Star City Playhouse, which makes a specialty of high-quality mainstream plays from years past, fittingly wraps its first Vinton season with a revival of S.N. Behrman’s “The Second Man.” It makes for a longish but thought-provoking and sharply funny night of community theater.
The show dates from the late 1920s. It featured Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in the initial Broadway run and Noel Coward in the later London production. Star City’s cast boasts no such luminaries but can be proud of its offering. The near-capacity audience on the night of this review was justly and enthusiastically appreciative.
“The Second Man” is set in the well-appointed New York City apartment of an intriguing character named Clark Storey. He’s a writer who believes himself too intelligent to write commercially for magazines but not intelligent enough to pen anything of true literary value. In his own words, he’s a “second-rate” fiction writer and “imitative” poet.
Accordingly, he aspires only to be a “prosperous dilettante.” A rich widow named Kendall Frayne is happy to provide the necessary wherewithal.
But there are complications. One of them is a lovestruck young woman named Monica Grey. She begs Storey to marry her and aim for the literary consequence of which she believes him capable. Monica is 24 years old to Storey’s 41. Though there are signs that Storey returns her love, he resists on grounds that she is too young, too mindlessly chatty and too heedless of the boredom that he says would eventually sour their relationship. She also overrates his literary abilities.
Storey knows these things, he says, because of a “second man” that resides within himself — a sort of conscience that demands total honesty in what he does and says.
A further complication is provided by Austin Lowe. He’s wealthy, an accomplished scientist and Storey’s best friend. He’s also desperately in love with Monica Grey but clueless in the ways of courtship.
“The Second Man” is a talky play, especially in the prickly wit with which Storey expresses his worldly vision. But there is action, as well, some of it involving champagne and a revolver, as the play winds toward a resolution of sorts. With three acts and two intermissions, the play clocks in at almost three hours.
Chris Reidy makes the most of Behrman’s barbed wit and dominates the show as Storey, a Jazz Age sophisticate who knows himself all too well. Reidy is well matched by Diane Heard as the widow Frayne. Like Reidy, she’s a Star City regular and a performer of maturing onstage skills. Both are capably supported by Brandi Dawson as the naive Monica and Lukas Pickett as her ardent but clumsy admirer.
The actors are handsomely costumed by Karen Sue Semones. The set is by Semones’ husband and professional partner, Marlow Ferguson. He also directs the play.