The American Legacy
Metropolitan Playhouse
The American Legacy

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Reviews -  Dodsworth

Metropolitan Playhouse, "theatrical archaeologist extraordinaire" (Backstage), presents a revival of Dodsworth by Sidney Howard, adapted from the novel by Sinclair Lewis. First presented on Broadway in 1934, Dodsworth has not received a professional production in New York since, but will be revived at Metropolitan's home at 220 E 4th Street May 15th through June 6th, 2010.

Dodsworth is the portrait of a relationship falling apart in midlife, but of two souls finding their true selves, and a canny description of American ideals at their most confining and most liberating, both. When Sam Dodsworth, the man who made Revelation Automobiles a household name, sells his company and retires, he looks forward to an ideal life of leisure in the midwest town of Zenith. His one concession to his younger wife is a trip to Europe--an adult's grand tour. When he discovers her ambitions for their freedom from the daily grind are very different from his, and she discovers herself an object of desire across Europe, they face the loss of everything their marriage has led them to take for granted. But for two people set to turn in before their spirits have died, losing everything is an ideal retirement gift.

Sinclair Lewis' novel of 1929 was adapted to the stage by Lewis and leading playwright of the day Sidney Howard in 1934. Later incarnations included and William Wyler's popular film, starring Walter Huston and Fay Bainter, and a 1943 radio play with Huston and Bette Davis in Bainter's part. Despite its pedigree and enduring popularity as a film, the play has not received a professional revival since its Broadway run in the 30's.

Novelist Sinclair Lewis defined American small city culture of the early 20th Century, its ambitions and virtues as well as its potential for heartbreak. He rose to sudden fame with Main Street (1920), and his best known later works include Babbitt (1922); Arrowsmith (1925), for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, though he turned the prize down; Elmer Gantry (1927); Dodsworth (1929); and It Can't Happen Here (1935.) In 1930, he became the first American awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. If the story of Dodsworth is largely Lewis', the dramaturgy of the play owes a great deal to Sidney Howard. One of the most popular playwrights of the 1920's and '30's, his works include Pulitzer Prize winning They Knew What They Wanted (1925), which became the musical The Most Happy Fella; Lucky Sam McCarver (1926); Ned McCobb's Daughter (1926),; The Silver Cord (1927); The Late Christopher Bean (1932); and Yellow Jack (1932). He also adaptEd Lewis' novel Arrowsmith for film, earning him an Academy Award nomination, and his work on the adaptation to film of Gone With the Wind earned him a post-humous Oscar in 1939.

Metropolitan's revival is directed by Yvonne Opffer Conybeare, director of many Metropolitan's most Popular Productions, includingThe Truth, Missouri Legend, The Devil's Disciple, and The City. The production stars Michael Scott as Dodsworth (B'way- Best Little Whorehouse, 110 in the Shade, Follies), Lisa Reigel (Nowadays), Wendy Merritt (The Octoroon), D.H. Johnson, Brad Thomason, Oliver Conant, Suzanne Savoy (André). Lighting Design is by Christopher Weston (The Contrast; Under the Gaslight; The Return of Peter Grimm.)

Metropolitan Playhouse explores America's theatrical heritage through forgotten plays of the past and new plays of American historical and cultural moment. Called an "indispensible East Village institution" by, Metropolitan has earned accolades from The New York Times, The Village Voice, Backstage and for its ongoing productions that illuminate who we are by revealing where we have come from. Recent productions include the The Return of Peter Grimm, Under the Gaslight, The Contrast, Federal Theater Project's Power, It Pays to Advertise, Year One of the Empire, The Pioneer: 5 plays by EuGene O'Neill, Denial and The Melting Pot, as well as the Alphabet City and East Village Chronicles series.

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Sidney Howard's Dodsworth Gets a Rare Revival

A very hush'hush Off'Off'Broadway revival of Dodsworth — the first ever — is quietly and deliberately unceremoniously ending its three-week run at Metropolitan Playhouse (220 East 4th Street) this weekend with 8 PM performances June 3-5.

It is the only presentation of the original 1934 Broadway script (by Sidney Howard, by way of Sinclair Lewis’ 1929 novel) to play in New York — and it may be the last. Alfred Uhry has reportedly done a refurbishing of the script for a possible revival by Lincoln Center Theater, and this recently got a workshop reading with John Lithgow in the title role that Walter Huston made famous on both stage and screen.

Alex Roe, artistic director of Metropolitan Playhouse, was granted production rights for this only on the proviso that he swear off reviews and ads (a first for him).

Hence, the lack of awareness of the show — which is a pity, given the colorful vintage costumes and the creative multi-tasking cast (nine actors in 30 roles!) on display.

Michael Scott and Lisa Riegel star as the 20-year marrieds — a reluctantly retired automobile magnate and his aging coquette of a wife — who grow old and apart.

The funniest, and the ripest, in the supporting ranks is Oliver Conant, who achieved a certain measure of movie immortality playing Hermie’s best friend, the chubby teenage Benjie, in the 1971 film, “Summer of ‘42.” Now, he plays the silver-haired Tubby Pearson, along with four other characters in the play. My, how time flies!

“Dodsworth,” an Oscar contender for Best Picture of 1936, is one of six films saluting novelist Sinclair Lewis which Turner Classic Movies will be running end-on-end June 3-4: Guy Kibbee’s “Babbitt” (1934) starts it off at 8 PM on June 3, followed by “Ann Vickers” (1934) at 9:30 PM and “Dodsworth” (1936) at 11 PM. This is followed on June 4 by the rarely seen “Arrowsmith” (1931) at 12:45 AM, “Cass Timberlane” (1947) at 2:30 AM and “I Married a Doctor” (based on Lewis’ novel, “Main Street”) at 4:30 AM.

—Harry Haun