Review - PHILIP GOES FORTH Saps Romantic Delusion From 1930s Bohemia

After his attention-grabbing 1922 satire of amateur theatrics, The Torch Bearers, there was hardly a month during the ensuing decade when there wasn't a George Kelly play on Broadway, or one that was set to come in shortly.

His sophomore effort, The Show-Off, has seen five Broadway revivals and its initial run was quickly followed by the Pulitzer winner, Craig's Wife.

But the name George Kelly is scarcely remembered by 21st Century playgoers, making him an excellent subject for exploration by the Mint Theater Company, those specialists in reviving what was once popular, but is now forgotten.

Philip Goes Forth was a bit of a comeback for Kelly when it was well-received in 1931, following a string of less successful works. (If not for the significant dissenting vote from Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times, it might have enjoyed a run a bit lengthier than its three-month stay at the Biltmore.) The playwright's gently satirical story of an eager lad, born of privilege, who quits his position in the family business to go bohemian in New York and seek out a career in the arts is certainly familiar stuff for contemporary audiences. But while Philip Goes Forth offers few surprises, it remains a charming and humorous piece that evolves into something a bit more serious-minded. Director Jerry Ruiz's enjoyable production carries on the Mint tradition of offering high-quality mountings without conveying any modern commentary.

Bernardo Cubría gives an energetic and appealing performance as the title character, who spends the first act revealing to his loved ones in, as Kelly describes it, "a city five hundred miles from New York," his plan to move to Gotham and follow his dream to become a playwright. Though he's yet to jot down a word of dialogue, Philip is convinced he's gifted as a storyteller and plans to do something revolutionary in modern theatre; write plays with happy endings.

His concerned aunt (a nicely cordial Christine Toy Johnson) tries to be supportive, but his domineering father (gruff, businesslike Cliff Bemis) calls his plan, "a lot of damned foolery."

His sweet girlfriend Cynthia (Natalie Kuhn), who is about to leave on an extended family trip to Europe, fears that Philip will no longer be interested in her.

"Successful writer," she imagines, "You'll undoubtedly meet so many brilliant people that you'll hardly want to come back to the everyday."

Philip's comforting reply is, "But I might not be successful."

Carole Healey is graced with the play's funniest lines as Cynthia's eccentrically high-brow mother and nails every laugh in her bubbly performance. ("I started a play my first year in college, called Ironica -that everybody thought had a great deal of promise. Of course, they all felt that it was a bit ahead of its time; and as I look back at it now,-it probably was.")

Set designer Steven C. Kemp presents a warm, but uniform appearance for Philip's aunt's parlor; all cream-colored and white. But when the story moves to the building where Philip rents a room from a retired stage star (Kathryn Kates), the residence is seen as a colorful clutter of books, paintings and busy fabrics.

Residing with the ambitious fellow is a serious-minded pianist (Brian Keith MacDonald), a buoyant and cheerful poet (Rachel Moulton) and a frustrated would-be journalist (Teddy Bergman). Each one reacts in their own way to the delayed fulfillment of their dreams.

Given the lighthearted tone of the play up until this point, when Kelly has family members visiting Philip after a six month absence he seems to be setting up a comical clash between the young man's old world and his new one. Instead, the playwright considers what happens to some aspiring artists when the romance of the struggle fizzles out in the face of hard work and frequent rejection. The sentimental ending is rather sweet, but it takes a somber road to get there.

One can see 1930s audiences regarding Philip Goes Forth as a chance to visit with those exotic Greenwich Village artists without having to go all the way down to Christopher Street. For today's audiences, The Mint's swift and sensitive production offers an engaging visit to 1930s Broadway.

Photos by Rahav Segev: Top: Bernardo Cubría and Cliff Bemis; Bottom: Carole Healey and Christine Toy Johnson.

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