A Glimpse into the Theatres


This season is chiefly conspicuous for reviews. These productions are apt to be scorned by the “high-brows” and by the Drama Leagues. Yet in no field of the theatre has America made so many advances. There are at present at least half a dozen revues in New York City. The best ones are “Odds and Ends of 1917,” “Doing Our Bit,” “Over the Top,” “Words and Music.” The worst one is the Spanish affair at the Park Theatre.

“Odds and Ends of 1917” is by far the most artistic and clever. The lyrics are particularly good. The costumes delightful. The settings in good taste. Even the music is sufficient. Jack Norworth ought to be crowned with laurel for his clear enunciation. That alone would make his singing unique. When you realize how impossible it is to discover any meaning in the words sung by the average popular comedian, the achievement of Jack Norworth in making himself understood should be hailed as a feat of monumental importance. Harry Watson in the same show is lovely. He is a grand comedian, of the old school. He uses the slap-stick stuff that so delighted Shakespeare and is so droll that even I had to laugh, an impossible stunt, according to T. Roy Barnes, who publicly called me down because I failed to roar at his antics in “Over the Top.” Lilian Lorraine is clever too. She wears the tallest hat in the world. But that is only in one scene. The rest of the time she employs to better advantage. Lilian really knows how to sing a popular song. “Odds and Ends” is a clever satire done to music and dancing. Were Molière alive today, that is just the sort of thing he would be doing.


The Winter Garden’s best show is on now. Many of the stage settings are exquisite, many of the girls are pretty. Several of them are really young. There is an excellent contralto and, thank God, when I was there I heard no tenor. Frank Tinney and Ed Wynne are the hits of the production. And what jolly chaps they really are. There is an ingratiating charm about their foolery that warms the cockles of one’s heart. How well they know their business. Every trick of the profession is theirs. Should everything else fail, their technique will save them. These younger men about town are nincompoops compared to such masters. Seeing them, I was reminded of the comedians of my boyhood days, who one by one have passed away. In particular I thought of Nat M. Wills, who only recently died. As they paraded across my mind I conceived the following poem:

Where are the clowns of yesterday?
      The men who filled our hearts with glee,
      Until like sunlight on the sea
      Our souls expanded graciously.
Where are the clowns of yesterday?
      Their laughter haunts these very halls,
      Their smiles are smiling on the walls,
      Between the songs I hear their calls,
The darling clowns of yesterday.

I had hardly finished these humble verses when Ed Wynne came on again and told the story of the young patriot who, waiving exemption, demanded of the board that he be sent forthwith to the most exposed trenches. To his surprise he was instantly accepted by the gratified officials. “But don’t you think I am a littlebit crazy in my head?” he asked.


The lady of the hour is Justine Johnstone. I believe that two years ago she was a chorus girl. Today she owns a theatre and the most popular and the most expensive cabaret in New York. Justine also acts and takes the leading part in “Over the Top.” As an actress she is not apt to rival Sarah Bernhardt. Justine cannot sing, dance, nor play. Nevertheless there is something very fascinating about her. She might have stepped from a novel of Balzac’s. Looking at her I understood why there were so many ambassadors, captains of industry and poets in the audience. There is a sixteen-year-old girl who dances in “Over the Top.” Her name is Rolanda. She is wonderful. She is an American girl, consequently no one will take her as seriously as they would some inferior Bolsheviki terpsichorean from Russia. I was never so struck by the ingratitude of republics as when I witnessed the performance of “The Land of Joy.”


The Spanish revue at the Park Theatre is a fifth-rate concoction gotten up to amuse the Cuban provinces. If Americans were no so extremely unpatriotic such a production would not be tolerated for an instant in New York. Being stamped with a foreign trade mark, it has made a hit among those who imagine that anything imported is fine and superior. As a matter of fact, “The Land of Joy” is immensely dull, in bad taste, amateurish, and really too trivial to notice. The best thing in it is the singing of Miss Mursey, an American girl. The rest of the show is punk.


I have always liked the Washington Square Players, if only because Helen Westley is the greatest passionate and tragic actress on the American stage. However, they cast her for parts which would be better filled by a far worse actress. They do not give her a fair show. She ought to be playing Lady Macbeth and Tosca. The qualities of the plays in the first deal this year are not particularly high. “Blind Alleys” contains an excellent idea, but it is too small for the length of the play; and it is further a mistake to hinge the catastrophe of a play on psychics. In this as in the “Thirteenth Chair” the whole atmosphere is psychic. It is like the unwitting introduction of zero into an algebraic equation. You cannot satisfactorily introduce a hippopotamus as the deus ex machina of an Alaskan drama; it does not belong there.

“The Avenue” is very stupid and pointless. It is a lot of clever episodes hitched together with no point or coherence, and it only concludes by the simple process of concluding. The coming to life of the wax models is one of the stupidest devices ever seen on any stage.

“In the Zone” is a magnificent Grand Guignol play spelt qabalistically backwards. It is hard to conceive how any author can be so stupid as to work deliberately (and, it must be admitted, with excellent good skill) up to a most grotesque anti-climax. Here we have a tale where big artillery is brought on from the moment of the rising of the curtain. I have really been so thrilled by no play that I have ever seen; and it diminishes and diminishes to the most ridiculous pianissimo on Mr. Smitty’s piccolo, the tragedy of the play being that it would not work. I have yet to learn that “parturiunt montes; nascitur ridiculus mus” is a good dramatic formula.

“His Widow’s Husband” is a most amusing little comedy. Things get a little better when they are written by people from a civilized country like Spain. Arthur Hold did a most brilliant piece of acting, one of the very best things I have ever seen. There is nothing wrong with the actors, any of them, but the committee that chooses the plays ought to be set to some simpler task. I dare say several of them might be able to match ribbons.


The author of “Art and Opportunity” is dead and the obvious Latin proverb covers the case. It was supposed to be an all-star cast, but on the night I was there, the sky was completely over-cast. The actors seemed to be asking themselves why they were doing things. They certainly saved themselves trouble by not asking me.

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