“A Phoenix Too Frequent” review: comedy rises from the ashes
Christopher Fry is so forgotten on this side of the Atlantic that it’s hard to imagine how popular his verse plays were once, here and in England. The original 1949 West End production of “The Lady’s Not for Burning”, her best-known drama, starring John Gielgud and Richard Burton, moved to Broadway the following year and performed there for 151 performances. , a very long term for a spectacle of this rarefied genre. It was so well received that Decca actually taped the production for release on LP, and three of Fry’s other plays have also aired on Broadway. But the fleeting vogue for verse plays of which his work was a part quickly took its course as Terence Rattigan’s “well-done” dramas of middle-class life, stifled by more seasoned playwrights like Arthur Miller, John Osborne and Tennessee Williams, and none of Fry’s plays have been performed on or off Broadway since 1958.
Mr. Fry’s first big hit, “A Phoenix Too Frequent,” is a major comedy from 1946. Although it received infrequent regional covers in the United States, most notably by the Writers Theater in Chicago in 2001, I’ve never seen her (or any of Fry’s work) on stage. For this reason, I would have seriously considered taking a plane to see the new revival of the American Players Theater, directed by Keira Fromm, were it not for the practical fact that APT is simultaneously making one of its Live performances of “A Phoenix Too Frequent” available as a streaming webcast. For those in other parts of the country who find the trip to rural Wisconsin arduous, this webcast is ideal for home viewing: the sleek, small-scale production, beautifully photographed in APT’s 200-seat indoor theater with a setup three-camera, features a young and accomplished cast, and Ms. Fromm, a Chicago-based director who first caught my eye in May with her Writers Theater webcast of “The Last Match,” once turns out to be moreover, to be an artist of distinction.