On late Friday afternoon, my mother drove downtown to join my father, my middle brother, and Joshua and me for an evening out.
We had dinner at a nice restaurant, and afterward we attended Theater In The Round’s production of “The Reluctant Debutante”, a 1955 play by William Douglas-Home.
None of us had seen “The Reluctant Debutante”, and I had never before seen a Douglas-Home play. Douglas-Home plays have fallen by the wayside, other than very infrequent revivals of “Lloyd George Knew My Father”, and I was curious to see the work of a playwright whose plays held the London stage throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
“The Reluctant Debutante” presents the story of a family introducing its daughter to London society, trying to guide her through the thicket of social etiquette and propriety while attempting to identify prospective matches for her. Because of a misunderstanding, an unsuitable prospect is allowed to enter the picture, and the play traces the course of the daughter’s fascination and the parents’ dissatisfaction with the unlikely young suitor.
The comedy is a gentle one—it never veers into the territory of satire or truly sharp social observation—and, this being a 1950s drawing-room comedy, everything ends happily. I would characterize “The Reluctant Debutante” as the quintessential pre-John Osborne play.
Alas, the play is not very good. It is too long (almost three hours), very slow-moving, and not particularly imaginative. Perhaps the play’s most serious deficiency is that the dialogue does not sparkle. If the dialogue does not sparkle, why revive a tedious 1950s comedy of manners?
If “The Reluctant Debutante” represents the playwright at his best, Douglas-Home was little more than a bargain-basement Terence Rattigan—and Rattigan plays no longer hold the stage. Absent an extraordinary cast and an extraordinary production, “The Reluctant Debutante” is probably better off left on the shelf. I do not understand what Theater In The Round saw in the material, and I do not understand why Theater In The Round thought this particular play might appeal to audiences in 2011.
The production was not one of Theater In The Round’s finer efforts. I thought the debutante was miscast (as well as too old for the part) and I thought the mother was both miscast and misdirected. I found it impossible to accept debutante and mother as of the same bloodline—both actresses seemed to belong to separate solar systems—and it appeared that the father had even less in common with the two female members of his family. “Did these people just meet?” was a question I asked myself all evening.
The staging was obvious and “punched up”—the actors strained for laughs, and tried far too hard to create the illusion that something amusing was going on—and I suspect that the current “Reluctant Debutante” is one of those productions in which the stage director threw in the towel in the final week of rehearsals and told his cast to do whatever was necessary to enliven the proceedings. The final result was anything but a unified ensemble.
Ticket sales for “The Reluctant Debutante” have been poor, and word-of-mouth for the production has been poorer still. I suspect Theater In The Round made a mistake in selecting this play for its 2011-2012 season.
“The Reluctant Debutante” is the second consecutive Theater In The Round presentation in which demand for tickets has proven disappointing. The company’s previous production, “Bus Stop”, also did not generate robust ticket sales—and I have been told that “The Reluctant Debutante” is faring less well at the box office even than “Bus Stop”. It may be time for Theater In The Round to give 1950s plays a prolonged rest. (Theater In The Round is underwritten, and therefore not imperiled by box-office shortfalls.)
Anna Massey, who died four months ago, made her first professional stage appearance in the original 1955 London production of “The Reluctant Debutante”. The role made Massey a star (at least in Britain), and she was to repeat the role in the 1956 Broadway production.
MGM produced a film version of the play in 1958. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, the film starred Sandra Dee, who portrayed the debutante. I do not believe the film (which I have not seen) is considered to be one of the high points of the Minnelli canon.
Before the theater performance, we ate dinner at a restaurant not far from the theater. We enjoyed a very pleasing meal.
We all ordered the same soup: parsnip-green apple soup with crème fraiche and caviar.
For main course, my mother ordered grilled shrimp on roasted sweet potato, leek and speck, with a truffle broth.
My father and Josh ordered Angus filet, bleu cheese mashed potatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and Scotch bonnet peppers.
My brother ordered short ribs, mirepoix and pommes frites.
I ordered pan-seared wild duck breast, Belgian waffle and pomegranate, with sweet onion-coffee liqueur marmalade.
For dessert, we all ordered coconut cake and lemon sorbet, with rum caramel sauce.
The food was excellent.
Saturday was a big day for us because all the men in my family went to the Minnesota-Iowa game. It was my nephew’s first football game, and he was excited beyond words—indeed, he had been excited about the game for over a week, talking about it incessantly and asking thousands of questions. Happily, the weather on Saturday was beautiful—warm and sunny—and we did not have to bundle him up as if for a trip to the Arctic Circle.
My mother prepared a lunch for us to eat at 11:30 a.m. on the dot—homemade chicken noodle soup and tuna salad sandwiches—and we left for the game at 12:00 Noon on the dot. We took two cars to the game in the event my nephew wanted or needed to leave early.
The game started at 2:30 p.m., exactly in the middle of my nephew’s normal naptime, but my nephew’s excitement easily carried him through the afternoon. He loved the stadium and he loved the crowds and he loved the band and he loved the fans standing and cheering—and, since the game was televised, he thought his mother, grandmother and sister were somehow able to watch HIM on television at home.
The rules of football are too complicated for a six-year-old to follow, and the game itself was not of particular interest to my nephew. It was the sense of participating in a major sporting event, not the action on the field, that excited him.
In fact, he became bored by the game during the second quarter. By halftime, his interest in the athletic contest had completely waned. He stayed to observe the halftime show, which he very much enjoyed, but after the halftime festivities his father and grandfather took him home.
It was probably all for the best that he left the game early. The drive home was swift, avoiding game-end traffic, and he was able to eat his dinner at the normal hour, which is very important to him. (Throughout the game, he expressed great concern about missing his dinner, even though we told him over and over that his dinner would be waiting for him the very minute he got home.)
My middle brother and Josh and I stayed for the entire game. Minnesota was putting up a fight—the game was tied, 7-7, at halftime—but it looked as if Minnesota was starting to lose steam late in the third quarter.
My father, my older brother and my nephew arrived home just as the fourth quarter was beginning. Only seconds after they walked in the door of my parents’ house, Iowa scored a touchdown to take a 21-10 lead, and it appeared—both to them arriving at home and to us remaining at the stadium—that the game was over.
Minnesota, however, assembled its grit, scored twice late in the game, and won, 22-21. It was an amazing—and gutsy—fourth quarter for the Golden Gophers, and it was certainly the game of the year for Minnesota fans. This was the second year in a row in which a very weak Minnesota team had knocked off a heavily-favored Iowa team, and Josh and I were pleased that we had chosen this particular game as our only game of the season. It was a great game, and one with a happy ending.
As far as we know, no Iowa fans were charged with public lewdness on Saturday, although we shall have to keep our eyes on the news—after all, it was two days after the Minnesota-Iowa game a couple of years ago when local newspapers first reported that Iowa fans had been arrested and charged with lewd conduct during the game (the Iowa fans charged with lewd acts had pleaded guilty, were fined, and were sentenced to probation).
Sunday was an even bigger day in my family than Saturday, because Sunday was my nephew’s sixth birthday. It is very hard for me to believe that he is already six years old. It is equally hard for me to believe that he has not always been part of our lives.
At Sunday School, his classmates and teachers sang “Happy Birthday” to him and celebrated his birthday with cupcakes and fruit juices.
When we returned home from church, we had apple pancakes and apple sausage for breakfast—and an apple-walnut coffee cake. The food theme was apple pursuant to my nephew’s request.
While my nephew and niece were taking their naps, my mother made my nephew’s birthday cake. She made a carrot cake, because a carrot cake is what he said he wanted.
When the kids woke from their naps, we made Halloween cookies. Everyone worked on the project, including the kids, because we were making cookies for two households for trick-or-treating on Halloween night.
We made pumpkin-nut cookies, and sugar cookies in the shapes of pumpkins and ghosts.
After the cookies were baked and cooled, we had to decorate and package the cookies, the most fun part of the project. While the rest of us decorated and packaged cookies, my mother decorated my nephew’s birthday cake.
On Sunday night, we had my nephew’s birthday dinner. He picked the menu. We had thick-cut pork chops and stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, lima beans, corn and applesauce.
An hour after dinner, we ate birthday cake and homemade ice cream, and presented my nephew with his birthday gifts. He was happy as a lark, and so was everyone else.
It was a great weekend.