Bio Spheres


I’ve always had a sneaking fondness for S. N. Behrman (1893-–1973), whose mission in life as a playwright seems to have been letting the emotional complexities of Chekhov seep in to soften the traditionally brittle edges of high comedy. In his comfortable parlors, the rich are full of perturbations and doubts, while the complacent can always count on a radical or two dropping by to upset their moral apple cart. His 1932 comedy Biography, in this solid but slightly too earnest revival directed by J. R. Sullivan, only wants an extra squirt of fizz in the playing to make both its satiric acid and its clear-eyed compassion look-—to use a period expression-—as fresh as paint. The heroine (Carolyn McCormick), a promiscuously kindhearted society portraitist, is coaxed by a grumpily leftist young editor (Sean McNall) into writing her tell-all life story, and finds herself beleaguered by past and future lovers who want her to tell less than all. McCormick and McNall handle the play’s more somber scenes touchingly; George McDaniel as a ponderously pious magnate and Dominic Cuskern as a musical hack with a Wiener-schnitzel accent make substantial entries on the script’s giddier side. A lot of Behrman’s 1932 gibes at American prudery, by the way, find perfect targets in 2007’s “Christian” right.