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The Theatre: Faust Legend Retold
'Banquet for the Moon' Opens at the Marquee

IT is a brave writer who undertakes a modern treatment of the Faust legend. In "A Banquet for the Moon," which opened last night at the Theatre Marquee, John Cromwell throws off scattered diabolical sparks. But in the end it is clear that he has overmatched himself. The start is promising. An aged nuclear scientist, embittered by the uses to which his knowledge has been put, wonders whether he should go on. His only companion is Taki, a blinded young Japanese, victim of the achievements of science. When the old man murmurs a wish to recapture his youth, Mr. Beel appears. Mr. Beel is a lively invention. Agent of Lucifer, his manner is brisk and his speech glib. He chatters cheerfully like a drummer who has his sales talk down pat. His line, of course, is too superficial for a wise old party like the scientist. Mr. Beel is dismissed, to return later in various guises and to prattle his platitudes. The scientist evidently is worthy of a more mettlesome envoy. One appears and identifies himself only as M. The very model of a modern Mephistopheles, M wears a crew cut and a sharp sports jacket. His pitch is sententious. He is meant to be full of brightly sardonic sayings, but it would take writing genius to sustain this conception on the brilliant plane it should inhabit. Mr. Cromwell hits upon occasional witty notions, Speaking of a party to which guests are to come as the people they hate most, M remarks evilly that he will impersonate St. Francis. On the other hand, M can be pretentiously vapid in striving for cleverness. Example: he speaks of the "triumph of ertia over inertia." The scientist's resumption of his youthful figure is managed amusingly, He appears in white underwear and two of M's lackeys dress him in Ivy League style. Thereafter, M guides his charge through various experiences-the party at which he meets Margaret, an unabashed schizophrenic; the passionate rendezvous with her, with a TV camera spying on their embrace; the church, soldiering, statesmanship, the old home town. But Mr. Cromwell's invention runs thinner and dryer as the evening progresses. He achieves only diffused comments on contemporary phenomena, mostly superficial. One finally wearies of the relentless attempts to be pithy and witty. Jean Shepherd, who used to speak on the radio for the night people, is' a smooth, sinuous M. Jack Betts is effective as the scientist. Lee Firestone as Margaret and Paul B. Price as Mr. Beel are agreeable performers. Nola Chilton's staging, like Warwick Brown's set, is ingenious. An actor himself, Mr. Cromwell has invoked the flexibility of the theatre of fantasy. But his fancy has not equaled his ambition. Instead of magic and poetry "A Banquet for the Moon" arrives at empty after-dinner dialogues.

Copyright: 2006 The New York Times

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January 20,1961
Article

    
4220 (19610120A)