I tend to identify screwball comedies with movies of the 1930s and 1940s, but a recent return to the Metropolitan Playhouse made me realize that the roots of the genre extend at least as far back as the 1914 play It Pays to Advertise by Roi Cooper Megrue and Walter Hackett.
The comedy, which follows a slacker soap heir who builds up a fake company through advertising, was a hit on Broadway that turned up in Hollywood versions in 1919 and 1931. It also seems to have worked its way into the creative consciousness of Preston Sturges and other movie directors and screenwriters who spun out screwballs filled with satire and scheming.
Following on the heels of the sparkling Metropolitan Playhouse revival of Power, this production of It Pays to Advertise is entertaining enough to give audiences a sense of what made it such a hot commodity for stage and screen. But because the performers seemed under-rehearsed at the preview performance that I attended, it might be a good idea to attend near the end of the run, which comes to a halt on May 31, 2009. Another good idea would be to dress lightly and bring a hand fan—the small playhouse was very hot and stuffy on the night I attended. Considering the heat, I don't understand why the company chose to observe one intermission instead of the two promised in the printed program. And it's a shame that one of the two ceiling fans didn't seem operable. (But just so you know: The one that did work was over the seats that are to the left of audience members as they enter.) Let's hope that the Metropolitan Playhouse can solve its ventilation issues fast. That would be immense—to use a slang expression used in the play!