Shall We Join the Ladies? 1925
Shall We Join the Ladies? by James M. Barrie
Produced by Charles Frohman
Directed by Frank Reicher
Empire Theatre, New York, January 13, 1925
Cast of Characters:
|Miss Isit||Grace Ade|
|Miss Valie||Maud Andrew|
|Mrs. Castro||Ilka Chase|
|Lady Wrathie||Shirley Gale|
|Mr. Gourlay||Denis Gurney|
|Lucy (the Maid)||Mary Heberden|
|Mr. Preen||Leslie Howard|
|Sam Smith||A. P. Kaye|
|Lady Jane Raye||Margaret Lawrence|
|Mrs. Bland||Vera FullerMellish|
|Captain Jennings||Henry Mowbray|
|Sir Joseph Wrathie||Harry Plimmer|
|Mrs. Preen||Jane Saville|
|Mr. Valie||Lyonel Watts|
“Shall We Join the Ladies?” is described by its author, J.M. Barrie, as the first act of an unfinished mystery play. Here twelve people at dinner at the end of a jolly week-end party are informed by their host that they have been gathered together from all sorts of places as the only twelve people in the world who are known to have been with his brother the night of the latter’s murder in Monte Carlo. The assumption is that one of them did the deed. They all look and act guilty, and there is muche mystery as the men leave the table to join the ladies.
(Burns – Mantle, Best Plays of 1924-1925)
Quite the pleasantest, if not the most thrilling or uproarious evening of the winter, came to the New Yorker at the Empire, where Frank Reicher has staged on one bill a play called “Isabel,” adapted beautifully from the German by Arthur Richman, and “Shall We Join the Ladies?”, a one act play by Barrie which everyone has awaited for a long time.[…]
The Barrie play lasts less than a half hour and is built about an idea that is intensely fascinating. It centres about a genial old man who invites to his house for a weekend twelve guests whom he has never seen before. On the last evening, at dinner, he tells them they have been asked because there is among them one person who has murdered his brother and he is set upon discovering the criminal. From then on the piece reaches out and brings the audience into chairs at the very table. It has a trick ending which will be fatal to it; for an audience likes to go home satisfied, and it leaves the plays as interesting and as uncertain as it was in the beginning.
(The Bookman, March 1925)
“Shall We Join the Ladies?” is, as every one knows by now, not a play yet, but an act of a play that Barrie has never finished. It has been given with great success on numerous London occasions and came last night to an expectant audience. There was no reason to be disappointed in the play. As it was acted last night it was not crisp enough, there was not enough atmosphere created: and the centre of it was not altogether within the power of A.P. Kaye to be hold. The play itself is a fresh quality from Barrie’s inexhaustible talent, a mistery, tightly wound, unsolved and ingeniously shot here and there among the thirteen characters at the dinner table.
The host’s brother has been poisoned at Monte Carlo. He has ferreted the matter out. These guests that have been under his roof for a week, are all suspected. As the talk proceeds they seem to overpower themselves with the suggestion that the crime lies at each one’s door. A scream from the ladies, who have withdrawn to the butler’s room, the crouching, trembling host, and the curtain descends; and no one knows any more about it than he know about the lady and the tiger.
(Stark Young, The New York Times, January 14, 1925)
The week just expiring in our town has been made memorable by the fact that a new Barrie play—new, at least, to New York—was produced for the first time at the same Empire Theater where, during the reign of Maude Adams, so many of the Scotsman’s comedies were offered in years gone by. For, an an afterpiece to the comedy called “Isabel”, the Frohman company is now presenting “Shall We Join the Ladies?”
Voyagers overseas, whose quest of tweeds and liquor may have taken them to London in 1922, will remember that Galsworthy’s “Loyalties” at the Saint Martin theater there was preceded by this startling and richly comic curtain-raiser, over which there was such a tremendous pother.
It is an intense and highly nervous melodrama, taut and full of jumpy laughter. With masterly craftsmanship its opening scene contrives a situation of almost intolerable anxiety. And then there is this odd thing about it. The play suddenly stops short. The situation is wrought, is about to be confessed. And then, suddenly, down comes the curtain.
That’s all there is. As the mimes of Ethel Barrymore are wont to observe (in a throaty contralto which she
herself has not used for years) there isn’t any more.
As the curtain rises, coffee and liqueurs are impending at the final dinner of a pleasant houseparty in an English country house. To the dozen guests the host—an elderly cupid who is also described as rather resembling the late Samuel Pickwick—is minded at last to Impact his reasons for inviting them. Slowly, casually, artfully he tells them a little something about himself, how lonely a bachelor he is.- how he never really loved anyone in his life but his brother and now his brother had died two years before, suddenly at Monte Carlo, under circumstances which suggested murder. Murder by poison, in fact, administered either by a man or by a woman dressed as a man.
Then as the little rosy host grows more and more grim in manner, he describes his own investigation of the crime his patient gathering of the clues, his little list of the acquaintances who had been in Monte Carlo at the time, bis search for them throughout the world, his cultivation of their acquaintance under an assumed name and finally his inviting them all to a house party at his country place. In this very room and on this very night, he has reason to believe, the murderer of his brother is sitting. One of the twelve guests —or was it Dolphin, the butler?
Like the oscillating pointer on some nervous machine, suspicion veers from one to another, hovering near this one or that as the dogged little host goes on further to explain that in a room called Dolphin’s room down the hall he proposes after dinner to carry out a little experiment by which he has every reason to believe he will be able to decide definitely what guest of his must hang by the neck until dead for the murder of the man that night two years before on the yacht off the shore of Monte Carlo. And toward that room, whence the sound of an appalling scream has just come, the last of the reluctant guests is bending his steps as the final curtain falls.
T he play is a very masterpiece of dramatic cunning and the little hints between the lines to guide the director to casting and staging it are gems in themselves, from the opening scene, wherein it is explained that “the guests have that genial [… ] for each other which steals so becomingly over really nice people who have eaten too much,” to the thumbnail portrait of each character done with true Barrie brevity.
There is Lady Wrathie, for instance, who has a secret sorrow but, being a lazy woman, does not always remember what it is. And there is Mrs. Castro, a mysterious widow, and there is Mr. Valle, “the perfect little gentleman if socks and spots can do it.”
“Shall We Join The Ladies?” has been gravely billed as “a play in three acts” and the segment given is conscientiously referred to in the script and the pogram as “Act One.” Personally, I don’t believe it for a moment. I believe it started out to be just what it is now and to call it an unfinished play would be like calling Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger” an unfinished story. Or O. Henry’s “An Unfinished Story,” an unfinished story.
(Alexander Woollcott, Buffalo Evening News, January 17, 1925)