Mare Nostrum Elements & Theater 808’s tasteful production of S.N. Behrman’s unjustly neglected 1932 Biography has replicated the Mint’s talent for unearthing forgotten treasures and giving them meticulous stagings.
Surprisingly feminist for a male-penned work of the era, Biography (directed by Pamela Moler Kareman) concerns Marion Froude (Tracy Shayne), an effervescent portrait artist known for her paintings and many lovers. Seemingly flaky but perceptive and modest—”obscure, uncertain, alone,” as she says—Marion is asked to serialize her biography by a hard-boiled young magazine editor, Richard Kurt (George Kareman). The potential scandal causes a huge kerfuffle among the egotistical men in her past, including Leander “Bunny” Nolan (Kevin Albert), an image-conscious Senate hopeful; the grotesquely theatrical movie star Warwick Wilson (Simon MacLean); and the vindictive Kurt himself.
Marion is a complicated and delightful female Casanova, and Behrman does not condemn her avowed singlehood by marrying her off, punishing her, or even requiring her to explain it. Shayne gallops across Behrman’s witticisms with charm to burn, and though her acting style and stage presence rarely recall the flapper she embodies as much as women of the ’50s and ’70s, the anachronism reminds us that it’s never been easy for a woman to remain alone.