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“Theatre: Demise of Two Blackguards”

This review was written by Lewis Funke and published in the April 29, 1955 edition of The New York Times.


Theatre: Demise of Two Blackguards

Wives Do Them In in ‘The Honeys’

THE HONEYS, by Roald Dahl. Staged by Frank Corsaro; scenery by Bed Edwars; costumes by Motley; a farce comedy. Produced by Cheryl Crawford at the Longacre Theatre.
Maggie .........................Dorothy Stickney
Mary...............................Jessica Tandy
Curtis Honey.........................Hume Cronyn
Bennet Honey.........................Hume Cronyn
Nellie Fleischman....................Mary Finney
Potts.................................Dana Elcar

Judging by the feminine laughter in the Longacre there must be a number of wives who would like to emulate the achievements of the wives on stage. For “The Honeys” in Roald Dahl’s farce which had its première last night, are not so sweet as you may think they are.

Actualliy they’re a set of twin brothers who are about as nasty a pair of irascible, crotchety and cantankerous members of the male fraternity as you’d ever want to avoid. And when their wives, suffering in silence for ever so long, decide that the pleasures of widowhood are more to be desired than the blessings of matrimony, the women in the assembly are all for the wives’ successful plan of extermination.

At this point, however, it is necessary for this department to register its dissent. Not, mine you, out of any sense of loyalty. Those blackguards deserved what they got, one finished by a whack on the noggin with a frozen leg of lam, the other by a medicinal prescription compounded of bismuth and tiger’s whiskers.

The dissent is made simply because in attempting this bit of hocus-pocus Mr. Dahl is asking for but not achieving the mad mood that is required. “The Honeys” is not sufficiently demented. The two ladies with the nefarious intentions are much too sane, unlike Joseph Kessering’s mad antic that he called “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

The comparison with “Arsenic and Old Lace” is, of course, inevitable, but the resemblance is only superficial. Unlike the old ladies of “Arsenic” who gleefully and innocently collected corpses for pure joy in their “innocent” pastime, the ladies here are pretty calculating about their procedure. As sisters-in-law who have undergone assorted humiliations they decide that a new, rich, full life can be theirs, if only they were rid of their husbands. To be sure, their methods of murder are most refined. In one way or another they maneuver their mates to their demise.

Having heard that oysters can be poisonous if properly treated they manage to feed them to one of the husbands. The other husband, after escaping from an elevator in which he has bee locked, meets his end in a scuffle with the two ladies when his wife bops him with the leg of lamb. The notions are funny enough but there are not enough of them to keep the evening in merriment, and the quips are infrequently hilarious.

The two ladies are being played by Dorothy Stickney and Jessica Tandy. Miss Stickey, whose presence is always a delight on any stage, does nicely as the plotter for the pair. When she is inspired with the idea of shedding her mate as a result of a flash of inspiration she is comical indeed, her eyes glossy and fixed in the distance, her whole being transfixed with the anticipated pleasure of freedom. Miss Tandy, who, for all her suffering, has tried to be devoted and considerate, is effective as she divests herself of her loyalty and decides to head for widowhood.

Hume Cronyn plays the twin brothers and succeeds in wresting some humor from their crusty old beings. AS Bennett Honey, who can’t stand even a single seed in his orange juice, who thinks the height of excitement is shuffleboard in St. Petersburg and who changes his wigs so that people will think he needs a haircut, he shakes and whines and bellows.

As his twin brother Curtis, who is gluttonous at the sable, throws his matches and cigar ashes all over the house and buys animal heads at auctions because he is too scared to go hunting for them, Mr. Cronyn is first-rate. And when he screws up his face in the sourest laugh you ever heard, he is vastly amusing.

Let us also say a word of praise for Mary Finney, who blossomed out after she lost her husband when he fell from a window, and really inspires the sisters with the tales of her travels and experiences. Unhappily, Miss Finney is not on stage enough. When she is she brightens matters considerably.

Frank Corsaro is credited with the direct and Ben Edwards has provided two sets that satisfactorily convey the homes of the curmudgeon Honeys. Indeed, is possible to forgive the two Mrs. Honeys for their crimes. What is not so easily forgiven is the absence of more wacky humor in their shenanigans.