Out of a Blue Sky (1930)
Out of A Blue Sky, adapted by Leslie Howard from Hans Chlumber’s Das Blau von Himmel
Produced by Tom Van Dycke
Directed by Leslie Howard
Booth Theatre, New York, February 8, 1930
Cast of Characters
|Sonia Lanser||C Tanya Amazar|
|Lewis Leitner||Lee Crowe|
|Play Reader||William Gargan|
|Alexander Sonnholz||William Haskell|
|Dr. Friedrich Neumann||Reginald Owen|
|Irate Spectator||J. Gibbs Penrose|
|Stage Director||Gregory Ratoff|
|Property Man||Otis Sheridan|
|Jessica Wenderoth||Eleanor Terry|
|Paul Rana||Warren William|
|Gabriela Neumann||Katherine Wilson|
|Stage Manager||Tammany Young|
When the curtain goes up on “Out of a Blue Sky,”… the stage is unset, the electrician is fumbling with his lamps and the stage crew are indulging their natural genius for poker. For once nothing is ready except the audience, which is probably the first time such a thing ever occurred. A few minutes later the stage director rushes in furiously, belaboring every one in sight, and you realize that this comedy which Leslie Howard has freely adapted from the German is to be a play within a play–and a frolic.
[…]Although Leslie Howard is said to have elaborated Hans Chlumberg’s barren script so much that “Out of a Blue Sky” is virtually a new piece of work, the play within a play is utterly commonplace. And what is always a good notion for discursion into the metaphysics of playmaking yields nothing but a triangular plot more stuffy than most.
(J. Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times, February 10, 1930)
If the characters in “Out of a Blue Sky” a|ood in acute need of an author who had more to say than Hans Chlumberg evidently did, the reason was a simple one. Because these good people—who were forced by Herr Chlumberg, as author, and Leslie Howard, as adaptor, to leave the comforts of their seats and venture across the footlights—were apparently
inconvenienced for only one thing. And that was to start a stunt play on its course; a stunt play, incidentally, which had little to recommend it except the short-lived novelty of a
form that is no longer novel.
“Out of a Blue Sky” is, you see, just another of those plays which find leaser authors trespassing upon the kind of material that an Evreinov and a Pirandello can handle to advantage—and trespassing at their own peril. For it is one of those dramas which set out to prove that truth is stranger than fiction by the simple device of asking a supposedly non-Equity group from the audience to come up on the stage and take part in an improvised play Which proves, of course—and by some lucky coincidence—to be nothing less than the story of their own lives.
The action is laid both behind and in front of the curtain of what we are asked to believe is the Stadttheater in Vienna, on an evening when “Camille,” that sturdy tale of a bad lady With an irresistible cough, is billed there. The evening is a special one, (if you believe the first program you are handed), for “Camille” is to
be directed by Gregory Ratoff and the decors is to be the work of Leon Bakst.
Everything, however, has gone wrong on this fatal night, for a stupid stage manager has posted by mistak an old announcement which says there will be no performance. Accordingly, when the curtain rises, after many delays, stage hands are seen playing cards on the stage, no scenery is in place, and the members of the company are not in the theatre.
As a director, with money in the box office, a full audience out front and no apparent chance of giving a performance, Gregory Ratoff is, naturally enough, furious and apologetic all in one breath. Indeed, he does not know what to do at all until his play reader offers him the droll suggestion that he ask some members of the audience to come upon the stage and try their hands at an experiment in improvisation.
A stuffy lawyer, who has had his triumph in amateur theatricals, is only too glad to volunteer, making his wife accompany him against her will. Now Herr Ratoff has a husband and a wife–a real husband and a real wife–for his play. He has their young friends, too. But he needs a lover, for apparently his directorial mind still functions in terms of the old-fashioned theatre of Dumas fils.
Needless to say, the suave gentleman in the audience who insists upon playing the lover in the play turns out to be the real lover of the lawyer’s wife, and it is only during the course of the antique scenario in which he is involved that the lawyer discovers their true relationship.
Though “Out of a Blue Sky” has its scattering of amusing moments, they are not many. Nor are they as amusing as they might be, if only Herr Chlumberg’s writing were adequately developed, or possessed of real buoyancy and true profundity.
(John Mason Brown, New York Evening Post, February 10. 1930)
[Out of a Blue Sky] is a German play by Hans Chlumberg, adapted by Leslie Howard, who is undeniably an engaging actor. Mr. Howard wrote a play once himself and, though he is young, it might very well have been contrived by an actor twice his age. All the old-farce tricks were to be found in it. “Out of a Blue Sky,” on the other hand, has originality, and by its originality must live or die. It has not a great deal else. Like many Continental plays, it has a thin story that unfolds slowly.Probably European audiences like that sort of thing. But for us a story is not enough. It must be padded, and well padded—padded with thrills of wisdom or wit. In “Out of a Blue Sky” it has been permitted to remain bare. That is Mr. Howard’s fault as an adapter. It is his fault, too, perhaps, that the staging
helps the proceedings little, for he staged it. The play needs invention, a greater liveliness and a fluidity it has not now.
(Arthur Pollock, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 10, 1930)