Jean Kerr Henry Hewes - Essay

Henry Hewes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The difference between style and front turns out to be precisely the problem that plagues Mrs. Kerr's title character [in Poor Richard], a poet with a vague resemblance to the late Dylan Thomas and the late Brendan Behan. This poet, named Richard Ford, is in a fallow period of his creativity following an unexpected best-seller, and he is acutely aware that much of what he says and does is front. As he puts it, "Talking is a noise I make to stop people from noticing that I have nothing whatsoever to say." But like anyone who tries to write, Richard would like to believe that he once had style and that he might regain it.

Now, in the Broadway theater front is more important than style, and Mrs. Kerr finds herself somewhere in between the sort of playwright who is all front but deludedly equates it with style, and the very few playwrights who do have style. However, there is a certain admirable honesty in Mrs. Kerr's position and in her writing, a certain admission of insufficiency of style at the same time as she is demonstrating that if she were only innocent enough, she, too, could trade on front. And it is this honesty, along with accurate observation of the way people like her characters do behave, that holds together a play whose most dramatic events are unplayed.

For instance, after Cathy, the pretty young secretary, has informed the poet on first meeting that he is going to marry her, it is most amusing to have him turn to her a day later and quietly announce, "I just want you to know I've thought about it and O.K." But what we miss is some kind of experience in between that could have led to this decision. Similarly, Mrs. Kerr provides a delightful description of a girl when Richard laments, "She has gone and tampered with what used to be a breathtaking innocence," but, alas, we never meet her. Here and there we hear some sarcastic comment about such targets as Time, Hollywood, and advertising copy, but they are single glancing shots that never really define Richard's discontent. (p. 25)

Henry Hewes, "Waiting Periods," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1964 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XLVII, No. 51, December 19, 1964, pp. 24-5.∗