THE BLOG
06/05/2013 08:36 am ET Updated Aug 05, 2013

Communist Comedy of Manners in Upper East Side Art Salon

I have several token conservative friends and acquaintances just to prove to myself that I am indeed liberal. One of them is a former New York Post writer named Doug Dechert. Doug inherited his views -- and his wit -- from his father William John Dechert, an industrialist I understand helped build Pfizer International Co. in the '50s and '60s. A more liberal friend would be actor Bradford Cover. Recently the two of them, and a host of other friends, got together to create "art." A drama ensued.

2013-06-05-Communist_Comedy20133.jpg

A distinctly Upper East Side crowd paid close attention to the comedy of manners. Credit: Bob Zeitler.

Sometimes conservatives can be creative, as evidenced by Clare Booth Luce's six plays. Doug's dad wrote a play in his youth, Scratched Fenders, read in an Upper East Side art salon recently by twelve talented actors directed by Brad.

2013-06-05-Communist_Comedy1.jpg

The son of the play's author William John Dechert, Doug, at the Upper East Side reading.
Credit: Bob Zeitler.

Written in 1928 and set in Kansas City, it was hysterical - a comedy of manners that pitted classes and politics, East Coast-educated children of the affluent, British royals with Soviet sympathies, against Midwestern religious and business leaders.

Scratched Fenders is a classic drawing room comedy of the sort that was popular in that period, comparable to Philip Barry's Holiday and Philadelphia Story or any of Terrance Rattigan's works as well as Noël Coward's plays. It reminded me somewhat of the more recent Noises Off.

2013-06-05-Communist_Comedy20134.jpg

Bradford Cover directed the performance while Erika Rolfsrud was one of its readers. Credit: Bob Zeitler.

Set in Kansas City, the play's premise is a fictionalized account of an incident that was then known as the Strachey Affair. A well-known English writer and vocal communist sympathizer named Lytton Strachey came to speak in the U.S. He was summarily detained and deported, causing a diplomatic crisis that became an international incident.

The play starts when a similar type of writer, an English aristocrat, is arrested in Kansas City. His sponsors include a prominent Unitarian-like minister and the young recent Vassar graduate home with newly learned East Coast modern values.

Of course, the young woman is the charming daughter of the most prosperous banker in town. She begs him to use his influence to secure the writer's release. In spite of his politics, the banker cannot refuse his darling daughter. Complications ensue when the daughter then invites the writer and his Russian revolutionary wife, as well as the minister, to join the recently widowed banker for dinner. Enough said.

2013-06-05-Communist_Comedy20137.jpg

Police Captain Ronald Haas and award-winning music producer Dale Ashley attended the event.
Credit: Bob Zeitler.

Brad and I chatted about this project when it was still on the drawing board last Christmas. Overlooking Chrystie Park off the Bowery, Brad's loft is miles from the Upper East Side geographically and culturally. Yet Brad's apartment was filled with cultural artifacts and I felt right at home. Bradford Cover and the other actors who read the play are all professional.

Brad, for example, has appeared on Law and Order and The Good Wife. He is currently working on Broadway with Tom Selleck, helping develop new plays -- various regional work -- at The Lark Theatre, and working with David Ives and John Rando on a new play. Brad's classical work has been with the Pearl Theatre Company.

Brad is a native New Yorker and the son of actor Franklin Cover. His father's career spanned regional theatre, Off Broadway, Broadway, television, and film. Franklin is best known for his 1975 role of Tom Willis, the liberal, white half an interracial couple on The Jeffersons. I spoke with Doug about his dad's work. Doug told me:

The play was finished but never produced and my father always considered it to be a work in progress. I have adapted it while leaving it overwhelmingly intact. I think that it is both entertaining and a window into the type of thoughts that characterize the philosophical ferment of those times. I hope that future audiences will agree that it is remarkably fresh and not at all dated; a work that can speak to us and generations to come about some of the same issues we wrestle with today.

Luminaries present included Captain Ronald Haas who serves as chief of police for Manhattan south of 59th street, Dale Ashley awarding music producer, Princess Nadia Jomo of Malaysia, Daniel Lavezzo the legendary restaurateur, and Michael Pochna the impresario of the Orpheum Theater who wrote one of my favorite musicals, Little Shop of Horrors.

2013-06-05-Communist_Comedy20136.jpg

Princess Nadia Jomo of Malaysia and Jemme Aldridge chatted with Doug Dechert after the reading.
Credit: Bob Zeitler.

Many of the guests had not been raised in the U.S. and seemed to appreciate the universality of the story. In every culture and ever country there are conflicts between class, faith, and philosophies. William John Dechert's almost one-century old Scratched Fenders speaks across all borders. I look forward to its revival!

See Stories by Jim Luce on:

New York | Theater

The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org) supporting young global leadership is affiliated with Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW), raising global citizens. If supporting youth is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here.

Follow Jim Luce on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Culture Shift email.
Get your weekly dose of books, film and culture.