Jean Kerr Judith Crist - Essay

Judith Crist

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Poor Richard"] is not only marked by the slick style and literate wit to which the playwright has accustomed us. It also boasts, advertently or not, a cogent bit of near-self-criticism, plunk in the second of its three acts.

"Will you stop being so bloody charming?" our impassioned and impatient ingenue finally demands. And poor Richard, in one of several anguished moments of self-revelation, explains away his slick style and literate wit with "It's a noise I make to keep people from noticing I have nothing whatever to say."

It's only "near" self-criticism, because in this play Mrs. Kerr does have something to say—but every time anyone gets ready to say it for her everyone gets so bloody charming that we can't hear the wisdom for the wit, the truth for the tumult of witties….

The something that is lurking on the fringes of the laugh lines waiting to be said is about Richard, an aspiring British poet wracked by the miseries of creativeness, by the guilt of bereavement and, above all, by the awareness of having been loved in spite of himself. A book of poems has suddenly rocketed him to celebrity in this country on the grounds that it is "a private memorial" to his late wife, poetry that is "sweet and sad—like the 19th Century."

But the poet isn't sweet or sad or 19th Century; he's a drinker and a wencher, a professional "character" to delight interviewers and fascinate schoolgirls of all ages, a babbler and a noise-maker. And if only he could get an unclever word in edgewise in the midst of the charming noise, I suspect, he would have something to say, a revelation to offer, a stature to bring to the stage to raise the proceedings above the deadly ingenue-pursues-sophisticate, sophisticate-pursues-ingenue, ingenue-captivates-sophisticate level they retain amid the laugh lines. (p. 122)

The contrivance [of the romance] is easy to take, but it is a contrivance. "Poor Richard" indeed—so promising, so bloody charming and so disappointing. (p. 123)

Judith Crist, "Judith Crist's Review of Jean Kerr's 'Poor Richard'," in New York Herald Tribune (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), December 3, 1964 (and reprinted in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews, Vol. XXV, No. 28, December 14, 1964, pp. 122-23).