The New York Times – Tuesday, January 30, 1934
Lillian Gish in Philip Barry’s ‘The Joyous Season’ — Opening of ‘Hotel Alimony.’
By Brooks Atkinson.
THE „JOYOUS SEASON” a play in three acts. by Philip Barry. Settings by Robert Edmond Jones: staged and produced by Arthur Hopkins. At the Belasco Theatre.
- Francis Battle ………………… Eric Dressler
- Theresa Farley Battle ……….. Jane Wyatt
- Martin Farley ……………… Jerome Lawler
- Patrick ……………………… Barry Macollum
- Hugh Farley ……………….. Alan Campbell
- Ross Farley …………………… John Eldredge
- Monica Farley ……….. Florence Williams
- John Farley ………………… Moffat Johnston
- Edith Choate Farley ………Mary Kennedy
- Christina Farley ……………….. Lillian Gish
- Nora ………………………………. Kate Mayhew
- Sister Aloysius …………………… Mary Hone
Since Mr. O’Neill has described „Days Without End” as a modern miracle play, Philip Barry is entitled to give “The Joyous Season” the same distinction. He does not. In the program at the Belasco, where it was acted !ast evening, he describes it simply as „a new play.” But it presents Lillian Gish in the part of a reverent sister of the Catholic faith. In three acts it shows how the radiance of the sister’s spirit redeems her family from worldly melancholy on Christmas Day. It is a play that lies close to the heart of things and speaks honestly about tremulous matters that are seldom mentioned in the theatre. Some of it is deeply moving; all of it discloses a decency and fineness of feeling. Mr. Barry is not the man to theatricalize a Iesson in faith. But still, in this reviewer’s opinion, a religious topic seems to place an impediment in the freedom of Mr. Barry’s imagination. Inasmuch as “The Joyous Season” is a testament to the joy of faith, why should it lack the tumultuous emotion of ”The Animal Kingdom”, or „Tomorrow and Tomorrow”? Mr. Barry has written with more exultation upon less earnest occasions.
The plot is simplet as becomes the theme. After having been apart from her family for many years in the service of the church Sister Christina is briefly united with them at the Christmas season. Her mother has left Christina in her will the choice of two properties.
During her visit she has to decide which to accept. Put that is only the framework of the play. The real problem is the spiritual apathy of her brothers and sisters. Once they used to be a gay family of Irish parents in the neighborhood of Boston. But now that they have become a family of distinction there and are all living together on Beacon Street, Christina finds them gloomy, ingrown, moribund and pettish toward each other. Their apathy is almost maglignance. It is separating husbands and wives and poisoning the single idealist with despair. ”The Joyous Season” is the narrative of how Christina’s faith and spirit infiltrate their lives and bring most of them back to a state of awareness and fulfillment.
By setting his play in Boston Mr. Barry bas localized it a good deal. Perhaps it requires a Bostonian to savor completely the moribund family life of the Farley clan-their formal respectability and their interior distaste for each other. “Being a Bostonian is a full-time job at half pay,”says the banker of the family, who is really a custodian of vaults. There is a devious satire in Mr. Barry’s portrait of his family that Bostonians will relish most keenly.
But that is only a trifling matter. What limits the scope of “The Joyous Season” more rigidly is the unevenness of the characterization. Francis and Terry Battle he has described completely. Her stubbornness and callousness of mind, his reticent idealism, the jangled mixture of their lives reveal these young people; and we know enough about them to respond to their problems. Mr. Barry has also written the part of Christina in such generous terms that we can understand her too, and feel the glow of her being. But the others are either generalized types or phantoms in a play. By leaving them in that murky penumbra Mr. Barry has lost a good deal of the lustre of his theme.
The acting reflects some of the same confusion. As Christina, Miss Gish is superb. Apart from the aura of’ her presence, which illuminates the sort of part she is playing, she has created a character with the imagery of her gestures and the inflections of her passionless voice. Jane Wyatt gives a splendid performance as the turbulent Terry whose moods are blazing and various. Eric Dressler invigorates the part of Terry’s husband with a note of candor and sincerity.
As the eldest brother Moffat Johnston is concrete and discerning. John Eldredge bas a buoyancy of playing that clarifies a good deal the inconclusive part of the brother radical. Kate Mayhew brings a jaunty sentiment to the part of an old family retaineress.
In his design of a dull living-room, Robert Edmond Jones has captured one aspect of the play, but this is not one of his n1ost illuminating settings. It shares Mr. Barry’s hesitation. Much of “The Joyous Season” is stirring and exalting. But in this reviewer’s opinion. it is not the great religious play Mr. Barry can write. It is not flooded with fervent emotion.