Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Last Act

Ruth Gordon in her autobiography remarks on the poignant cry of the stage manager when places for the final act of a closing show is announced to the players. Instead of calling “Act Three”, he calls, “Last Act”.

This is the last act for “Tragedy and Comedy in New England”, though not entirely a farewell. Though I will not be continuing this blog due to a work load that requires more of my attention elsewhere, I will continue to post on the history of theatre in New England on my other blog, “New England Travels”. I hope you can join me there. In the meantime, I will leave this blog up as it is for the near future, but will disable further comments.

Let’s not ring the curtain down; let’s just move the show to a different stage.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Panned in Boston - John Philip Sousa's "Desiree"

These were hard times in the theatre in December 1884, at least in Boston’s Bijou Theater for one particular production called “Desiree”. Featured actor De Wolf Hopper got off lightly by the critic, “in spite of his exaggerations, he is a true comic artist and made all the success.”

This unnamed critic reporting in Byrne’s Dramatic Times called the play “a wearisome affair, well calculated to please Philadelphia and Washington, but devoid of any merit so far as the libretto is concerned. Some extremely pretty and fascinating music is saddled to the worst rot imaginable.”

One may ponder if the audiences of Philadelphia and Washington are less apt to spot “rot” than a New England audience, but one has to admire the old world flourish of condemnations like “rot”.

“It is a little bit the worst stuff presented in the name of comic opera for some time.”

He saves his best stuff for the heroine: “Miss Rose Leighton was, on the other hand, the worst. What possible excuse she had for appearing is beyond me.”

He liked the costumes.

“Desiree” was a comic operetta whose score was composed by the famous “March King” John Philip Sousa, with libretto by Edward M. Taber. Perhaps the above critic’s opinions were not unfounded, as the libretto was later revised by Jerrold Fisher and William Martin. It had premiered several months earlier at the National Theater in Washington.

De Wolf Hopper, a 6-foot, 5-inch mountain of a man, which in theatre terms made him more appropriate for comic roles than heroes, later went on to fame delivering recitations of the poem “Casey at the Bat”, which he also occasionally did for curtain calls. Perhaps that might have saved the play here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Curtail Call, Arrested in Hartford

George and Sarah Bartley, players on the English stage from the late 1700s through the early 19th century, came to America on tour in 1818. It was a great success for them, but one episode in Hartford, Connecticut put a dent in their shiny newfound fame and fortune.

They took the stagecoach from New York City to Boston, and stopped in Hartford for a rest. According to Curtain Time - The Story of the American Theater by Lloyd Morris (Random House, NY, 1953), some prominent citizens in town invited them to present readings from plays and recitations. It wasn’t every day famous theater folk came to town. Probably because they had no theater. There were reasons for that, as we shall see.

The ballroom of Hartford’s “principal hotel” made do, but, this being New England, several more puritanical town fathers voiced opposition and demanded that the Attorney General of Connecticut “enforce the ‘blue law’ prohibiting theatrical performances and circuses.” Theatre, as we know, is a vice.

The Attorney General duly forbade the landlord of this establishment to hold his planned entertainment, but the landlord did not tell Mr. and Mrs. Bartley. So, on went the show in theatre tradition, and the thoroughly confused couple were immediately arrested after their bows, which the author notes was after midnight.

Bail was set at $500, more than a princely sum in the new republic, but fortunately, their hosts paid the bail. The court eventually let the Bartleys go, likely skedaddling up the Old Post Road with fresh horses. One hopes they had a better reception in Boston.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Upcoming Plays - December

At the Hartford Stage, Hartford, Connecticut: “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, adapted and directed by Michael Wilson. Runs through December 31st, 2010

At the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Center for the Arts, Old Saybrook, Connecticut: The National Theatre of London presents “Hamlet” December 9th.

“Nicholas Hytner, the National's artistic director, crafts a Hamlet for our time with Rory Kinnear, son of the late comic actor Roy, as an everyman melancholy Dane. A Hamlet for the Whatever generation, Kinnear's ‘performance is superb in its resonance and intelligence’- Libby Purves, The Times He's a ‘thrilling Hamlet in a hoodie’ - Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph. Come see what the British critics are raving about. Simulcast from the National Theatre of London.”

At the Merrimack Repertory Theater, Lowell, Massachusetts, “Beasley's Christmas Party”, adapted by C.W. Munger, from the story by Booth Tarkington. Runs through December 19th.

“From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Magnificent Ambersons comes this story of a curious journalist and his extremely eccentric next door neighbor who is planning a most unusual Christmas party. Magically and imaginatively delivered, it is a distinctly American and spiritually uplifting holiday story for the whole family filled with humor, heart and hope.”

The Portland Stage, Portland, Maine is also performing Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” December 3rd through 24th.

“Travel back in time to Victorian England where ghosts, time travel, and memories help a cold and lonely old miser regain his heart. Our adaptation remains remarkably true to Dickens' original book. Dickens' story seems best told in his words, allowing audiences to hear the richness of his language, and to experience the story of Scrooge's encounters with the spirits of past, present, and yet-to-come in the way that the author intended.”

The Shubert Theater of New Haven, Connecticut presents “Sister’s Christmas Catechism” December 3rd through 5th.

“The Mystery of the Magi's Gold…

“It's "Forensic Files goes to Bethlehem" in this holiday mystery extravaganza, from the author of Late Nite Catechism, as Sister takes on the mystery that has intrigued historians throughout the ages - whatever happened to the Magi's gold? ("We know that Mary used the frankincense and myrrh as a sort of potpourri - they were in a barn after all.")

Retelling the story of the nativity, as only Sister can, this hilarious holiday production is bound to become a yearly classic. Employing her own scientific tools, assisted by a local choir as well as a gaggle of audience members, Sister creates a living nativity unlike any you've ever seen. With gifts galore and bundles of laughs, Sister's Christmas Catechism is sure to become the newest addition to your holiday traditions.”