NOVEMBER 19, 1949
NEW YORK, Friday—Wednesday night was a very pleasant one for me, for after dinner at a little restaurant where the food was excellent we went to see "Lost in the Stars." Perhaps I should say "hear" as well as "see."
This play, written by Maxwell Anderson, is based on Alan Paton's novel, "Cry, the Beloved Country." The production was directed and supervised by Rouben Mamoulian and he has done a most extraordinary job of stage setting. The sets merely suggest the situation and leave so much to your imagination that you can really hold the atmosphere of the play much more clearly than if he had attempted to put it realistically before you.
I did not think I would ever like Todd Duncan better than I liked him in "Porgy and Bess," but he is really wonderful in this. So is Leslie Banks, who plays Mr. Duncan's opposite number as the white man. When Mr. Duncan made his speech about the white race in South Africa I almost thought I was listening to a speech made in the Paris General Assembly last year in Committee Three by one of the delegates from that country.
One cannot single out any one actor for praise, however, because they were all so good, even the children. I think they do their parts with a real love of the production.
Maxwell Anderson has written some wonderful things for this play. The boy's confession in the court room is deeply moving, and the sentence by the judge is something that gives one pause.
Is there such a thing as justice possible when it is administered by human beings, no matter how carefully you adhere to the letter of the law?
There was no doubt in your mind as to which human being had a chance to be of value if he was allowed to live and I think people in whose country capital punishment is not permitted would have had a happier time than I had.
Which one of us can say that a human being should die or should live? Still, I have always felt that a life sentence was almost more cruel than death. But I suppose that as long as a man is alive, there is hope that he may someday be free.
Irina, the girl who loved Absalom, would certainly rather have kept him alive. And I have seen many a mother begging the governor of the state of New York, or his representative, for the life of her son, who would have accepted a sentence of life imprisonment in preference to the death sentence.
The music in the play is haunting. Todd Duncan's song, "Thousands of Miles," and his prayer and "The Little Grey House" still stay in my mind along with many others. Perhaps reading the book, which gives a more complete picture of the whole problem, will make it difficult for some people to enjoy the play. But I was grateful for the beauty of the play, for its tragedy and the inescapable problem that it sets before us so vividly.