Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Our Irish Visitors" in Fall River, 1885

On this St. Patrick’s Day we note the touring troupe of Murray and Murphy, whose “Our Irish Visitors” played in Fall River, Massachusetts on this day in 1885.

It was a farce, typical perhaps of that era when opinion toward the Irish in America were starting to morph in a painfully slow way from lazy, thieving, drinking, brawling, unwashed undesirables that Need Not Apply to a more benign, if still stereotyped, characterization of charming, harmless, winsome indolence, witty, of a proud people who comically thought well of themselves.

As every ethnic and racial minority knows, equality starts with an open mind, and theatre, when it does not perpetuate stereotypes, is usually quite effective in opening the mind.

One notable who got her start in the cast of “Our Irish Visitors” was Loie Fuller, a pioneer in dance who also invented many stage lighting techniques, apparatus, and garments.

According to “Loie Fuller - Goddess of Light” by Richard Nelson Current and Marcia Ewing Current (Northeastern University Press, 1997), Miss Fuller was the leading lady of “Our Irish Visitors”, and danced and sang in her role. The authors quote the recollections of one who saw her perform some months later at the Boston Theatre in August, 1885:

“…in her skirt and her jersey-like waist, she created excitement, and people flocked in to see what the newspapers called a `sensational dance,' which some even called `daring,' just because the dancer wore no corset, and the muscular sway of her young figure was visible."

So much for Irish stereotypes. After the show’s performance in Fall River, they next appeared in Lawrence, Mass. on the 25th, then hopped over to Newburyport on the 27th.

They seemed to be running out of steam the following March of 1886 in Chicago, when the New York Times noted: “Murray and Murphy in “Our Irish Vistors” have been playing to a good many empty seats at the Columbia”.

Even the luck of the Irish runs out after a while.

If the show did not, eventually, go on, Loie Fuller did. Have a look below at a sample of Loie Fuller’s choreography and invention in her Dance Serpentine, filmed in 1896, a decade later.

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