Lewis Morrison's version of "Faust" was presented at the Lansing last night to the largest house of the dramatic season. After one completely disillusioned himself of thinking that he was seeing Goethe's "Faust" and resigned himself to the fact that he was seeing Morrison's "Faust," the play went very well. Mr. White as Mephisto had a properly malignant face and his acting was forcible save for a species of giggle which seemed intended for demoniac laughter. Mr. Lyman as Faust was a little too careful about his poses, and from beginning to end he spoke in a tearful recitative tone which grew rather monotonous. He rejoiced and lamented, wooed and defied in exactly the same pitch, tone and quality of voice. It seemed very well meant, however. Miss Verne as Marguerite was at least beautiful to the eye, and sometimes it was a comfort to turn one's eye from that inoffensive, childlike smile of Faust's and look at her. She really acted in the scene at the fountain, which is saying a good deal. Martha was unnecessarily coarse and disgusting, just as Mephisto was often unwarranted in the low tone of his wit. Although the morals of the play have received such a careful chaperoning at the hands of Mr. Morrison, a number of trivial vulgarities have been introduced which are rather a shock to good taste.
After all, the advance notices promised us not great acting but thrilling scenery and this last was certainly given us. The scenery in the Brocken scene would be hard to rival for gorgeousness and brilliancy. The play seems to be a grand substitution of electricity for ethics and red lights for dramatic art.
With all due deference to the delicate sensibilities of the times, it seems hardly necessary to play an expurgated edition of "Faust." The "Faust" we saw last night was great and startling in many respects, but to those of us who have had ringing in our ears Marguerite's "And here on my breast put my baby, For no one else will lie beside me," and her awful "It is trying to rise! "It is struggling still! "Save it! Save it!"
The play seemed to lose something very great in the expurgation of Marguerite's sin and Faust's retribution. Mr. Morrison does not seem to be able to write Faust quite as well as Goethe did.
The chief fault of Mr. Morrison's "Faust" is that it is unduly copious in effects that have no apparent artistic excuse for being. It is in this that it differs from "Faust" as Henry Irving renders it. His Mephistopheles is a consistent character, a perfect courtier and a perfect gentleman. He never rants, never growls and never calls down a whole orchestra of thunder to reinforce a very ordinary sentence. Mr. Morrison's—or rather Mr. Porter J. White's—Mephisto does do just these things, and many more quite as Mephistophelean. He is just a plain, ordinary, illiterate, red fire devil, and very far from from the intellectual spirit of concentrated negation that Goethe drew and that Irving exhibited.
Mr. Morrison's play departs much further than Mr. Irving's from the original "Faust." The invocation of the devil is made a deliberate act of Faust's and the scene of the witch's kitchen is omitted entirely, and Marguerite is imprisoned, not for intentionally killing her child, but for unintentionally killing her mother.
Nor are Mr. Morrison's scenic effects as good. They have, many of them, no apparent function in the development of the play. Why should the mound of flowers—or Marguerite's brooch either, for that matter—flash with fire? Why should Mephisto, several times in every act, rage alone on the stage to the accompaniment of much thunder? One misses what Irving does give, the perfect composition and unity of every picture.
This "Faust" loses in every departure it takes from the original. Each of these puts it so much nearer to the miracle plays of the middle ages, where live devils roared for souls and real jaws of hell snapped greedily.
This "Faust" is a good, pleasing attractive play and Mephisto is really a very frightful devil, but neither quite satisfies some standards of art. This play compares with Mr. Irving's "Faust" much as a very good chromo does with a pretty good oil painting of a scene too grand to be adequately pictured. The colors are much brighter, it may be, but something is lost and that something is — some people think — the most valuable part of the whole.
One of the successful dramatic events of the season will no doubt be the coming of Hoyt's "A Trip to Chinatown," under the management of Frank McKee , to the Lansing theatre Friday night, January 19. This is the same farce comedy that broke all records with 656 consecutive performances at Hoyt's Madison Square theatre, New York. It comes to this city with the original cast, one carload of scenery, all properties, mechanical effects and accessories complete.
The lyric event of the Lansing theatre will be the appearance of Corrinne and the Kimball Opera Company Monday and Tuesday, January 22 and 23, presenting "Hendrick Hudson" with a company of sixty people and a carload of special accessories.