Plays 4 (World Dramatists) - Noël Coward Thanks to a reference in another book to Mount Pleasant I thought of a Coward play (more on that in a bit) and then suddenly had to reread these. Coward is who folk who discover and love Oscar Wilde usually move on to in their drama reading, and with good reason as Coward does have fun with witty and fast dialog.I originally bought my Coward collections when I was taking a film class on Britain at War and one of the assigned films was This Happy Breed. Since this was ages ago I can't remember if we were assigned the play (somehow I think that was the case) or whether I just managed to run into this collection. Since there was another Coward collection sitting next to it on the shelf I figured I'd buy both - but this one has the plays I enjoy more.The preface to this book is by Raymond Mander and Jope Mitchenson and has a lot of excellent information and quotes from Coward about the plays.I also have to note here that the stage directions for almost every Coward play seem to include "french windows." This is in no way meaningful, but if you read a lot of Coward you can't help notice them popping up again and again. So anyone hoping for sunshine, roses and lovable human beings to admire had best look elsewhere.One sweeping statement I can make about Coward characters is that many of them aren't terribly nice people - but then if you have people making witty yet cutting dialog, you aren't often going to come up with terribly nice people. I'll link these to Wikipedia in case you want a bit of background or a plot summary:Blithe SpiritBecause of its continued popularity this is one of the Coward plays most people know. And that's as it should be, because it still holds up well, and has a great plot, dialog, etc. In the preface Coward talks about writing this in six days and then not needing any rewrites on it:"...I was not attempting to break any records, to prove how quickly I could write and how clever I was. I was fully prepared to revise and re-write the whole play had I thought it necessary, but I did not think it necessary. I knew from the first morning's work that I was on the right track and that it would be difficult, with that situation and those characters, to go far wrong."Present LaughterIn the 1980s there was a filmed stage version of Present Laughter that played on HBO or Showtime that I managed to watch multiple times, and fell deeply in love with the play. (And I can't find the damn thing on IMDB, argh. It wasn't this revival because I would have recognized Scott in the role - the lead was definitely a British actor.) To the point where I can't read certain lines and not hear them in the same tone and inflection as the actor who played Garry Essendine. Like the name Beryl Willard - I giggle every time I read those lines just remembering how the actor pronounced the name.Ah ha! I've dug a bit more and the actor that was in the version of Present Laughter I watched was Donald Sinden. According to the wikipedia page for the play he was in a 1981 UK revival. Here's the broadcast: BBC 1, Broadcast 16 December 1981.The part of Garry, a prima donna actor, is one that has many long rants/diatribes that really require an actor to chew up the scenery - in fact those bits are just the sort that that the phrase "chewing up the scenery" was invented to describe. And afterwards the rest of cast has a delightful time critiquing the rant.Here Garry takes an author (Roland Maule, who's written a play in verse) to task, after the author criticizes him for only playing parts that are "superficial, frivolous and without the slightest intellectual significance." Garry's response:Act I, p. 173 GARRY: ....My worst defect is that I am apt to worry too much about what people think of me when I'm alive. But I'm not going to do that anymore. I'm changing my methods and you're my first experiment. As a rule, when insufferable young beginners have he impertinence to criticise me, I dismiss the whole thing lightly because I'm embarrassed for them and consider it not quite fair game to puncture their inflated egos too sharply. But this time my highbrow young friend you're going to get it in the neck. To begin with your play is not a play at all. It's a meaningless jumble of adolescent, pseudo intellectual poppycock. And you yourself wouldn't be here at all if I hadn't been bloody fool enough to pick up the telephone when my secretary wasn't looking. Now that you are here, however, I would like to tell you this. If you wish to be a playwright you just leave the theater of to-morrow to take care of itself. Go and get yourself a job as a butler in a repertory company if they'll have you. Learn from the ground up how plays are constructed and what is actable and what isn't. Then sit down and write at least twenty plays one after the other, and if you can manage to get the twenty-first produced for a Sunday night performance you'll be damned lucky!ROLAND (hypnotised): I'd no idea you were like this. You're wonderful!Of course part of the joke with the "inflated ego" bit is that describes Garry as well.Reference to Mount Pleasant was from this play, and was found in Underground London. Garry's secretary goes through his mail and the letters he doesn't want to deal with he tells her to put into Mount Pleasant, which is now part of the mail system, but was previously a rubbish dump and had been given the name ironically. I'm still a bit unsure whether, when Garry says to "put it in Mount Pleasant" he means to put it in the wastebasket or not, because he sometimes also says that they'll deal with that particular letter later. I've probably spent way too much time trying to figure this unimportant thing out, but I'm delighted by the historical rubbish dump history. (Yes, trivia like that excites me, what can I say.)This Happy BreedA lot of other Coward plays are drawing room farce material - but this one is a family drama, with the background of the end of WWI and leading to WWII. Coward's words as quoted in the preface:p. xiii "...Many of the critics detected in this play an attitude on my part of amused patronage and condescension towards the habits and manners of suburban London. They implied that in setting the play in a milieu so far removed from the cocktail and caviare stratum to which I so obviously belonged, I was over-reaching myself and writing about people far removed from my superficial comprehension. In this as usual they were quite wrong. Having been born in Teddington, having lived respectively at Sutton, Battersea Park and Clapham Common during all my formative years, I can confidently assert that I know a great deal more about the hearts and minds of South Londoners than they gave me credit for. My metamorphosis into a "Mayfair Playboy" many years later was entirely a journalistic conception....To ascribe preconceived social limitations to a creative writer is a common error of the critcal mind; it is also a critical revelation of the common mind."Tonight at 8:30 (II)These are a series of one act plays meant to be presented one after the other - there are ten all together, and three are in this collection: Ways and Means, The Astonished Heart, and Red Peppers. I'm not particularly fond of any of these - probably because I'm not much interested in bickering couples (which reoccur a lot) - but they're all good meat for discussion and drama. Ways and Means did have stage instructions which I enjoyed:p. 375Scene IThe Scene is a bedroom in the Villa Zephyre on the Cote d'Azur. The Villa Zephyre belongs to Mrs. Lloyd-Ransome, who is excessively rich, comparatively pleasant, and entirely idle, the bedroom therefore is luxurious and tastefully appointed.