When it was first presented, almost exactly 51 years ago, Sidney Kingsley's melodrama Detective Story was considered terribly realistic and even shocking in its depiction of a night in the detectives' squad room of a New York City precinct. Its major plot is a journey in self-discovery by the over-righteous Det. McLeod (played on Broadway by Ralph Bellamy) as he attempts to bust an incompetent abortionist. In addition, however, are other incidents, some small -- exercises in shoplifting, embezzlement, paranoia and so on -- and one large -- the widening and deepening two-man crime spree by a pair of burglars.
Sidney Kingsley was a major playwright of the '30s and '40s. He won a Pulitzer Prize his first time out for a surgeon drama called Men in White -- "Quick, Nurse! The adrenaline!" is its most famous line -- then two Drama Critics Circle Awards. He doesn't seem like much now, mostly because his action dramas are now the staple of television -- Men in White has become ER; Detective Story is Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue or whatever.
But it is always interesting to have a serious production of what thrilled Grandma and Grandpa, especially if the play allows a lot of actors to get onstage and show what they can do. Goodness knows, the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves' production of Detective Story is serious, and a 23-member cast is, today at least, huge. But the Theatre Guild's stage really isn't large enough for such a big play (no room, for instance, for the very necessary holding cell), and although every part is covered, the quality of the acting varies considerably. Some, of course, is wonderful. Charlie Milburn's Lt. Monoghan is right on target all evening long. Erin Rainwater, graceful as a lily, is a touching, even heartbreaking Mary McLeod, and Matt Holtmann and Jennifer Blankenheim do well as the good-kid-gone-off-the-tracks and the girl-who-sticks-by-him. Ken Brostow's direction is better than competent, and Brostrow and Keith Vaugier's set does better than one could expect with the limited space available.