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Save the Date 2013 Old
 
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The Season
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Black Tie International:
The Second Man
 



 

to benefit

The Peccadillo Theater Company

directed by Dan Wackerman

starring Greg Hildreth

(Rogers & Hammerstein's Cinderella,
Peter and the Starcatcher, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson)

and
Jordan Baker

(Original Off Broadway cast of Edward Albee's Three Tall Women)

 

"Behrman was once so popular a writer of highbrow comedy that he was termed 'the American Noel Coward'." The Washington Post


Monday, October 14th at 7pm

Theatre at St. Clement's

423 W. 46th Street

(between Ninth & Tenth Avenues)

Click Here for Tickets!

Regular Seating ($25)

Premium Seating ($50)

Premium Seating & Reception with the Cast ($100)

The Second Man explores the relationships of four very different people. Clark Storey is a hack writer and bon vivant who is looking for a rich wife to support him in the style he's grown accustomed to. Engaged to Kendall Frayne, a wealthy, older woman, Clark finds himself drawn to Monica Grey, a starry-eyed young thing who doesn’t have a penny to her name. Completing the foursome is Austin Lowe, a rich scientist who wants nothing more than to make Monica his wife.

 

Seeing "The Second Man," one wonders why Coward is not "the British S.N. Behrman." The Washington Post

S.N. (Samuel Nathaniel) Behrman wrote more than two dozen comedies during his 40-year career, as well as many short stories, two biographies, and a number of screenplays. He is best remembered for popular Broadway plays that commented on contemporary moral issues. Behrman wrote about the wealthy, intellectual sector of society, endowing his characters with eloquence and intelligence. It is considered proper to say of S.N. Behrman that he is America’s chief practitioner of high comedy; that he is, as Brooks Atkinson says in his review of The Cold Wind and the Warm, “the Congreve of American letters.”

Actually, nothing that Behrman wrote resembles Congreve and, with the possible exception of Jane (which Peccadillo revived in 2003), no Behrman play since his first two (The Second Man and Serena Blandish), can be called high comedy. In high comedy, if it is a definable genre, manners and morals are examined, lightly or bitingly, with witty conversation as the chief tool. Behrman was not as concerned with manners and morals as with ideas, political and social, and with the interplay of man’s intellect and emotions. If he is to be compared to any English playwright, it should be to Bernard Shaw in genre.

As a young man, Behrman contributed to newspapers and magazines, including New Republic and The New Yorker, and studied playwriting at Harvard with George Pierce Baker. An early play, The Second Man (1927), was a huge success. Behrman tells of the play’s creation in his autobiography:

I owe this play to the most tenuous and untraceable of accidents, to the chance reading of a sentence . . . from a letter of Lord Leighton’s. The sentence reads:

“…for, together with, and as it were behind, so much pleasurable emotion, there is always that other strange second man in me, calm, critical, observant, unmoved, blasé, odious.”

The Second Man has for its central idea pluralism in personality. There is a word in German that conveys this notion of duality — Doppelgänger. This “double” functions as a kind of observer that can stand aside and judge the actions of the other, public self. It is objective, truthful, ironic; it suffers from no illusions. Clark Storey in The Second Man is its epitome: Though he longs to be a good writer, he admits to having a second-rate talent; though he is fond of Kendall, he acknowledges that her wealth weighs more heavily with him than her charm. When he is tempted briefly by Monica because of her beauty, her youth, and her flattering opinion of him as a man and an artist, even then the “second man” mocks him for aspiring to be more than he is.

Austin Lowe, another character in the play, while far less complicated, also discovers a “second man” within himself. As a scientist, he has always believed in logic, common sense, and self-control; now, made helpless by his first experience with love, he finds himself uncharacteristically humble, jealous, and maddened enough to attempt murder. When the fit passes, he is appalled by this stranger whose presence he had never before suspected.

Like those of his closest rival in the field of high comedy, Philip Barry, Behrman's writings were marked by a distinctive dichotomy. But whereas Barry's best work drew strength from his interweaving of wit and despair, Behrman's sometimes profited and sometimes was hurt by his unique mixture of brilliant, high social comedy and increasingly strong political colorings. Behrman’s comedy, for all its acknowledged out-and-out laughter, largely induces a continuing smile of the mind. [In a comparison to Behrman’s peer, Philip Barry, legendary director Harold Clurman notes: "One doesn’t have to make a choice, but I think Behrman is superior to Barry. With all deference to Barry, his plays are more agreeable to the audience, more superficial. With Behrman there is always a note – even as early as The Second Man – a note of psychological ambiguity and complexity which Barry never had. You have to be somewhat astute for a Behrman play. The Philadelphia Story, Holiday, Paris Bound – anyone can understand them – they’re the real bedlevel of the prosperous middle-class. It was easier for Barry to plot better because his material was so simple. But the minute you get into real complexity of character and thought, you have difficulty with plotting.]

Brooks Atkinson wrote of Behrman, "[His] ethical and political principles have never been appreciated. It is an ancient rule that prizes are not given to comic plays about serious subjects. The court jester invariably ranks with dilettantes and flaneurs." In Atkinson's view, this "short, rounded, merry, owlish-looking...marvelously erudite and civilized" man was far more than merely a writer of Broadway entertainments.

 

Founded in 1994, The Peccadillo Theater Company (www.ThePeccadillo.com) is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 arts organization dedicated to the rediscovery of classic American theater, particularly those works which, despite their obvious literary and theatrical value, are not regularly revived. In recent years, Peccadillo has broadened its mission to include original plays and musicals that touch upon the history of the American theater. Such was the case with Jeffrey Hatcher's Ten Chimneys, a delightful comedy about the highly theatrical marriage of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, as well as Zero Hour, Jim Brochu's one-man show about the actor/comedian, Zero Mostel.


Please help keep classic American theater alive

by contributing to

The Peccadillo Theater Company today!

 

The Peccadillo Theater Company's production of S.N. Behrman's Jane(2003) starring Roland Johnson, Susan Jeffries and Richard Bekins.

joyce brooks, gerard mckeon.  photo by:  rose billings

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