Enid Bagnold

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Martin Gottfried

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It is not often these days that a play is written with grace in pursuit of intelligence. Both seem out of fashion. "A Matter of Gravity" … is hardly in the class of her wonderful "The Chalk Garden," or the lesser "The Chinese Prime Minister," but time spent with even an untidy Enid Bagnold play is time spent in the company of intellectual finesse….

["A Matter of Gravity"] is about a very rich, very aristocratic and devastatingly bright old English lady who is living alone in a grand country house. She is alone, that is, except for a cook who has the disconcerting habit of rising into the air now and again….

[Mrs. Basil has] outgrown faith in science and so the choice between believing what she sees—the floating cook—and what makes sense, ultimately concludes with a final philosophy: "There are things to which I am tied that need loosening." She abandons the house to find new knowledge with the cook.

That doesn't make sense, besides which, nothing happens on-stage to convince us that the cook or anyone else can levitate, which is the play's first order of reality. But then these are only the most obvious of the play's confusions.

The play's sociological points are in equal abundance and confusion. The handsome country home … is a fulsome symbol of everything that was refined, tasteful and civilized in British life. It is coming apart at the seams, destroyed by a modern age of homosexuals, interracial marriages and other disturbers of the past, toward whom Bagnold's liberalism is unconvincing. At the play's start the lady is left to living only in the front of the house. By its end, even that is crumbling. The end of elegant living….

Bagnold writes with such wit, and such sense, that she makes wisdom and civility seem like long lost treasures that must be returned to our lives at once, lest we die of stupidity. Even when nothing is happening, which is most of the time, the flow of observation and humor is invigorating. And though it is actionless there is a theater of language to the play….

[The] charm and wisdom of this play [is not] to be dismissed out of hand…. "A Matter of Gravity" is not mere matinee theater. It may not be first rate but it is certainly first class.

Martin Gottfried, "'Gravity': A High for Katharine the Great," in New York Post (reprinted by permission of the New York Post; © 1976, New York Post Corporation), February 4, 1976 (and reprinted in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2, January 26, 1976, p. 375)

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