Reference > Cambridge History > Later National Literature, Part II > The Drama, 1860–1918 > Tricks and Farces
  The Broadway School Independent Theatres; The New Theatre  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XVIII. The Drama, 1860–1918.

§ 29. Tricks and Farces.

With no philosophic body of ideas moving American drama, it is surprising what an excellent number of plays can be mentioned as illustrative of certain definite types of drama. It is not a dead creative field which can point to the high comedy of A. E. Thomas’s Her Husband’s Wife (9 May, 1910), Thompson Buchanan’s A Woman’s Way (22 February, 1909), Harry James Smith’s Mrs. Bumpstead Leigh (Lyceum Theatre, 3 April, 1911), and Jesse Lynch Williams’s Why Marry? (Astor Theatre, 25 December, 1917). Perhaps these examples are overtopped by Langdon Mitchell’s The New York Idea (Lyric Theatre, 19 November, 1906), which has an irony of universal import—a tang of the Restoration drama, without its blatant vulgarity—a critical sense of manners at once timely and for ever true. This ability shown by Mitchell makes one deplore the time spent by him on dramatizations like Becky Sharp (12 September, 1899) and Pendennis (26 October, 1916).   47
  We may point with just pride to examples of drama of social condition like Charles Kenyon’s Kindling (Daly’s Theatre, 3 December, 1911) and Medill Patterson’s Rebellion (Maxine Elliott’s Theatre, 3 October, 1911). And, even with its excrescences of bad taste, Louis K. Anspacher’s The Unchastened Woman (9 October, 1915) possessed marked distinction of characterization. In the sphere of simple human comedy, Winchell Smith’s The Fortune Hunter (4 September, 1909) and J. Hartley Manners’s Peg o’ My Heart (Cort Theatre, 20 December, 1912), are typical; while Elmer Reizenstein’s On Trial (31 August, 1914), with its “cut back” scenes, showed the direct influence of moving-picture technique on dramatic writing. There are hosts of American farces, true to type, racy with American foibles, like Rupert Hughes’s Excuse Me (Gaiety Theatre, 13 February, 1911), Roi Cooper Megrue’s It Pays to Advertise (Cohan Theatre, 8 September, 1914), Augustin McHugh’s Officer 666 (Gaiety Theatre, 12 August, 1912), Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart’s Seven Days (Astor Theatre, 10 November, 1909).   48
  One may point to Rachel Crothers’s The Three of Us (17 October, 1906) and A Man’s World (8 February, 1910) and say she is example of how a woman, anxious to show unity of purpose in her work, has been forced later into catering to popular demand. One may deplore that Margaret Mayo’s cleverness of technique was used for the creation of such an advertising catch-piece as Twin Beds—which failed even to win the soldiers in cantonment or afield during the past war.  11  One may applaud the theatre atmosphere of James Forbes’s The Chorus Lady (1 September, 1906), and yet see his limitations in the blind way he, like his contemporaries, gropes about for some external novelty.   49
  The unfortunate thing is that the American drama has had many brilliant promises which have finally thinned out and never materialized. At the present moment we have every reason to believe that Clare Kummer (Good Gracious, Annabelle, Republic Theatre, 31 October, 1916, and A Successful Calamity, Booth Theatre, 5 February, 1917), Robert Housam (The Gypsy Trail, Plymouth Theatre, 4 December, 1917), the Hattons, W. J. Hurlbut, and Channing Pollock will contribute something to the future theatre.   50

Note 11. It is too early to state what effect the entertainment of the soldier will have on the future theatre. When the Government mobilized men in cantonments it established a Liberty Theatre at each military centre. To this, entertainments were sent by an organized committee which drew upon the commercial theatre as well as upon the amateur. The draft army itself was so full of dramatic talent, so many writers and musicians found themselves in uniform, that in addition to professional entertainment sent to the camp, the soldiers created an army drama, rich in humour and local colour. Community interest centred itself in aiding the Government, whose sole desire was, both at home and abroad, to maintain the morale of men suddenly drawn by the draft from normal life and occupation. Community houses were established in towns nearest cantonments and embarkation points, and these community centres may give impulse to the community theatre. Certain it is that the Government has found amusement a “war necessity,” and has determined, in peace times, to maintain Government theatres at military posts. If in war time the theatre has made itself necessary, does it not follow that some day the Government, regarding the theatre as a necessary social institution for the American people, will give it Congressional support in its artistic maintenance, and recognize its importance by having it represented in the Presidential Cabinet by a Secretary of Fine Arts? This might do much to give direction and purpose to future American playwriting. [ back ]

  The Broadway School Independent Theatres; The New Theatre  

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