The 1894-1895 Season

By Meredith Klaus

The 1894-1895 season was almost equally divided between two plays with long runs--The Fatal Card and The Girl I Left Behind Me. Though they shared an American setting, The Fatal Card moved quickly from its beginning in California to a more traditional English background. Also in common, both plays featured the welcome reappearance of the popular William Terriss.

Though hampered by a plot fraught with coincidence and what the Theatre described as puerile humor, both the Times and Theatre were generally commendatory, as was usual in their reviews of the Adelphi. The Theatre was slightly perturbed, however, by what it called a dangerous scene--"in which a gentleman, clad in the scantiest of bathing costumes, is called upon to make a love declaration from behind a mass of bulrushes." Fortunately, the scene had "been assigned to Mr. Harry Nicholls, whose personal popularity alone served to extricate him from the dangerous position in which the authors had placed him" (1 October 1894, p. 190).

The Times mentioned a concurrently running French version of the play at the Porte St. Martin Theatre in Paris, noting that "it is a good sign for our playwrights that French theatrical managers are beginning to show themselves almost as ready to translate or adapt English plays as we have been for so long to found our dramas upon French originals" (2 September 1894).

The Theatre commented that much of the plot material was familiar to Adelphi audiences, including

the attempted lynching of a scoundrel in California and his prompt rescue by the hero; the murder of a niggardly banker by a couple of desperadoes in circumstances that point to the dead man's son as the culprit; and finally the destruction of the villain by means of an infernal machine, the explosion of which brings the walls of the laboratory tumbling about his ears, and finally buries him beneath their weight (1 October 1894, p. 189).

Particularly commended among the actors were Terriss, Nicholls, W. L. Abingdon, for his portrayal of the villain's "cowardly, repulsive, and heartless accomplice" a "masterpiece of its kind," and Murray Carson for his portrait of the villain, George Marrable. Carson was apparently able to create a complex villain, at once repulsive (he cheats at cards, steals bonds and contemplates blowing up the hero with a bomb) and attractive (he is a fond and doting father). The rest of the actors and actresses were described in the Theatre as "thoroughly efficient in their respective ways."

Stage effects maintained their usual force and appeal. The bomb explosion, which wrecked both laboratory and villain, was tremendously effective in its shock-effect on the audience. Prior to the climax of the bomb scene, the audience was expecting the explosion to take place on stage, which would have made it relatively tame. However, at the critical moment the villain picked up the bomb and heaved it out of the window. After the smoke cleared, the stage was found to be littered with debris, some of which had crushed the villain.

Equally stirring was the sole other piece of the season, The Girl I Left Behind Me. The title is somewhat misleading, apparently, as the Times noted that Post Kennion, in the Blackfoot country of Montana, had almost as many female as male inhabitants (1 January, 1895, p 6). General Kennion, in fact, was more to be commended in his role as doting father to his daughter Kate, than for his military prowess. The post was in fact surrounded by threatening and warlike Indians (or "Redskins" as the Times denominated them) throughout the play and only saved by the timely return of the hero, Lieutenant Hawkesworth, played by William Terriss. The plot, as the Times remarked, is based on a love story rather than a military adventure (15 April 1895).

The Theatre also criticized errors in staging, pointing especially to the "general's home [which] reminds one of a Vanderbilt mansion in Fifth Avenue rather than an unpretentious dwelling-place in the wilds of a North-Western State." The Theatre maintained that since it was an American play, it needed "an American expert, or some English stage-manager who knew exactly how it should be presented" (1 May 1895, p. 294). Despite its faults, The Girl I Left Behind Me, which opened 13 April 1895, ran through the end of the season (10 August).

© Copyright 1992 by Alfred L. Nelson and Gilbert B. Cross

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