Washington Square Plays


You didn't get to the theatre at 8.30, wait for the curtain to rise on a thin-spun drawing-room comedy at 8.45, and begin hunting for your wraps at 10.35. One hates to think, in fact, what would have happened to a manager fifty years ago who didn't give more than that for the price of a ticket. Our fathers and mothers watched their pennies more sharply than we do. For various reasons, one of them no doubt being the growth of cheaper forms of amusement and the consequent desertion from the traditional playhouse of a considerable body of those who least like, and can least afford, to spend money irrespective of returns, the "afterpiece" and "curtain raiser" have practically vanished from our stage. They have so completely vanished, in fact, that theatre goers have lost not only the habit of expecting them, but the imaginative flexibility to enjoy them. If you should play "Romeo and Juliet" to-day and then follow it with a one-act farce, your audience would be uncomfortably bewildered. They would be unable to make the necessary adjustment of mood. If you focus your vision rapidly from a near to a far object, you probably suffer from eye-strain. Similarly, the jump from one play to the other in the theatre gives a modern audience mind- or mood-strain. It is largely a matter of habit. We, to-day, have lost the trick through lack of practice. The old custom is dead; we are fixed in a new one. If Maude Adams, for instance, should follow "The Little Minister" with a roaring farce, or Sothern should turn on the same evening from "If I Were King" to "Box and Cox," we should feel that some artistic unity had been rudely violated; nor am I at all sure, being a product of this generation, but that we should be quite right. Matters standing as they do, then, it seems to me that the talk we frequently hear about reviving "the art of the one-act play" by restoring the curtain raisers or afterpieces to the programs of our theatres is reactionary and futile. All recent attempts to pad out a slim play with an additional short one have failed to meet with approval, even when the short piece was so masterly a work as Barrie's "The Will," splendidly acted by John Drew, or the same author's "Twelve Pound Look," acted by Miss Barrymore. Nor is it at all certain that the one-act plays of our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, the names of which you may read by the thousands on ancient playbills, added anything to the store of dramatic literature. Some of them are decently entombed in the catacombs of Lacy's British Drama, or still available for amateurs in French's library. Did you ever try to read one? Of course, there was "Box and Cox," but it is doubtful if there will be any great celebration at the tercentenary of Morton's death. For the most part, those ancient afterpieces were frankly padding, conventional farces to fill up the bill and send the audiences home happy. To the real art of the drama or the development of the one-act

Alice Gerstenberg, Philip Moeller, Lewis Beach and Edward Goodman

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