Tracy Shayne and Cheryl Orsini
in Biography
(© Ron Marotta)
Tracy Shayne and Cheryl Orsini
in Biography
(© Ron Marotta)
The prolific playwright S. N. Behrman hardly commands the attention nowadays that he received for his boulevard comedies during the 1920s and 1930s, when he was considered as luminous a light as any dazzling Broadway. So the chance to see his acclaimed comedy Biography, now at Theatre 3 at the Mint, is something any theater lover ought to jump at, especially as it's presented in Pamela Moller Kareman's polished, pungent and superbly acted production.

Just about the only thing wrong with the piece is the title Behrman gave the play, which is actually about an autobiography that its heroine, Marion Froude (Tracey Shayne), is prevailed upon to write by editor Richard Kurt (George Kareman). The reason why the caustic Kurt wants Froude's story between hard covers is that as a free-spirit illustrator who entertains the rich and famous, she has a reputation likely to make anything she writes commercial.

The bucks she could rake in are just what worries her fussbudget ex-boyfriend Leander Nolan (Kevin Albert), who is afraid any mention of their dalliance will harm his chances at the United States Senate -- and, maybe worse, jeopardize his engagement to Slade Kinnicott (Sarah Bennett), the daughter of chief political backer Orrin Kinnicott (Keith Barber).

The gracious and warm Froude, on the other hand, believes there's nothing wrong with the life she leads in her studio, which happens to be one drawing-room where a hefty amount of actual drawing gets done. Also on hand are her short-fused maid Minnie (Cheryl Orsini), on-his-way-to-Hollywood composer Melchior Feydak (Tyne Firmin), and preening actor Warwick Wilson (Simon MacLean).

The suspense of the play -- or what there is of suspense wedged between the abundant laughs bouncing off the walls of set designer John Pollard's cozy artist's lair -- involves whether Froude will stick to the deal with Kurt that's yielded her a much-needed $2000 advance or whether she'll acquiesce to Nolan for old time's sake. It's a dilemma thickened by her attraction to the somewhat younger Kurt and his slowly-acknowledged attraction to her, despite his scorn for her liberated manner.

Froude's manner is both the point of the play and an expression of Behrman's humanitarian philosophy. In his central figure (based on real-life magazine illustrator Neysa McMein), he's created a woman who defies conventional morality with a personal code to which she determinedly adheres. She realizes her attitude puts her at odds with much of society -- even as it endears her to the art and artsy crowd with which she surrounds herself. While refusing to back down and prepared to pay the price for not doing so, she remains warm, wise, and forgiving. Those qualities, more than any others, is what may make Behrman's otherwise sparkling piece seem dated in today's much more cynical environment.