By FREDI WASHINGTON PV's Theatrical Editor June 22, 1946 p. 16
'ANNA LUCASTA,' which completes its second full year of playing at the Mansfield theatre in August (and it shows it), got its third 'Anna' with the beginning of the new 1946-7 theatre season. Yvonne Machen, who hails from Chicago and never set foot upon a stage before, is the lucky (or unlucky) girl as the case may be--unlucky because without benefit of training or experience, she has stepped into the role vacated by Valerie Black, who, possesses a native ability for the art of acting, plus a background which includes long study and practical experience in playing varied roles, large and small.
Added to this very real handicap, the play which was never, to my mind, a good play, has become thoroughly disintegrated. The performance which I saw last Thursday evening was lacking in enthusiasm and verve, the two things 'Lucasta' had in its favor. Without those qualities, you have nothing left on the stage of the Mansfield but a crude, bawdy play enacted by a company of bored players. For this statement, I'm sure I'll get my head chopped off, but before qualifying it as I intend to do, I want to talk a little bit about the new "Anna."
This Louisiana-born lassie was reared in Chicago. Her closest contact to date with the stage is an aunt, Alma Smith, well known in New York night clubs. She has been literally thrown into a major role in a once bright, but now dying play. She has been told that she is the best "Anna" the play has had to date. Without meaning to dim the enthusiasm or ambition of this youngster, I say: "Tommy-rot." That is exactly what this kind of flattery amounts to. Youth, enthusiasm and good looks never made of anyone an actor or actress. At this moment, Yvonne is not an actress, nor to my mind, does she have the slightest conception of what it takes to make a good actress. This, of course, is no fault of her own.
This young lady, who has had training or study in two different colleges in journalism, should have been allowed to break into this heart-rendering business, the theatre, from the ground up rather than from the top down. This business of acting necessitates an [sic] humble approach if one would attain real stature as an artist. It is something which you dream about awake or asleep--something you live, eat, study and discuss.
At this point, Yvonne is like a child with a new toy. In her performance as "Anna," she is superficial, with a brittle, hard superficiality. Her voice is coarse and monotonous and without nuances; she plays all of her scenes on the same key and she does not create sympathy for the character. In other words, her interpretation of "Anna" is crude and without rhyme or reason. Here let me reiterate, this is not, nor must it be construed as the fault of the young would-be actress. The fault certainly lies with those who assigned her to the role.
For one so young (19 to be exact), what I am saying will not be easy to take; but if Yvonne really wants a career, as an actress, these are words which will help her get there the quicker.
Take if you will, an actor like Juano Hernandez; here is a fine actor with an ability proved beyond doubt. What happens with him? Do you think for one moment that he would become a part of John Wildberg's Negro Actors' Broadway Vacuum if he were free to move in the theatre as an actor not hampered by color? Pardon me for my language--but hell no! Juano Hernandez is not suited to the role of Frank, and I'm sure he knows it. But by golly, this is the one thing he knows how to do: act; and this is the way he must make a living. So here you have a fine, sensitive actor, following in the wake of two previous actors, Fred O'Neil and Warren Coleman, both perfect for the role, doing in their wake a non-satisfying job. Why? Simply because since the production of Strange Fruit, which lasted very little more than two months, there has been nothing in the theatre for him. The head of a family must think long and weigh much before turning down a weekly pay check, matters not how many misgivings he may have against it. That could be said for most of the members of Anna Lucasta.
Is there any wonder why actors and actresses like Georgia Burke, Rosetta Le Noir and the others, who in the beginning of the run of Anna Lucasta, bubbled with enthusiasms, are now following the line of least resistance? Of course not.
Perhaps I am harsh in my criticism of the performance I witnessed of Anna Lucasta last Thursday night, for that very afternoon I had been privileged to witness a performance of Henry IV, Part I, by the Old Vic Company visiting here from London. Such an afternoon in the theatre by such a thoroughly competent cast gave me the feeling that here was theatre in the truest sense of the word. Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson, both known to the New York theatre and Hollywood screen, are fine, intelligent, schooled and sensitive performers in the art of acting--an art so pure that one feels that one must of necessity start again.
This was the comparison to which Yvonne Machen and other members of the cast of Anna Lucasta unsuspectingly had to submit in the sky-bound clouds of one who has always believed she knew the theatre.