The Gioconda Smile

A play in three acts by Aldoux Huxley. Opened at the Lyceum Theater, New York City, October 7, 1950. After for 41 performances, the play went on tour. Produced and staged by Shepard Traube.

Cast of characters

Henry Hutton Basil Rathbone
Janet Spence Valerie Taylor
Nurse Braddock Mercia Swinburne
Clara Margaretta Warwick
Doris Mead Marian Russell
Dr. Libbard George Relph
General Spence Charles Francis
Maid Emily Lawrence
Warder Charles Gerrard
   
The setting is the present time (1950), Spring.
 
 
Act I, Scene 1 The living room in the Huttons' country house, England.
  Scene 2 The same; midnight the same day

Act II, Scene 1 The same; about two months later.
  Scene 2 One month later

Act III The time is late Autumn
  Scene 1 General Spence's drawing room
  Scene 2 Prison cell.
  Scene 3 General Spence's drawing room; late at night.

"When Henry Hutton's invalid wife dies, he marries Doris Mead, 21, and much younger than he is. Tongues wag. An investigation shows the wife was poisoned, and Hutton is convicted and sentenced to hang. His second marriage has been a shock to Janet Spence, who long has loved Hutton. Just in time to save him from the gallows, she confesses the murder to Dr. Libbard."
[from The Best Plays of 1950-51, ed. by Burns Mantle (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1951), page 318.]

Rathbone as Hutton in "The Giaconda Smile"
Rathbone as Henry Hutton

Hutton (Rathbone) in prison cell

"The Gioconda Smile (by Aldous Huxley; produced by Shepard Traube) was a Huxley short story and film before becoming a play. Its trick ironic plot still had a certain crude fascination on Broadway [when it opened] . . . but The Gioconda Smile offered mournful proof of what the stage can do to harm a piece of writing and of how time can accentuate a writer's faults. . . . The play hardly purports to be a mystery; but in return it insists on being just about everything else, psychological and emotional, cultural and philosophic. There is a large mass of death cells and thunderstorms, bloody hands, and lethal highballs; of human beings maddened by guilt, crazed with fear, foul-mouthed from frustration. There is a potpourri of metaphysics from the Gospels to Kierkegaard; of poetry from Marvell to Shelley; of painting from Modigliani to Czanne. The result, though sometimes good talk and sometimes good purple theater, is a kind of botch. . . . But, like many essentially critical talents seeking to be creative, he goes to extremes, and overcreates; when he isn't being literary, he is being lurid. And here, without the armor of style, he lunges out with every rusty saber of theatricalism. The Gioconda smile is rather a maniacal laugh. And the production--with Basil Rathbone hamming as the husband and Valerie Taylor brilliantly overacting as the woman scorned-- adds thumping the pedal to banging the keys."
[from Time magazine, October 1950]
 

 

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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2007