The Lansing held a fair audience last night and they seemed more than well pleased, though really they saw no play at all. But they did not want too see one. They wanted to be bewildered and dazzled and dazed and astonished, and all this they got, and more too. There were witches with uncanny arms, mules that danced and grinned, beautiful girls with whirling skirts, pictures aglow with electric spangles, a fairy queen with a diadem of stars, a king of hades , black-bearded and stern-voiced, and a white-faced unfortunate who met the wrong side of everything, and all these moved in a world of infinite doors and unfathomable possibilities, the pantomime world, where you may be quite sure of one thing, that nothing will be what it seems to be. Truly it would be an awful world to live in, even with pink fairies in fluttering skirts for companions. One could have no confidence in the solidest chair or in the most unyielding wall. Candles might explode and boats might vanish at any moment, and demons in spotted tights might come tumbling out of anything.
Fantasma is the play for the children. For them it is fairyland made real. Here are rabbits that steal the hunter's gun, fish that dance gravely, a giraffe that knows what a joke is, and boots that go climbing to the ceiling. And have they not read that all these things may be? Here is the fortunate lover with curly hair and the beautiful girl who loves him, and the statues that change into men, and the caves that flash into palaces. What more can they ask? Perhaps they cannot see some things as older eyes — and more sensual — may see them, but that is fortunate, and will not last. We go home to discourse knowingly of stage mechanism and electric effects, while they carry home visions of spangles and diadems that dance into their dreams. What is the use of criticising? Let us follow them for one night and appreciate.
The spectacular play of the type of "Fantasma" is the ultimate resting place of the actor who rants. Here, in fact, bombastiy is a real merit. What else than turgidity do we want of Zamaliel , the king of hades. The slightest suspicion of nature would quite ruin everything. And, here, too those playwrights that love surprising incident may find refuge. Nothing is too strange for such a stage, not even the stuffed buffalo from whose empty eye-socket the misguided train robber so lately pointed his pistol. Probability, even plausibility, would only disappoint us; we demand, indeed, that the wonder outrun imagination.
The Rutledge company was announced to open a week's engagement at the Funke last night. A fair sized audience came and waited until nearly 10 o'clock and then was dismissed without a performance. The company, due to come in over the Missouri Pacific at 5 o'clock, did not arrive until after 9, and when the baggage reached the opera house it was nearly 10. This was too late and the show for last night was declared off.
These kings of pantomime will appear at the Lansing theatre Friday and Saturday, February 16 and 17, in their comedy success, "Eight Bells." The production this season will be marked by a number of new tricks. An entirely new last act, which will present some of the most costly and elaborate scenery on the stage.
Lansing Theatre: The Lansing Theater, on the southwest corner of 13th and P Streets, was built in 1891, displacing the Funke Opera House as the largest and finest theater in Lincoln. The owners were J.F. Lansing (b. 1842), a Lincoln real estate man, and his brother-in-law Henry Oliver (b. 1857); Edward A. Church was the manager. According to the program of the opening week (November 23-28, 1891) the auditorium consisted of the orchestra and parquet seating on the main level, with dress circle at the rear and sides; three tiers of five boxes each and six loges were at the sides. Above were the balcony and the gallery. With standing room, about 2500 people could be present.
The building also housed offices, including that of Cather's friend and fellow reviewer, Dr. Julius H. Tyndale. It was renamed the Oliver Theater in 1898.
Fantasma: Fantasma, produced by the Hanlons' Company, opened in New York November 10, 1884. The New York Times review described it as a "spectacular pantomime," with transformations and "tricks and acrobatic feats and the practical jokes and pummelings" as well as tableaux of "arctic horrors and heroism," but "entirely free from vulgarity or suggestiveness" (11 November 1884).
The Rutledge company: An acting company headed by J. P. Rutledge; it was probably a regional touring company, as Rutledge's name does not appear in the indexes to the New York Times drama reviews or Odell's Annals of the New York Stage.
The Funke: The Funke Opera House was built in 1885 by Fred Funke (d. 1890), a Lincoln wholesale cigar, wine, and liquor dealer, on the southwest corner of 12th and O St. Until the Lansing Theatre was built it was the largest and finest theater in town. The first manager was Ed A. Church (d. 1927), followed by Robert McReynolds; Frank Zehrung managed it briefly, from July 1889 to January 1890, when L. M. Crawford took over. Zehrung resumed management in 1894. The building housed shops on the ground floor and offices in parts of the upper floors, as well as the theater itself.
Missouri Pacific: In 1848 citizens of St. Louis chartered a Pacific railway company to run from their city to the Pacific coast and the goldfields of California. The company was formally organized in 1850 and began laying the first railway track west of the Mississippi River. The company was reorganized in 1872, and a Union Depot was built in St. Louis, to be replaced in 1894. In 1879, Jay Gould, who also owned interests in many other railroads, including the Union Pacific, bought a controlling interest in the Missouri Pacific, and organized the "Southwest System" of lines stretching down to Texas. Gould lost control of the Missouri Pacific in 1879; the line had a great period of expansion from 1885-1892, west through to Colorado and in many branch lines.The Missouri Pacific Railroad reached Lincoln in 1886 as a branch from its line to Omaha. It built a large passenger station at 9th and S streets, west of the university; the station was shared with the Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Valley Railroad, and so was known as Union Depot.
Brothers Byrne: James, Matthew, Andrew, and John Byrne had been circus acrobats before following in the pantomime tradition of the Hanlons. They were most noted for Eight Bells, which they performed from 1890 to 1914.
Eight Bells: Eight Bells, the Byrne Brothers most popular production, was adapted from a farce by John Martin, To Paris and Back on Five Pounds. The plot involved juggling, a chase scene, a ship tossed about at sea, and an elopement with the Byrne Brothers forming a human pyramid, a device used later by Buster Keaton in a silent film.
J. P. Rutledge: Head of the Rutledge acting company, which was probably a regional touring company. Rutledge's name does not appear in the indexes to the New York Times drama reviews or Odell's Annals of the New York Stage.
The Red Fox: A nineteenth-century play called The Red Fox does not appear in the indexes to the New York Times drama reviews, Odell's Annals of the New York Stage, nor in WorldCat's database. It may have been one of the plays churned out by booking agencies in regional centers like Kansas City to meet the needs of regional touring companies.