To Abate a Familiar Nuisance

IF consistency is half the jewel it is cracked up to be, I wish our more notable interpreters of the drama could be induced to recognize its virtues, even at the cost of a “curtain recall” now and then. It is doubtless a matter of pride to a clever player when, guiltless of a claque, he can keep a theatreful of reasonably intelligent persons applauding for ten minutes after the close of each act, while the curtain is lifted again and again to enable him to bow his thanks. But what becomes of the play, the thread of whose story is thus snipped into bits ?

Rip has just uttered bis plaintive “Meena, you haf turn me out of your house,” and passed into the raging storm ; Meena, overcome by a realization of what she has done, has fallen miserably. The dim candlelight, the ne’er-do-weel’s pathos, his wife’s distress, the thunder, lightning, wind, and rain, have wrought the sentiment of the audience to the

convulsive pitch, when —! Amid mingled sobs and handclapping, up goes the curtain upon a brilliantly illumined stage, with Rip and Meena in the centre of it, hand in hand, smiling, as if peace had been restored in the family as completely as in the weather outside!

If it were the purpose to stop there, leaving the audience to fill the gap of reconciliation with details of their own imagining, well and good. But no. The next scene shows Rip alone in the gloomy forest, making friends with the ghosts of Hendrick Hudson’s crew. Why is he there ? If he and Meena had come to an understanding, what need of his quitting home and wife and children to spend the night tramping through the inhospitable wilds ? Alas, the secret will be found in a three-line paragraph which must be lugged in at the tail of tomorrow’s published criticism, describing the enthusiasm of the “repeated recalls.”

I remember well when every actor whose name was honored by four-inch capitals on the bill-boards was expected to halt the scene in which he made his first entrance, by advancing to the footlights and bowing right and left in acknowledgment of his welcome by the house. That custom has fallen, happily, into disuse. A few actors still make a practice of pausing to bow, without leaving the place on the stage where the action of the piece requires them to be; but a much larger number give no outward sign of recognition — a compliment to the sincerity of their admirers, who are thus assumed to have paid their willing tribute with no eye to a return of favors. Having so nearly got rid of one old nuisance, why not try to get rid of the other? It used to be bad enough when, with the curtain still down, the villain and his murdered victim, the torrential father and his spendthrift son, the runaway wife and her deserted husband, came trooping out of a door in the proscenium to make their obeisances; but the present practice of raising the curtain is worse, for the stage-setting itself is a poignant reminder of the contrast between what has just occurred and what is just occurring.

A theatrical performance is either an appealing thought made visible, or the personal exploitation of an actor. If the latter, why go to the expense of so elaborate a mounting ? Clad in the conventional costume of the day, reading from an ordinary platform the lines of the dramatist, the histrionic artist could prove his powers of enchantment more surely than tricked out in a disguise, and projected against a changeful background of artificial scenery.

But, granting that the main thing is the evolution of the dramatist’s idea, and not the advertisement of its interpreter, why not encourage the illusion which the author has spent his best energies to create, instead of destroying it in order to furnish food for three lines in the morning newspapers ?

Or, if audiences are resolved not to be satisfied without exchanging greetings with their favorite players after the curtain has fallen, why not take advantage of modern invention, use a curtain with a white centre, and throw upon this a moving picture in which all the actors in the cast are represented in “plain clothes,”bowing and curtseying to their hearts’ content and that of their patrons? At least that would have the merit of not interrupting the continuity of the play.

Again, there is the good old-fashioned practice of having the curtain raised repeatedly upon the closing tableau of an act, which, if dramatic and colorful, tends to impress the story more deeply upon the minds of the spectators instead of effacing it. Besides, it conveys a compliment to author and actor jointly, like the pretty incident at a musical festival in England, when Nilsson, responding to an encore of a song from the “Bohemian Girl,” discarded her more showy repertory to give another simple thing of Balfe’s.