suspect Kelly of trading exclusively in clichés. But don't be fooled, for he has a stack of aces tucked up his sleeve. After the first intermission, Philip "goes forth" to Greenwich Village to seek fame and fortune, holing up in a down-at-the-heel boarding house run by a retired actress (Kathryn Kates) and inhabited by a gaggle of variously arty folk, including a full-fledged poetess (Rachel Moulton), a gloomy young composer (Brian Keith MacDonald) and yet another would-be playwright (Teddy Bergman). And that's where the aces start getting played, the first of which is that our hopeful young hero--not to put too fine a point on it--turns out to be utterly devoid of talent....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted October 4, 2013 12:00 AM

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