Robert Downing played to a very fair house at the Lansing last night. Although Mr. Downing's acting called forth repeated applause, the audience seemed a little disappointed in his support. Mr. Downing has a fine physique, but perhaps he depends a little too much on it. His acting is rather free from ranting and is often both strong and moving, though after the phrases upon which he has lavished especial power, there is always that little pause and glance at the gallery, which is painfully suggestive. The powerful frame which gives Mr. Downing his force in his heavier acting, is rather against him in his lighter work, and in repose his figure has something of the alderman about it, though his neck fulfilled all the rich and seemly promises of his play bills. Miss Eugenia Blair is a beautiful and charming soubrette who could play delightfully in "Little Puck" or in "Chums," but she is too American to wear the toga. One keeps thinking how much more at home she would be in extravagant evening costumes or cunning morning gowns. Miss Blair's impulsive congress and decidedly "clinging" tendencies do not seem to sit well on the woman who is supposed to be the daughter of heroes and mother of hunger. One of the most important features of the play was the acting of a number of university boys who suped as "Roman Citizens," and whose one desire seemed to be to flee to the rear of the stage and hide the awful brevity of their skirts and the awfuller length of their stockings from the eyes of their professors who happened to be very numerous in the audience.
Pickett's "Gaiety Girls" attracted a fair audience at the Funke last night. Some of their work was of merit, chiefly in the specialty acts of the second part. Frank Williamson furnished the major portion of the mirth. Some of the female voices are slightly cracked. The girls will repeat the entertainment tonight.
No play written in recent years for the English or the American stages has drawn out more favorable comment than "The Silver King." Its grand revival at the Lansing theater this afternoon and night will no doubt be seen by a large house. Bring the children to the Thanksgiving matinee and give them reason to be thankful. Prices this afternoon, 25 cents for children and 50 cents and 75 cents for adults.
English melodrama will receive an excellent illustration in "The Span of Life." Sutton Vane's thrilling, realistic drama is to have its first presentation in this city at the Lansing theater tomorrow night. It is the story of a bad man poisoning his half-brother for his money and trying to blast the reputation of a rival in love. Startling incidents and thrilling situations abound, so that there is not a dull moment in the course of the drama. Sale now on.
Miss Rice has selected as the piece de resistance of her programme next Saturday night at the Lansing theater the very successful comedy "Miss Innocence Abroad," which has just ended a very long and successful run in London and Paris. Miss Rice will be seen in the role of Maria , a character entirely different from anything she has hitherto attempted. Sale opens this morning.
Robert Downing: Robert Downing (1857-1944) appeared in minor roles Mary Anderson's company in New York by 1880; by 1882 he was playing leading roles with her, such as Claude in Lady of Lyons. When Anderson left for London, Downing played with Joseph Jefferson's company between 1883 and 1888. Odell first notes his appearance in New York as Spartacus in The Gladiator in 1886 (Annals of the New York Stage, XIII: 230), and return engagements thereafter, saying that Downing was "trying to be a Forrest" (XIII: 459). He was best known for his physique as displayed in the lead role of such plays as The Gladiator. Downing's basic repertoire in the early 1890s consisted of The Gladiator, Virginius, Ingomar, Damon and Pythias, Julius Caesar, and Richard the Lion-Hearted.
Image available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.
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.
Miss Eugenia Blair: Eugenie Blair (c. 1868-1922) was born in South Carolina, but made her professional debut in Chicago. She toured with the D.P. Powers and James O'Neill companies, and then played supporting roles in Frederick B. Warde's company in the mid-1880s, winning modest praise in the New York Times reviews. By 1888 she was playing in Robert Downing's company; they were married by 1891, and divorced by 1910. She continued active in the theater, performing character roles on Broadway as she aged. She died after suffering a heart attack backstage during a performance of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie (1921), for which she created the role of Marthy. Blair's daughter was actress Eleanor Montell.
Image at: Google Books.
Chums: Possibly the 1879 play (also called Hearts of Oak) on which actor-playwright James A. Herne (1839-1901) collaborated with David Belasco (1854-1931); it was based on an 1865 British play by Henry J. Leslie, called The Mariner's Compass (c. 1865). In it a young girl marries an old man out of gratitude; when he realizes that she loves her childhood friend, he goes away to sea and pretends to be lost so the two chums will be free to marry. He returns years later to an emotional reunion with his young child by the gravestone that the couple had erected to him.
toga: An outer garment, made in an oval shape and hanging in folds, worn by citizens of ancient Rome; though women and the lower classes gradually ceased to wear it, it remained a distinctive garment of upper class men, and obligatory for the emperor and high officials. Although the name of the play is not mentioned, Slote identifies it as Virginius, set in classical Rome. The 1820 play by James Sheridan Knowles (1784-1862), based on Livy, tells the story of a soldier who kills his daughter, Virginia.
Pickett's Gaiety Girls: The original Gaiety Girls were the exceptionally beautiful and elegant chorus girls at the Gaiety Theatre in London, who became so popular they had their own musical named for them, A Gaiety Girl (1893). The show was brought to New York, opening in September 1894. The plot concerned a poor but virtuous musical actress who is accused of stealing a diamond comb belonging to the guardsman-hero's aristocratic aunt. The American version of the play starred Charles Ryly and Alma Somerset.
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.
The Silver King: This four-act play by Henry Arthur Jones (1851-1929), with Henry Herman, established Jones' position as a leading British playwright. It was produced at the Princess's Theatre in London in 1882 by Wilson Barrett, playing the hero, Wilfred Denver, and with E. S. Willard in the role of the villainous "the Spider." The plot concerns Wilfred Denver, who is accused of murdering a man who had wronged him; with the help of his wife, he flees; his train car burns in an accident, with several unidentifiable bodies. Thought to be dead, Denver escapes to America, makes his fortune in Nevada silver; returning to London, he helps his unwitting family and searches for the real killer.
Miss Innocence Abroad: The New York Times review said this play was probably based on a French farce, adapted as an English farce by F. C. Phillips (author of As in a Looking Glass) and actor Charles Brookfield; it was then "arranged" for the American stage by Edward Paulton. The reviewer described it as "a dull sort of thing with a long-drawn-out plot of the old-fashioned kind . . . and long, hopelessly long passages of inane dialogue" (26 August 1894).
Maria: Presumably the heroine of Miss Innocence Abroad; however, when Fanny Rice's production opened in New York in August 1894, the heroine, played by Fanny Rice, was named Molly Flower. Possibly the name was changed during the tour.