Three Plays

S. N. Behrman
New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1934
First edition in dust jacket
Inscribed by Behrman

   

(On front free endpaper)  For Sam Marx / My chieftain and / friend. / From / S.N.B. / Hollywood: March, 1935.

 

First appearance of Serena Blandish.  Also includes Meteor and The Second Man.  Samuel Marx was the head of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer story department.

Serena Blandish, which opened in New York in 1929, presents a leading character emerging from an environment somewhat similar to Clark Storeyís in The Second Man, but one who achieves something of a reverse denouement. In a Pygmalion-like situation, Serena follows her romantic heart to find happiness. This idealism softens the razorís edge of the sheer mercenary exemplified by Clark Storey; his cynicism is blunted. Moreover, Serena Blandish begins to substantiate areas of concern which will appear in all of Behrmanís plays in varying degree: success (in the Horatio Alger mold, which so captivated his childhood fancy), wealth, love, and marriage. The first suggestion of a conflict between generations, developed more fully in later plays, particularly in The Talley Method (1941), I Know My Love (1949), Lord Pengo (1962), and But For Whom Charlie (1964), insinuates itself in the peculiar father-son relationship of Martin and Edgar Malleson. Tempering such conflict in Behrmanís oeuvre is his endorsement of humane sensibility and tolerance. Serena Blandish; or The Difficulty of Getting Married, a novel written by "A Lady of Quality" (later revealed to be Englandís Enid Bagnold) came to Behrmanís attention through an associateís interest in the work. The novel suited the playwright admirably, and it remained largely a problem of finding a theatrically viable ending quite different from the novel wherein Serena marries a Negro. Such an ending Behrman determined as too inflammatory a resolution for the late 1920s and not without reason. "That the play was to be produced in a country where Negroes, often only merely suspected of a crime, are dragged through the streets by mobs of children and grown-ups and maltreated and burned alive or lynched, gives me a legitimate defence of simple and justifiable cowardice." The ingenuous Serena is a "good sport," totally defenseless, and every man who comes along exploits her. One afternoon Serena is swept up in a business proposition: for a period of thirty days she will be introduced to the wealthiest, most eligible bachelors in London society. She is to capitalize on this arrangement and to make a "suitable connection." The outcome is predictable as Serena falls in love with a farthingless, low achiever, Edgar Malleson (himself the designated predator of Princess Vermouillť, from whom he later flees), and even he will not marry Serena. Her unsullied naivetť still intact at the completion of this experiment, Serena follows Edgar to the Continent where he is to involve himself in a business venture almost certain to fail. Although Serenaís penury permits the playwright to manipulate her rather like a puppet, she is still very much her own person and represents, in the largest sense possible, the first of Behrmanís independent females whose mature incarnations are Biographyís Marion Froud (1932) and Lady Lael Wyngate of Rain From Heaven. The other characters, particularly the Countess Flor di Folio (who resembles an erudite Mrs. Malaprop of Richard Brinsley Sheridanís The Rivals) tend to fall into the archetypal comedy-of-manners contour. Producer Jed Harris brought the young Ruth Gordon to stardom as Serena. Her out-of-wedlock pregnancy by Harris, recounted in Gordonís autobiography, may offer an explanation for the abbreviated run. However, its ninety-three performances alerted the Theatre Guild, who had turned down first option on Behrmanís manuscript, to re-evaluate their interest in the playwright. They determined not to let his next offering pass them by.


Copyright © 2009 SNBehrman.com