In spite of the inclement weather "The Spider and the Fly" was presented to a fairly good house at the Lansing last night. The play is one of those combinations of circus and very light opera which seem written especially to give employment to ring contortionists and trapeze preformers during the season when the canvas is too breezy to exhibit their skill. Light operas are supposed to be light, but this one came nearer an absolute vacuum than any play we have seen lately, except the "Hendrick Hudson" of Sweetie Corinne . In fact, the whole thing was merely "atmosphere trimmed in blue ribbons." The scenery was excellent and some of the songs were well enough, though it is rather late in the day to tell us that "The cows are in the clover and have been there since morn." The duetti by the Laporte sisters were good, and Miss Rose Laporte had a wonderfully sweet alto voice, the only respectable voice in the company, by the way. Mr. Robert Bell as Pickler failed to interest the audience much, and left the painful impression that he was only laughing his old laugh over again. There was very little heart or mirth in any part of the play or the action. Some plays, like the people who habitually visit them, in their great desire to be sufficiently wicked lose even the pretext of mirth and have only the raw material left. Spectacular plays as a rule are written for people who are too far gone to laugh normally or naturally. As to the actors, they were of the usual kind who consent to act in spectacular performances, their sole art consisted in making their figures fit their tights, which were very pretty and made one rather glad that the Massachusetts skirt bill has not passed. There was the usual "spectacular" device of having the leading man's part taken by a sallow, faded looking woman in ill-fitting gentleman's attire. What the light opera folks see attractive in having one ungainly woman make love to another, in a poor imitation of masculine tones, it is hard to say. They certainly cannot hope to arouse any sympathy in the audience by such unnatural and unpleasing situations. Audiences prefer masculine lovers, no sensations except those of weariness are aroused by seeing women in tights spooning with each other. The merits of the actors in "The Spider and the Fly" can be stated in very few words; only one of them could sing, none of them could act and most of them could look very pretty.
The children, as well as their parents, have a treat in store for them, for that best of all fairy spectacular plays, the Hanlon Bros.' "Fantasma," is to be presented at the Lansing theatre Monday and Tuesday, February 12 and 13, in all its greatness and gorgeousness. Since last season the Hanlons have devoted a great deal of time and money to improving the production and the result is that "Fantasma" is now better than ever before.
Not too much of one thing, but a pleasing, well arranged variety will be giuen in the Western Normal entertainment at the Y. M. C. A. Friday evening, February 9. The proceeds go to the Y. M. C. A. building fund.
The Spider and the Fly: The Spider and the Fly opened at the Windsor Theatre in New York in October 1889. Odell refers to it as "M. B. Leavitt's show" (Annals of the New York Stage, XIV, 583) but it is unclear whether Leavitt was the writer or the producer. The original cast starred comedians James Adams as the Spider and Thomas Dare as the Fly and included Pauline Markham, gymnasts, and other specialty acts. The show played in popular theaters in the New York area for years, changing cast members from time to time, but apparently never played on Broadway and was never reviewed by the New York Times.
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.
Hendrick Hudson: Hendrick Hudson, a burlesque by William Gill and a collaborator, opened in New York August 18, 1890, at the 14th Street Theater, and starred Fay Templeton. A New York Times reviewer said of the plot: "The discoverer of the Hudson . . . went to Florida, discovered Christopher Columbus living in retirement there, and took him to New Amsterdam as the 'star attraction' of the World's Fair," and called it "a tedious and pointless burlesque play" (19 August 1890). A later mention said the play was "buried under a crushing weight of public disfavor" (28 October 1890).
Corinne: Corinne Kimball (1873-1937) used only her first name professionally. She had been a singing and dancing child star in her mother's company, the Kimball Opera Comique and Burlesque Company, and remained a popular touring star into the 1890s. One of her specialties was in "boy" roles, where, judging by surviving photographs, she wore tights rather than trousers: Edmond Dantes in Monte Cristo, Jr., a burlesque of The Count of Monte Cristo; Tom the Piper's Son in William Gill's burlesque Arcadia. Cather also refers to her as "Sweetie Corinne" and "Charming Corinne," epithets possibly used in Kimball's advertising.
Image available at the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections.
"atmosphere trimmed in blue ribbons": To tie up (or trim) in blue ribbons means to put fancy touches on an object, in this case, atmosphere, air, or nothingness. The quotation marks suggest Cather was borrowing the phrase, but the source has not been identified.
"The cows are in the clover and have been there since morn": The chorus of a popular song usually called "The Cows are in the Clover," with words and music by Al W. Filson, goes:Maggie! Maggie! the cows are in the clover,They've trampled there since morn;Go and drive them, Maggie,To the old red barn.
Laporte sisters: Rose and Hilda Laporte had been singing in variety shows in New York since 1886, when they were with the Lilly Clay Gayety Company, which featured an all-girl Robinson Crusoe sketch. In 1889 they were with a troupe called the Night Owls, and in 1891 were in a show called The Hustler at Niblo's. By early 1892 they were part of The Spider and the Fly company which played minor theaters in the New York area.
Mr. Robert Bell: The indexes to the New York Times drama reviews and to Odell's Annals of the New York Stage do not record an actor named Robert Bell; he presumably played mainly in touring companies.
Massachusetts skirt bill: Apparently a bill proposed, but not passed, in Massachusetts (one of the New England states famous for its "blue laws" regulating moral conduct) to regulate who could or could not wear skirts, or by extension, women's clothing.
Hanlon Bros.: Mssrs. Hanlon are mentioned in the New York Times as producers of Superba (20 April 1890); Edward Hanlon was mentioned as one of the performers in a later review (25 November 1890). Other Hanlons who appeared on the New York stage between 1894 and 1918 were Toma, George, Harry, and Daniel.
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 Midnight Alarm: A Midnight Alarm by A. Y. Pearson opened in New York in 1892, starring Robert Neill, Frederick Julian as Silas Carringford, Edith Julian as Sparkle, and George F. Hall as E. Chiffington Chaser. The show played short runs at various popular theaters in the New York area for several years; by 1894 it had a new cast, composed of J. H. Smiley, George B. Berrell, Will F. Phillips, Lottie Walters, Virginia Russell, and Anna M. Quinn.
Western Normal: The Western Normal College, owned by William M. Croan and W. A. Clark, moved from Shenandoah, Iowa, to Hawthorne, 3 miles southwest of the post office at 10th and O Streets, in 1892, after a fire had destroyed their buildings in Iowa. Normal colleges trained teachers.
Christmas at the Quarters: "Christmas Night in the Quarters" (1878), a long poem, or series of poems, by Mississippi writer Irwin Russell (1853-1879), was influential in its use of African American characters and dialect. Russell supposedly wrote the poem in one night after a visit to the former slave quarters of a plantation one Christmas night. Joel Chandler Harris said in his introduction to Russell's collected Poems (1888) that the poem "combines the features of a character study with a series of bold and striking plantation pictures that have never been surpassed." The poem was a favorite for recitations into the twentieth century; the 1917 edition of the poems was retitled Christmas Night in the Quarters and Other Poems. It begins: When merry Christmas-day is done,And Christmas-night is just begun;While clouds in slow procession driftTo wish the moon-man Christmas gift,Yet linger overhead, to knowWhat causes all the stir below;At Uncle Johnny Bookers ballThe darkeys hold high carnival.