SPECIAL ARTICLES

In the Field of Drama

J. J. DINGWALL January 1 1910
SPECIAL ARTICLES

In the Field of Drama

J. J. DINGWALL January 1 1910

In the Field of Drama

J. J. DINGWALL

PRE-EMINENTLY, the event of gieatest theatrical interest since my last article, was the opening of the palatial New Theatre at Sixty-Eighth Street and Central Park West, New York City. It is the only endowed theatre in America, and its career will be watched with interest throughout United States, Canada and Europe as well.

The initial offering was “Antony and Cleopatra”—a new version having been specially prepared for the occasion. Although not announced as a fact, it seems plausible to believe that the selection of this old Shakes-

pearean drama for an opening production was animated by a desire to enable the various players to “find” themselves before attempting the severeal new, modern and ambitious plays scheduled for later production.

Purely as a production “Antony and Cleopatra” has not been excelled on any American stage. In scenic investiture and costumes, it was artistic and historically accurate. Mr. Sothern and Miss Julia Marlowe, respectively, played the titular roles, and by general acclaim proved themselves the ablest and most finished actors of Shake-

spearean parts to-day on the American stage.

The New Theatre itself is a temple of art that does credit to both designer and architect,—with the exception of a few particulars. Chief of these are the accoustics,—a fault that has since been remedied. On the opening night it was with difficulty that certain portions of the audience were able to hear the lines spoken by the players,—in spite of clear enunciation.

The New Theatre Company of players is to be a strictly stock organization,—no one of whom is to be featured or “starred.” The theatre makes its appeal and will depend for 2S

its success solely upon the body of intelligent playgoers. It is hoped to make the institution as distinctly democratic and civic as is the Comedie Francais of Paris. This is a consummation devoutly to be desired, for then visitors to New York will rejoice in the opportunity of visiting one theatrical stronghold, wherein abides real dramatic food with an accompaniment of productions of uniform, artistic excellence.

Since the above was written, two new plays have been produced at the New Theatre, —one of which, “Strife,” promises to remain in its repertoire for some time. The other— the first really new play offered by the management— was “The Cottage in the Air,” by Edward Knobloch, a young Harvard graduate. It proved to be a fantastic comedy of such delicate texture that the first strong breath of unfavorable criticism caused it to fade into oblivion. It served one good purpose, however, in bringing again to public view that reliable and always adequate actress, Miss Rose Coghlan. She also served to show that the personal equation is still potent in theatredom, for her work in this inferior play stood out cameo-like and emphasized in no uncertain manner how much the new school of acting may learn from that designated as “the old.”

The other new play was “Strife,” which dealt in somewhat new fashion with the perpetual struggle between capital and labor. Its author,

John Galsworthy, who looms upon the horizon of English letters in agreeable dimens i o n s, originally wrote the play for English audiences, but American conditions were found to be so similar that the locale was transí erred to Western Ohio, where the various scenes are laid in and about a tin plate mill during a lockout, a situation such as occurred in Pennsylvania a year ago. Acted by a cast including such excellent performers as Louis Calvert, C h a r le s Cartwright, Ferdinand Gottschak,

Mrs. Sol. Smith,

Mrs. Forbes Robertson and Beverly Sitgreaves, “Strife” is destined for some length of theatrical life.

The next New Theatre production scheduled is one of the standard or classical works,—Sheridan’s “School for Scandal” in which Miss Grace George will have the leading feminine role, being obliged to abandon the rest of her theatrical season in order to do so. Miss George has always shone in modern comedy, but her husband, Manager Wm. A. Brady, has invariably figured her as the American Rejane, and the best interpreter of old comedy roles that we have. Mayhap he is right.

Sandwiched in between the regular

dramatic performances at the New Theatre will be presentations of light opera by members of the Metropolitan Opera Company. Subscribers can, therefore, witness once, each, drama or opera. The scale of prices at the New Theatre is the same as those at the regular high-class Broadway houses.

And now in descending from the top-lofty eminence of this temple of dramatic art on Central Park West, it is wise to glance at what “The Great White Way” offers in the line of new and current amusement. Beyond question, the most distinct, positive and remarkable theatrical success of n ! i 29

the season is “Seven Days,” now playing at the Astor Theatre. ’Tis a farce comedy in three acts by Avery Hop wood and Mary Roberts Rinehart. Much of its success is due to the fact that the excellent cast of comedians who play it, do not descend to low or broad farce methods, but play it in a spirit of straight comedy, thus heightening its humor and making more impressive the many g r otesque situations. It is French farce of the highest type — minus vulgarity o r double entendre. And yet so unimpressed a t rehearsals were its producers, that, I am told, no reasonable offer for its playing rights w o u 1 d have been refused.

Now it is destined to make a fortune for all concerned and will be at home in New York for a year or more.

The latest English offering is “T h e Belle of Brittany” at Daly’s

Theatre, in which Frank Daniels is making the hit of his lifetime. There are five authors concerned in its making and no one of them has been found wanting in respect to book, lyrics or music. The piece contains no story strong enough to bear repetition here. It is sketchy and threadbare of plot, but its fun is positive and refreshing, even though it is most conventionally Eng-

lish. It seems, now-a-days, as though English authors are becoming more alive to the necessity of making their usually local comedy situations applicable to world wide conditions, so that “he who runs may read,” and then again, the dollars of the American public provide a great incentive to a more general application of conditions comic. “The Belle of Brittany” is a pleasing instance of this and ought to have the “at home” card on its doors for a long time. The peculiar mannerisms of Mr. Frank Daniels are a large factor in molding its popularity.

Lew Fields, the eccentric German comedian, has built up such a following among theatre goers jthat were he to appear in a dramatization of “The Lamentations o f Jeremiah,” it would take no little while to exhaust the patience of his clientele. His retirement from the stage for the purpose of making theatrical productions was generally regretted, but he has once more returned to his own and is again “in Dutch”— which, being interpreted, means that in his new musical farce, “Old Dutch,” he is in his element. He is the same good-natured, droll, blundering, laugh-producing character as of old. “Old Dutch” has a trio of authors. Victor Herbert furnished the

music, Edgar Smith the book, and Geo. V. Hobart the lyrics. The general fault found with this new musical farce is that there is too little of Lew Fields in it. Whether this is due to an error of the librettist or self-abnegation on the part of the star is not known, but the fact still remains. From the standpoint of production, competent cast, beautiful girls and handsome costuming, “Old Dutch” has not been equalled in this most prolific season of musical shows. George V. Hobart has furnished some splendid lyrics to which, it need hardly be mentioned, Victor Herbert has added delightful and catchy music.

So frequently does one pick up a programme devoted to comedy, musical play or humorous character sketch, and read the name of George V. Hobart as author or co-author, that one is disposed to query if he will not soon become “written out.” He is by all odds the most humorous and probably the most versatile writer that Canada has furnished to the United States. The writer remembers him as an expert telegrapher in a small town in Nova Scotia. Even then he was an adept in putting together amateur dramatic entertainments. The friendship then formed has lasted for twenty years, and my only wonder is that born and brought up, as Hobart was, in an environment of Calvanism, he can so easily turn the tap of humor to such an overflow of success. Some day, I trust, he will turn his attention —dramatically—to the land of his birth, and give us a native play that will furnish Canadians both pride and status. Owing to the above parenthetical personal comment I had almost forgotten to chronicle the conclusion that “Old Dutch” has conspicuous merit and should be stationary at the Herald Square Theatre for ever so long.

“Let me but write your musical comedies and your songs and I don’t care who makes your plays,” seems to

be the conclusion of George M. Cohan, whose new musical production “The Man From Broadway” appears to have stirred New York. He turns these musical products out with amazing regularity, and so far this young mass of human energy has been uniformly successful. Of course, Mr. Cohan is fortunate in having such a clever and droll comedian as Raymond Hitchcock to interpret his lines and intone his songs (for R. H. never sings songs). Many of the Cohan lines would never get past the bass drum were it not for the quaint and effective delivery by Comedian Hitchcock. There is no comedian on the American stage to-day that is just like Ra)rmond Hitchcock. He is in a class by himself. Whether it be the motion of a limb, the arching of an eyebrow or in fact a genuflection of any kind, —they all serve him as an opportunity upon which to pin laughter. “The Man Who Owns Broadway” is so typically local to New York’s Great White Way that few of its pointed quips are lost or wasted. It is, therefore, in for a long run at the New York Theatre, but how it will fare on the road before audiences who are not au fait with Broadway is a problem.

“Is Matrimony a Failure?” at the Belasco Theatre is still playing to capacity and for a reason. This is not because of its being a Belasco production per se, but because of its being a Belasco stock company of unusual excellence that brings out every laugh there is in the comedy. The text of its being is “Suppose you were to wake up some morning to discover that your wife wasn’t really your wife at all, what would you do?” The show is a tonic of domestication, and the two most popular wives, or if you care to have it so, ex-wives — are Louise Woods and Jane Grey, both of whom have won favor with the large audiences.