Theater -- Production and direction
Bunce was the author of other plays, notably the Morning of Life , written for the Denin Sisters, then clever little girls, which they produced at the Chatham Theatre, New York, in the summer of George Jordan and John Winans, the latter a very popular low-comedian on the east side of the town, were in the cast.
At the same house, two years later, was played Marco Bozzaris , a melodrama in blank verse, with very effective scenes and situations, written by Mr. James W. Wallack, Jr. Marco Bozzaris was very popular, and was not withdrawn until the end of the Bowery season. But to return to the drama particularly devoted [Pg 24] to war.
The contemporaneous literature of the stage inspired by the War of the Rebellion was not extensive or worthy of particular notice.
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During the struggle for national existence war on both sides of the Potomac was too serious a business, and too near home, to attract people to its mimic representations on the stage, and it was not until Held by the Enemy and Shenandoah were produced, a quarter of a century after the establishment of peace, that American play-goers began to find any pleasure in theatrical representations of a subject which had previously been so full of unpleasantness. These later war dramas, however, are so much superior in plot, dialogue, and construction to any of the plays founded upon our earlier wars, so far as these earlier plays have come down to us, that they may encourage the optimist in theatrical novelties to believe that there is some hope for the future of that branch of dramatic literature at least.
The drama of frontier life in this country may be described as the Indian drama which is not all Indian; and even this variety of stage play is fast disappearing with the scalp-hunter, and with the Indian himself, going farther and farther to the westward every year. It may be said to have been inaugurated by James K. Hackett, in Wildfire, afterwards put into a drama called The Kentuckian , by Bayle Bernard, wore buckskin clothes, deer-skin shoes, and a coon-skin hat; and he had many contemporary imitators, who copied his dress, his speech, and his gait, and stalked through the deep tangled wild woods of east-side stages for many years; to the delight of city-bred pits and galleries, who were perfectly assured that Kit, the [Pg 26] Arkansas Traveller —and one of the best of his class—was the real thing, until they saw Buffalo Bill with actual cowboys and bona fide Indians in his train, and lost all further interest in The Scouts of the Prairies , or in Nick of the Woods , which hitherto had filled their idea of a life on the plains.
Horizon , one of Mr.
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In no other part of the world are its characters and its incidents to be met with. Complications of plot and scenery and certain surprises in the action were evidently aimed at by the author rather than literary excellence. A panorama of a Western river and a night surprise of an Indian band upon a company of United States troops were well managed and very effective. The Indian element did not predominate in Horizon , and was not offensive.
The part of Wannamucka, the semi-civilized redskin, very well played by Charles Wheatleigh, was quite an original conception of the traditional untutored savage; he was wild, romantic, treacherous, but with a touch of dry humor about him that made him attractive in the drama, if not according to the nature of his kind.
Panther Loder might have stepped out of the story of The Outcasts of Poker Flat —one of those cool, desperate, utterly depraved, but gentlemanly rascals whom Mr. Harte has painted so graphically, and whom John K. Mortimer could represent so perfectly upon the stage. The lady was gentle, charming, and very pretty in a part evidently written to fit her; not so great as in Frou Frou , in which she made her first hit, or as Agnes, which was to follow; but it was a pleasant, creditable performance throughout.
Woolcotts who are now the accepted stage-Yankees, and who furnish most of the amusement in the modern American drama. Fox has not been greatly surpassed by any of his successors in this line.
Yeamans as the Widow Mullins, and little Jennie Yeamans as the captured pappoose all added to the popularity of the play. Taken as a whole, Horizon is the best native production of its kind seen here in many years, with the single exception of Davy Crockett.
A pure sylvan love-story, told in a healthful, dramatic way, it is a poem in four acts; not perfect in form, open to criticism, with faults of construction, failings of plot, slight improbabilities, sensational situations, and literary shortcomings, but so simple and so touching and so pure that it is worthy to rank with any of the creations of the modern stage in any language.
The story is hardly a new one. On this motto the Davy Crockett of the play always acts. He is in love with a young lady who is his superior in station and education. Of his admiration he is not ashamed, but in his simple, honest modesty he never dreams of winning the belle of the county, or that there is anything in him that can attract a refined woman. It is his good fortune to save her life from Indians and from wolves at some risk of his own scalp, and with some damage to his own person.
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In a forest hut, while she nurses his wounds, she recites to him the story of Young Lochinvar, upholding the course of the borderer of other lands and other days, so faithful in love, so dauntless in war, telling of her own approaching marriage to a laggard in love and a [Pg 32] dastard in battle, into which her father would force her.
All this, of course, is the old, old story so often told on the stage before, and to last forever; but Mr. Murdoch seems to have told it better than any of his fellow-countrymen. There is no doubt, however, that Davy Crockett , like Metamora , owes much of its success to the actor who plays its titular part. He is quiet and subdued, he looks and walks and talks the trapper to the life, never overacts, and never forgets the character he represents. The play has never been properly appreciated by metropolitan audiences.
Frank H. Murdoch was a nephew of James E.
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Murdoch, the old tragedian, and was himself an actor of some promise. His single play was of so much promise that if there were an American Academy to crown such productions it might have won for him at least one leaf of the laurel. The typical and accepted American of the stage, the most familiar figure in our dramatic literature, is a Jonathan, an Asa Trenchard, a Rip Van Winkle, a Solon Shingle, a Bardwell Slote, a Mulberry Sellers, and a Joshua Whitcomb; and even he does not always figure in the American play as it is here defined. Jonathan, of whom something has already been said, is now extinct and defunct.
Asa Trenchard is the creation of an Englishman Tom Taylor , brought to perfection by the genius of Mr. Hackett was the original Rip in He was the author of his own version of the play. Clarke Davis quotes John S.
His awful loss and loneliness seemed to clothe him with a supernatural dignity and grandeur which commanded the sympathy and awe of his audience. Clarke adds that in supporting Mr. Burke in this part night after night, and while perfectly aware of what was coming, and even watching for it, when these lines were spoken his heart seemed to rise in his throat, and his eyes were wet with tears.
The Rip Van Winkle which Mr. Jefferson has played so often on both sides of the Atlantic is his own version of the story, somewhat [Pg 40] elaborated by Mr.
Boucicault; and Mr. Until Mr. Owens, the last of the Solon Shingles, died and took Solon Shingle with him, the drivelling old farmer from Massachusetts was as perfect a specimen of his peculiar species as our stage has ever seen. He is a politician of the worst stamp, with many amiable and commendable qualities. He is vulgar to an almost impossible degree, personally offensive, and yet entirely delightful to [Pg 41] meet—on the stage, where Mr. Florence kept him for many hundreds of successive nights. If he never existed in real life—and it is to be hoped for the sake of our national credit that he did not—Mr.
Florence made him not only possible but probable. Crane, is a native legislator of a somewhat different type.
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He is an honest politician, who may perhaps be found in the Senate of one of the States of the nation, and even in the Upper House of the nation itself. His humor is peculiarly American, and in Mr. Warner and Mr. Clemens, jointly with John T. He is quite as much exaggerated as Slote, and quite as amusing. He can be found in part in all sections of the country, perhaps, but as a whole, happily for the country, he does not exist at all, except upon the stage.
The great charm of Joshua Whitcomb is that he [Pg 44] is a real man of real New England flesh and blood, so true to the life that when Mr. Thompson took him to Keene, New Hampshire, not very far from Swanzey, his audiences wanted their money back, on the ground that they got nothing for it but what they saw, free of charge, all about them every day.
Thompson goes about in The Old Homestead , and does things, is the perfection of art; and if he is not the best of his class, it is not because he is the least natural and the least lovable. It is a curious commentary upon the rarity of typical stage Americans of the gentler sex that only two of any prominence have appeared of late years, and that these are everything but gentle, and are both played by a man. Barney Williams and Mrs. Drawn by Arthur Jule Goodman, after a photograph by Falk.
The number of plays based upon life in New York, all of which are strangely similar in title and in plot, or what must pass for plot, and all of which have been seen upon the New York stage since the first appearance of Mose , will surprise even those most familiar with our theatrical literature. Taken almost at random from various files of old play-bills, and from Mr. These were nearly all spectacular plays, and they were usually realistic to a degree in their representation of men and things in the lower walks of life.
Rich merchants, lovely daughters, wealthy but designing villains, comic waiter-men, and pert chamber-maids with song and dance accompaniment, were placed in impossible uptown parlors; but the poor but honest printer set actual type from actual cases, and cruelly wronged but humble maidens met disinterested detectives by real lamp-posts and real ash-barrels, in front of what really looked like real saloons. It was a play of shreds and patches, hurriedly and carelessly stitched together by Mr.
Chanfrau—one of those accidental but complete successes upon the stage which are never anticipated, and which cannot always be explained. Matthews, in an article contributed to one of the magazines a few years ago, records the fact that during one season Mr.
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