by Rosamond Gilder
A war play of a very different vintage is represented by the revival of J. M. Barrie’s A Kiss for Cinderella which Cheryl Crawford and Richard Krakeur shepherded to Broadway. Written during a former, more murderous but less ‘total’ war, its amiable escapism must be blamed on its author rather than on the times that saw its birth. The winter of 1916 when it was produced was grim enough, with London gloomy under its anti-Zeppelin blackout and the insensate slaughter of the Western Front continuing endlessly. But Barrie’s peculiar Midas-touch has not deserted him; he could turn even the horrors of war into whimsy and laughter. He is the supreme exponent of the art of the bedtime story in theatre dress. His cannily-built plot is shot through with laughter and tears, lit with imagination, flavored with satire so richly chocolate-coated that its acid bite is all but hidden. In the first production Gerald du Maurier played the policeman, a veritable prince in disguise, and Hilda Trevelyan was the quaint and lovable beggar-maid, a role which Maude Adams made her own on Christmas day, 1916, at the Empire Theatre in New York.
Lee Strasberg has directed the play in its present revival and is presumably responsible for the occasional references intended to bring it up to date which only serve to underline the essential remoteness of the play’s actual mood. As a period piece both its humor and its satire might have greater validity and would certainly exhale a nostalgic charm which the present production lacks. But the main difficulty of this revival is Miss Rainer’s invincibly continental interpretation of a part which, for all its embroideries and embellishments, is essentially English and essentially cockney. Her gaunt frame, her dark drawn face suggest that this Cinderella is herself a refugee from a starving Europe rather than an imaginative little London slavey doing a bit of rescuing on her own. Playing opposite such solid Anglo-Saxon actors as Ralph Forbes in the role of the policeman and Cecil Humphreys as Mr. Bodie, her inability to take on the attributes of Sir James Barrie’s ‘Miss Thing’ is all the more marked.