For the past four years Playwright Robert Ardrey has tried to please critics, has never quite managed it in the U. S. Last week unexpectedly he turned the trick in London. The play: Thunder Rock, which had fizzled sadly when the Group Theatre produced it in Manhattan in 1939.
The story of an American escapist, Thunder Rock takes place in a lighthouse on an island in Lake Michigan, includes in its cast the ghosts of a handful of immigrants drowned in a shipwreck in 1849. Talking things over with his spooky companions, the hero of Thunder Rock discovers that the pessimism of 1849 was just as profound as that of 1939, resolves with no great originality to abandon his lighthouse and come to grips with life.
Regarded as a pretty callow opus when presented in the U. S.. Thunder Rock was playing last week to sellout houses, at the large Globe Theatre. Nerve-frayed British playgoers, sick of revues and musical comedies, found a tonic in Ardrey's proposition that times are never so tough as to be hopeless. Sample of the dialogue that stirs the British: "Stick to your guns, for God's sake, stick to your guns! Men live among you today who will be the leaders you despair of finding!" Better played by Michael Redgrave in London than it was by Luther Adler in the U. S. is the role of Thunder Rock's misanthrope. Says Redgrave emotionally at the final curtain: "Will you join with me in saying thank God for America and long life to Robert Ardrey."
Paunchy, 31-year-old Robert Ardrey is now in Hollywood. He is convinced that Thunder Rock would have been more successful in the U. S. if European conditions then had been as crucial as they are today. Sore at the Group Theatre, Ardrey feels that the American production of Thunder Rock was bungled. He is not worried about the fact that his royalties from London are frozen by war restrictions. He has made enough in Hollywood to keep him going for the next five years, intends to quit the cinema in October, have another try at Broadway.