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With the production of a comic trilogy, Three of a Kind (subtitled: "An Evening of Comedy"), the Masque ,offers its patrons something new behind the footlights of La Salle theatre. Long-time La Salle playgoers will no doubt recall the Masque's successful string of musical comedies and feature-length dramatic performances; but this season we innovate, and present for our audience's mirth-ridden approval a trio of guffawful one-act plays: Anton Chekhov's The Marriage Proposal, Noel Coward's Red Pepper, and Wolf Mankowich's The Bespoke Overcoat.
Into greasepaint goes a combined Masque cast of veterans, each a star in his or her own right. Three of a Kind also finds Sidney Macleod in his first Masque stint as director, but the affable Scotsman is by no means a novitiate with either the Masque in particular or the theatre in general. The genius of his stagecraft has won Macleod wide acclaim in his little more than a year at La Salle, as it has in seasons past in the Nation's Capital.
Three of a Kind is the second production in what might well be called the Masque's Season of Comedies, which commenced with the December presentation of Giraudoux's Tiger at the Gates and which will conclude with an as yet unnamed musical comedy in the Spring. Regular Masque patrons, we feel confident, will find in Three of a Kind that high degree of stage-polish which has characterized so many of our past shows. Those for whom this trilogy of one-act plays will serve as a first encounter with the Masque will return, we feel equally certain, as regular patrons of the future.
Theatre and Performance Studies
La Salle College, "Three of a Kind" (1961). The Masque Programs. 87.
THE AUTHORS AND THEIR PLAYS
Though one appears in translation and two are rendered in vernacular dialect, the three one-act comedies performed by the Masque this evening have won a deserved general acceptance on stages in every corner of the English-speaking world. While Chekhov and Coward and Mankowich each employ a technique unique one from the other, they compliment one the other not uncomfortably on the same bill. While each playwright portrays peoples patently possessing senses of humour made distinct by history, each arouses universal appreciation of his subject's comic-side. Comedy must so frequently and so happily picture the attitudes, the quirks, and foibles, the phrasing peculiar to a particular folk and language, and fertile indeed is the mind, true the heart, and skilled the pen that can communicate these to humours of diverse ilk . Blessed especially, one wonders, by mirth's muse, Thalia , tonight's playwrights have succeeded in accomplishing just such a difficult task.
Unlike Coward and Mankowich, the comic virtues are not Anton Chekhov's primary stage tools. Despite his reputation for social wit, Chekhov's plays are basically psychological studies; his approach is almost exclusively intellectual , appealing to the mind, dismissing passion. The audience may well take exception to this comment once confronted with The Marriage Proposal. Some may well feel the rending on stage to be a trifle over-acted, and they will in part be correct in their assumption. Chekhov nurtured a fetish for real ism, and he would let nothing infringe upon his creation of a photographic image in words of what he recognized in society, even at the expense of being not altogether convincing . if he found the occupants of a landed demesne in XIXth century tsarist Russia subject to self-imposed exaggeration, as he did in "The Marriage Proposal, then he simply portrayed them accurately as being so subjected . What may appear to be satire, may perhaps be more fact than farce, more subtlety than slavishness.
The Marriage Proposal is itself distinct among Chekhov's plays; it alone of his work, even the better-known The Cherry Orchard, bears the slight outline of a plot. Chekhov, no less than other Russian playwrights, produced theatre-fare that was formless, even ill-constructed, without true movement; but Chekov's stage does paint the portraits of individual Russians and makes subtle interpretations of Russian national life. And therein lies the comedy
One of Britain's most productive and versatile literary figures, a legend in his own time, and a one-man institution, Noel Coward, author among other things of Red Peppers, has worked in almost every medium of entertainment -- sonq writer, novelist, biographer, film scenaricist, director, playwright, actor, humourist, showman. But it is of Noel Coward, the playwright, that we treat here. Nude with Violin singularly aside, Noel Coward's stagecraft has effected a fairly representative panorama of British life in this century. With vivid hand, he has sketched the national likeness but that likeness has many faces, on stage and in life. It speaks in many accents as well, and Noel Coward has proved himself master of the calculated dialect. His pen is equally at ease with the very-U and proper Oxonian tones of polite society and with properly improper tart croak of Lambeth cockney; he is at home with his characters whether found in Bylthe Spirit's country drawing room or backstage with Red Peppers.
Red Peppers is a play about players. Though a generation old in a world continually outdating itself, Coward's one act has lost none of its appeal in 1961, perhaps out of our nostalgia for a vaudeville or music hall gone and never to return. But then yesterday, today, or tomorrow, Red Peppers stands on its own merit, witty, entertaining, and Coward.
Another British playwright, Wolf Mankowich, has authored this evening's final presentation, The Bespoke Overcoat. But Mankowich's characters come from London's Jewish community, which has found itself able to produce Disraelis and Hore Belishas, not alone Marries and Fenders . Though the British cap ital boasts an active Yiddish theatre, Mankowich has reserved his talents for the English-speaking stage . In addition to his work on the legitimate stage, Mankowich is responsible for Expresso Bongo, of late notoriety, and may be frequently read in the pages of Playbill.
The Bespoke Overcoat is an episode in the lives of two quaint hebraic anomolies, who neither have thing nor want thing; in fact, they are quite happy with nothing. Enter the Overcoat.
Concern is confessed by producer and director lest confusion result from a misunderstanding of the adjective " bespoke" found in the title. A solution might have been to substitute a more commonly-used synonym throughout the play, but this, we felt upon consideration, would be to tamper unduly with Mankowich's art. Hence, intending to inform and not, we trust, to offend, the Masque offers the audience a definition: a bespoke overcoat is one which is well-tailored, or custom-made.