The Honeys – Review

This review was written by Elinor Hughes and published in the March 15, 1955 edition of the Boston Herald.


THE THEATER

PLYMOUTH
‘The Honeys’

A comedy in 3 acts and 6 scenes by Roald Dahl, based on two of his stort stories that appeared originally in the New Yorker; presented Monday evening at the Plymouth Theater by Cheryl Crawford, with settings by Ben Edwards, costumes by Motley and with the following cast:

Mary (Mrs. Bennett Honey) Jessica Tandy
Maggie (Mrs. Curtis Honey) Dorothy Stickney
Bennett Honey Hume Cronyn
Curtis Honey (Bennett’s twin brother) Christopher Labatt
Nellie Fleischman Mary Finney
Maloney Heywood Hale Broun
O’Dwyer Len Doyle
Inspector White Paul Lipson

By ELINOR HUGHES

“The Honeys,” the new comedy presented by Cheryl Crawford Monday evening at the Plymouth Theater before a startled but on the whole quite pleased audience, is definitely in the “Arsenic and Old Lace” bracket, inasmuch as the two leading characters — a pair of very beguiling ladies — get away with a double murder and make the police department their quite innocent accessories both before and after the fact. Written by Roald Dahl, the young English short story writer, who is certainly the Charles Addams of light literature today, it is a piece of macabre whimsy that has an embarrassing way of confusing one’s ethical principles by making the murderers so obnoxious that it’s a positive pleasure to be rid of them.

To synopsize the plot too thoroughly would be to deprive you of some very ingeniously contrived suspense, but at least you should know that Mary and Maggie, two pleasing ladies of uncertain years, have the misfortune to be married to twin brothers, Bennett and Curtis Honey. Mary lives in New York with Bennett in a house of great hideousness equipped, among other things, with a temperamental elevator. Bennett is an obnoxious, self-centered bully and bore. Maggie lives in not quite so overpowering a house but with the even less appealing Curtis, who is forever stuffing himself with indigestible food and complaining about everything.

It just works out that Mary, driven beyond her apparently limitless patience, decides to go to Boston with Maggie, leaving Bennett stuck in the elevator (he gets out but that comes later). In Boston, the dear ladies go to work on Curtis but are very nearly frustrated by the police. A frozen leg of lamb and some whiskers cut from a stuffed tiger’s head play a decisive part in the final outcome.

The play is reported to have had director trouble out of town, and it is true that some scenes last night were in something of a state of flux, as though direction and writing were not entirely in accord and the actors were not entirely sure of what was expected of them. Also, I should guess that Roald Dahl, whose first play this is, has not quite decided what he wants to do about his last act. Here Maggie and Mary, whose pixillated efforts to be rid of their spouses had hitherto had a curious sort of innocent enjoyment about them, turned too knowing and rather ghoulish. It would never do for the audience to want them to get caught, and there is definitely a danger of that situation arising in the play as it now stands.

“The Honeys” is really a three-character play, for you can now be let in on a little secret: Christopher Labatt is an alias for Hume Cronyn, and Mr. Cronyn in a neat series of make-up and character changes, portrays both the twins. I particularly admired the manner in which he simmered audibly as the displeased Bennett Honey, but indeed both the characterizations, though verging on caricature, were excellent. Excellent, too, in every respect, was Dorothy Stickney as the resourceful Maggie, fluffy without and iron within; and Jessica Tandy, not quite secure in her role, made the brow-beaten Mary as appealing as she was pretty. Mary Finney officiated amusingly as a happy widow — who may or may not have pushed her husband out the window when he was feeding the birds, and Haywood Hale Broun and Len Doyle took care of the improbable police department.

“The Honeys,” which remains here for two weeks, is the seventh in the series of Theater Guild and American Theater Society subscription plays.