Brief Moment

S. N. Behrman
New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1931
First edition in dust jacket
Inscribed by Behrman

    (On front free endpaper)  For my favorite trollope, Ida, / with much love, / from Berrie / New York: Dec. 1931.

Returning from Europe expressly for the start of the production of Meteor, Behrman learned that in a crush of despair Daniel Asher had committed suicide. With the shocking death of his childhood mentor and the general rejection of Meteor, the society standing on the brink of the Great Depression, Behrman accepted his first offer from Hollywood, at twelve hundred fifty dollars a week. Moreover, Guthrie McClintic picked up the option to Brief Moment (1931). As the decade drew to a close, Behrman entered the most successfully productive ten years of his career. Brief Moment returned Behrman to the theatrical realm where everyone felt most comfortable with him: wealthy people moving in an ambiance of high comedy. Moreover, director McClintic pulled off the casting coup of the season by offering the role of Harold Sigrift, Roderick Deanís confidant, to the always astonishing, rapier-witted Alexander Woollcott. By dint of determination, Abby Fane in Brief Moment pulls herself up from an ignominous life as a waitress in Pittsburgh, and becomes the darling of the nightclub circuit in New York City, singing such blues as Jerome Kernís "Bill." Millionaire playboy Roderick Dean, whose wealth is inherited and consequently who flounders about for a substantial and objective pursuit in life, proposes marriage to Abby. She accepts, even though it is a loveless partnership on her behalf. She now becomes the darling of Cafe Society; invitations to her dinner parties are eagerly sought. Former lover Cass Worthing returns to her life, now that Abby is no longer attainable, and, perhaps not surprisingly, she responds to his amorous advances. This leads to divorce for the Deans and the ultimate realization on Abbyís part that her substantial love for Roderick crept up unawares during their marriage. At the final curtain they are reconciled. Again, development is less in the plot than in the slowly growing maturity of the two leading characters, particularly Abby. By Behrmanís own assessment, "The play ran though it didnít succeed." This bantamweight comedy marks a watershed of Behrmanís easement into the freedom of drawing-room comedy from the restraint of comedy of manners. Brief Moment straddles the line of demarcation, wavering more toward the former than the latter. Imbued once again in the story of the play are success/achievement, money, love, and marriage as a business arrangement of convenience (as it appeared with Clark Storey and Serena Blandish). An incompatibility exists between father and son. His father is not present in the text, but Roderick admits that he suffers the handicap of a Protestant work ethic which an overbearing parent instilled in him. Like many of his writer contemporaries in the theatre and literature, Behrman here responds to the intellectualís surety that a second American revolution looms just beyond the horizon, a revolution that would resemble Russiaís uprising, an imminent Red menace. Even five years thence, the radical Dennis McCarthy brings down the final curtain in End of Summer (1936) by assuring the wealthy Leonie: "Donít worry about that [having her wealth taken away] Ė come the Revolution Ė youíll have a friend in high office." In Brief Moment, Roderick assumes a most pessimistic outlook: "Who the hell am I to strike an attitude? Tomorrow, I may be on a dole from a Communist Government. Attitudes were all right when life was stratified into castes and codes Ė but all thatís practical these days is a kind of opportunism." (Three plays later, End of Summerís Dr. Rice exemplifies just such opportunism, and thirty-three years later, But For Whom Charlieís titular Charles Taney revels in it.) While change would have been in keeping with Behrmanís liberal philosophy, his fear of how such change would severely alter his own very comfortable life-style suggested second thoughts to any overt action or encouragement on his part. Yet social change remained an important feature in his work, and late in life (1967) he became something of a political activist: "80 Americans Urge U.S. to Seek Mideast Peace." The New York Times listed Behrman as one of the petitioners.


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