George Kelly’s The Torch-Bearers is a delightful comedy, but not the way it is performed by Drama Dept. In this hapless production, abominably overdirected by Dylan Baker, an elegantly amusing social and theatrical satire is turned into vulgar farce. Back in 1922, Kelly envisioned a bunch of Philadelphia socialites putting on an amateurish play at the Horticultural Hall. We see the rehearsal preceding it at one of the ladies’ homes, as well as the aftermath, when that lady’s husband, Fred Ritter, opposed to the whole foolish business, has it out with his Paula and her delusions of a stage career, and makes her see not footlights, but the light.
Feeding Paula Ritter’s and the others’ delusions is Mrs. J. Duro Pampinelli, a preposterous priestess of Thespis, who knows all about theater in her or a pig’s eye and directs her troupe of nincompoops with a wildly fluttery hand. The gifted Marian Seldes plays Mrs. Pampinelli as if she had also been directed by her: High camp can be funny, but should it go through the roof? Even so, the actress has her moments, just as the misdirected play still yields laughs. But some kind of restraining order would have been in order.
Faith Prince and David Garrison do nicely by Mr. and Mrs. Ritter, and Joan Copeland scores intermittently as a much-married lady acting as prompter. The others are as amateurish as the characters they portray, and as the supposedly piss-elegant Huxley Hossefrosse, Don Mayo gives the phrase “hold the mayo” a whole new meaning.