Quelque Chose (Some Shows)
“De Luxe Annie” is clever, but unreal. It is science, but it is not convincing. The first two acts are thrilling, but the last scene of the third act is a trifle absurd. Though possibly true to life, it is not true to art. However, with a little rewriting, “De Luxe Annie” can be made theatrically a real success. It belongs to the same category as “The Thirteenth Chair,” though technically it is inferior. In spite of its flaws we must admit that the play enthralls nine-tenths of the time. This is more than we can say of nine-tenths of the plays now running on Broadway.
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I saw “Friend Martha” at the Booth Theatre last night. There was a lot of early William IV stuff; the old ancestor’s picture that slides and admits the hero by a secret passage, and the indignant father, and all that sort of elopement drivel. But what killed the play is the characteristic Americanism, the theme of “mother-love” (excuse my blushes). Let us write a warning upon its tomb. Freud’s theory is apparently something as follows: In the prenatal stage of existence there is complete peace. (Do not ignorantly compare this with Nibbana!) All wants are satisfied without struggle or anxiety. At birth the child is forced into a strange and possibly hostile universe, and the cry which accompanies the first entrance of the air into the lungs is supposed to be a cry of pain. As a matter of fact, I see no evidence that pain is felt. However, the want soon asserts itself, and this is assuaged by the return to the mother. The child thus learns to run to its mother in any distress, and this habit persists to a great extent during life. Death itself, the final release from pain, is gained by a return to the great mother of all — the earth. The hero, on the contrary, spends his time in getting away from the mother. Thus, the Oedipus-complex is the formula of cowardice. It is evident that the man who marries in order to have a home is using this formula. He wants his pies made the way mother used to make them. But it does not follow that chastity in the ordinary sense of the term is necessary for the hero. Why should not the hero accept death (or love, as you may call it), in order to assist him to break away from the infernal mother? I do not see anything unmanly in the marriage by capture. Of course, one may say that it is the satisfaction of a need by means of a return to a symbolic mother, and that the hero should only satisfy such needs as do not involve any such formula. But as long as it is a case of conquest I do not think that this position can be maintained. One might, however, agree that it is wrong to yield to seduction; that one should have nothing to do with any women but the unwilling. There is a great deal to be said for this point of view. Certainly at least, the habit of going to a woman for rest and comfort has a deplorable effect upon the soul. Most certainly in point of fact and experience, it is impossible to work unless you can conquer the impulse to wear carpet slippers after a long day at the office. It is really a question of Nietzsche’s “Be Hard, My Brethren.” Thus, Platonic love, in the highest and hardest sense of the word, is more moral than any other form of affection. It is clear, therefore, that pacifism is the direct result of the cult of the mother. Everything that is shameful and cowardly is implied in the love of the mother. One of the most abominable tricks which people play on children is to tell them that unless they do exactly what their mother wishes they will be assailed by life-long regret after she is dead. This loathsome superstition is utterly false. I think that the best reform would be to kill all women as soon as they have borne, say, two children. It should at least be a plank in any reasonable platform of reconstruction. Whether they should be eaten is a matter of economics and of dietetics, somewhat beyond the scope of a mere theatrical notice.
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Adolf Bolm’s Ballets-Intime is sublimated vaudeville; as such, it is great. Itow is a Japanese dancing in a Japanese manner; Bolm, himself a Russian, dancing in a Russian manner. Roshanara is an English woman with a French temperament, and there is no pretense of Orientalism in her Oriental dances, which therefore please. She does them in a purely Parisian manner. But Ratan Devi tries to sing Indian songs in a truly Indian manner, and her mimicry succeeds so well that she really finds self-expression by dint of technical excellence. Alas! it is not the soul of India that she expresses; it is the suburban housemaid with a passion for the Bow Bells Novelettes. She translates Marie Corelli into Sanskrit for us, and the result is intensely gratifyingly to lovers of Marie Corelli. It is only fair to say that the conditions were all wrong for her. Last year, when the whole theatre was devoted to her alone, the effect was much better. Mr. Bolm put her on a mat, outside the curtain, and no doubt she felt forced to adopt a coarseness and theatricalism in voice and gesture which were exquisitely absent at her regular recitals. But give me Roshanara, and give me Mitchio Itow! Real French or real Japanese — but not any imitations. The American Supers who assisted Mr. Bolm were doubtless amateurs who paid him highly for the privilege of appearing with him: we except the very charming Butterfly.
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Scientifically speaking, there is a great deal to be said in favor of Mr. William Le Baron’s ideas on eugenic marriages as expressed in his last play, “The Very Idea.” This delightful comedy, however, does not take itself too seriously. You will not come away a firm believer in eugenics, but you will feel very much like that enthusiastic Frenchman who shouted down from the pit on the opening performance of “Le Misanthrope”: Courage, Moliere! That is good comedy. Unfortunately for the theatre in this country, we hear very little of the author. The name of the star is written across the sky in electric letters. The name of the author, if mentioned at all, appears in six-point type “somewhere in the program.” Therefore we will leave it to others to praise Ernest Truex’s notable work in “The Very Idea.” Our chief concern is to boost Mr. William Le Baron, for when a man has done good work that is the time you must stand by him. (Of course this will be disputed.) George Jean Nathan recently stated that there were some other things beside the “Star-Spangled Banner” which make him stand up. We arise to honor any American who can write so brilliant a play as “The Very Idea.”
J. B. R.
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