But For Whom Charlie

S. N. Behrman
New York: Random House, 1964
First edition in dust jacket
Inscribed by Behrman

    (On front free endpaper)  For Robert E. Conner, / a friend in need! / Cordially, / S.N. Behrman. / Hanover: May 28, 1964.

In the first six months of 1962, Behrman made news on five separate occasions: in February, Brandeis University announced him as one recipient of its Creative Arts Medal for "a lifetime of outstanding artistic achievement." The following month a ceremony ensued that included a financial grant to Behrman. In May the newly formed Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts announced their first option: Behrmanís But For Whom Charlie. And Clark University named the playwright as one of its trustees on 10 June. By yearís end, another Berman play, Lord Pengo reached Broadway. From the defeat of Dunniganís Daughter to But For Whom Charlie, there has been only one work originating from Behrmanís imagination, the failed "Let Me Hear the Melody." Translations/adaptations from other playwrights or works based on other prose sources (including two of his own writings), comprise the entire twenty-year period. Moreover, But For Whom Charlie is Behrmanís most socially conscious play since Dunniganís Daughter, demanding scrupulous honesty in public trust. It incorporates the four major themes of his canon: success/achievement, money, love, and marriage. Rejection of this play would, in many respects, be tantamount to rejecting the labor of a lifetime. "Strong men breed weak sons" is examined in two instances: the effect on Willard Prosper and on Seymour Rosenthal. In the first instance, the son succumbed, and while there remains a chance for recovery, the outcome is left in doubt and not beyond a pessimistic one. Rosenthal, however, a homosexual in the manuscript, capitalizes on the relationship with his father. The insecurity associated with success is personified in the career of Charles Taney, son of a gangster. Other forms of success are embodied by the rapacious Gilian Prosper on her upward mobility via the marriage bed, or by "the meek shall inherit the earth" reward of the talented Sheila Maloney, or even by Rosenthalís strength of purpose. Love barely exists. In one instance love borders on incest; Harry Lorch identifies love with chastity so strongly he is able to end a relationship rather like that of Rand Eldredge and Lael Wyngate in Rain From Heaven. Except for the humanitarianism of the Rosenthal Foundation, love, together with marriage, becomes merely an exploitable commodity in the hands of Behrmanís manipulators. In an interview several years earlier, Behrman observed, "I realize that the most lucrative thing today is to dramatize the Latin footnotes in Kraft-Ebbing," and But For Whom Charlie bears the questionable distinction of Behrmanís incorporating some of those footnotes to a degree never before attempted in any of his works. With the possible exception of David Wayne, whose performance earned him a nomination for a Tony award, everything about Elia Kazanís production of But For Whom Charlie for Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center worked to the detriment of Behrmanís play, including the design of the theatre. The production was "Destroyed by obtuse casting and direction," Brooks Atkinson summarized. The production resulted in a shattering conclusion to a long career, and the play remains to be rediscovered.


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