ESP to Present BIOGRAPHY Reading at North Seattle Community College, 8/19
Into the sunny heat of August, ESP introduces the cool breeze of witty comedy - the terrific play Biography, by S. N. Behrman. This 1932 Broadway hit concerns the return to the United States of the Tennessee expatriate Marion Froude, who has been leading a highly artistic lifestyle in between-the-wars Europe. A portrait painter, Marion has hobnobbed with the rich and royal and renowned, and has had passionate romantic affairs - always going her own way, sometimes to her cost.
As the play begins, she arrives in New York, a little strapped for cash, and comes into contact with her first love, who is now a conservative politician running for Senator back home; with the brother of her late Austrian lover; and with a left-leaning young manwho is eager to publish her (scandalous, he hopes) memoirs.
Everyone, it seems, has plans for Marion...
The goings-on are funny and moving, a little politically pointed, and deliciously unpredictable. It's the kind of play that reminds us that feminism did not start with Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, and that even in the days of Hollywood's powerful Hays Office and multiple local Leagues of Decency, there were American plays that depicted women living so-called licentious lives without being punished for it with desperation or death. Perhaps because of old movies, we tend to think of the past in black-and-white, in all senses of the phrase - and this play has much more modern color than we expect. It turns out that people were often grown-ups and had queen-sized beds and sex without benefit of clergy and have made their own designs for living, just like us twenty-first century people! Just imagine!
Playwright Samuel Nathaniel Behrman (1893-1973) came to a splendid life in the theatre by encountering a production of Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra. He had a reputation for high comedy; some of his other international successes included No Time for Comedy, End of Summer, and an adaptation of Jean Giraudoux's Amphitryon 38 (all candidates for future ESP readings), and the celebrated musical adaptation of Marcel Pagnol's Fanny.He was an excellent friend to many of the leading names of the day - W. Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, George Gershwin, and Groucho and Harpo Marx were just some of his pals. (Coward himself directed Biography in London.) He wrote two volumes of memoirs. He also wrote many Hollywood screenplays, including several Greta Garbovehicles.
Biography was the first of three plays that Behrman wrote for American actress Ina Claire; perhaps her main claim to fame now rests in her portrayal of the Grand Duchess inErnst Lubitsch's hilarious film Ninotchka, but she was, by all accounts, one of the great theatre actresses. The character of Marion Froude is a woman who deliberately chooses her life - she's an insatiably curious learner, and a fascinating dramatic creation. And so we have asked the fabulous Suzanne Bouchard to play her!
The reading will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, August 19th at the Stage One Theatre at North Seattle Community College - see below for directions! Doors will open at 6:30.