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January 26, 1953

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Poetic Platform Drama


Actors on a bare stage, with little to do but stand in a spotlight and recite lines, made a hit out of Shaw's Don Juan in Hell (Life, Nov. 5, 1951). Using the same technique, Charles Laughton, who directed and appeared in Don Juan, has made another platform drama out of Stephen Vincent Benét's epic Civil War poem, John Brown's Body. Laughton, who does not appear in this one, has enlisted a cast of three stars and a choral group of 21. Dressed in formal clothes, the actors take turns delivering Benét's descriptive passages and jump from one role to another. Massey portrays both Lincoln and Negro servant; Power is both a Yankee and a Confederate soldier; Anderson a Southern matriarch and Northern girl. Starting its U.S. tour, John Brown's Body was an immediate box office success, indicating the U.S. public, perhaps bored by too much movie and stage realism, is delighted to accept a theater that relies heavily on imagination.

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