STAGE AND SCREEN The Theatre
"The Life That I Gave Him." By Luigi Pirandello. Trans- lated by Clifford Bax. —" Murder Trial." By Sydney Box. At the Little Theatre, Adelphi.
Tim mind retains its landmarks of boredom : the depression caused by Scott's novels ceremoniously read to a fatigued child of eight, an overdose of Proust self-administered with a sense
Of conscious discipline at the age of fourteen, Milton unctuously expounded a year later, at intervals between then and now
a procession of plays by Pirandello. It would be ungenerous to make of his latest play to be produced in England a text for a general criticism of a dramatist who, however ill designed his methods, has laboured throughout his career to give life to the drama by extending its subject-matter to include what has been successfully apprehended in contemporary fiction
and poetry. But The Life That I Gave Him illustrates all the defects of the unsuccessfully achieved drama of metaphysical ideas. The theme is the familiar one of relativity, applied to physical death. The play opens in a house where a man is lying dead. His mother, Donn' Anna Luna, holds that belief in his continued existence can outweigh the apparent fact of his physical death. In her mind he is still alive, and she maintains his room and his possessions as if he were still living in the house. Lucia Maubel, the dead man's mistress, is coming to visit her, and Donn' Anna hopes to be able to persuade her to believe in his continuing life as she does. Lucia is unaware that her lover is dead and, on her arrival, confesses to Donn' Anna that she is going to bear him a child (a detail included, perhaps, to represent another aspect of survival). In the morning her own mother arrives and dispels the idea of her lover's survival which Lucia for the moment absorbs from Donn' Anna. She accepts the reality of his death, and with her acceptance the man dies in Donn' Anna's mind also.
The idea which the play projects, which is little more than the familiar sentiment that the dead continue to live in the memory of those who have loved them, was barely worth elaborating, but apart from that consideration the elaboration could scarcely have been less skilfully done. The Life That .1 Gave Him is merely a piece of narrative illustrating the idea, and not a play. It is static and without development. The idea is given no dramatic life, and remains merely a preliminary premiss in the plot. The opportunities the piece gives to the actors are small. The drawing of the characters is flat and lifeless. They are ushered on to the stage in response to prearranged requirements imposed by the dramatist from without, not to meet dramatic demands sprung from within the play. Miss Nancy Price who plays Donn' Anna has the part written with the greatest monotonir, as befits the character which embodies the play's dominant idea, and it says much for her skill that she succeeded in lending it intermittent interest. Miss Peggy Ashcroft brought occasional life into the play with a firm and vivid sketch of Lucia, and Miss Christine Silver and Mr. Alastair Sins are others who deserve praise for a courageous struggle against conditions. In qualification of these strictures it must be gratefully admitted that the play is brief.
Its brevity allowed the presentation of a second play- a one-act essay in Expressionism by Mr. Sydney Box. The scene is a court where a woman is being tried for a man's murder. The prisoner is played by three actresses, standing for different aspects of the same woman. The trial, for no very good reason, ends with an acquittal, and the piece is concluded by an attack by the judge on the interests which exploit an acquitted prisoner. The objects of this slightly hysterical satire remain obscure. It might appear to be an attack upon English judicial procedure, it might be a criticism of the conduct of certain sections of the American Press during criminal trials. As the judge is farcically English and the Pressmen farcically American, it is in point of fact probably neither, these presumably being incompatible elements in any judicial scene. The piece gives the mild and fitful Pleasure of a cleverly constructed charade. Nothing much emerges from it except, as in the Pirandello play, the acting