The formal opening of the New Funke last night was one of unqualified brilliancy. The gathering of the clans began early and by 8 o'clock standing room was sold and crowds of people were being turned away. The audience represented all the better element of Lincoln and Mr. Frank Zehrung may congratulate himself upon the popularity of the new theatre and its manager.
The play, "The Woman Hater," is more of a refined farce than a comedy. The play is undoubtedly funny. King Henry himself would have "smiled again," but it abounds is rather too much wit that has no pretext, in dragged in by the hair, so to speak. Legitimate comedy should have only the fun that the situations evolve; a good deal of their comedy was of the intentionally erratic order of the school of Mr. Hoyt —scarcely legitimate, but very funny and sometimes a little far-stretched. The situations were laughable, though none of them were particularly pointed and lacked suddenness. They were anticipated too long before they went off. One could see the playwright load before he fired.
Mr. Roland Reed is a skilful and finished light comedian. He has the naturalness and spontaneity necessary to all good comedy. He has a good voice and admirable ease of action, but he is not an interpretive actor and his comedy is not the comedy of a man who analyzes character and motives or who sees far into life. Into his comedy he reads no deeper meaning than good farce comedy. One never feels that he knows more than he tells. If his mask of comedy were removed one wonders what they would find underneath. He gives individuality but not personality to his role. It is doubtful if he could handle a part in which the deeper and more touching side of comedy is brought out. Refined farce seems to be his limit, but in that limit he is a clever and skilful actor.
Mr. Sheridan Tupper as George Dobins was a marvel of make-up, and he succeeded in making the ancient merchant a clearly-defined and consistent character. Indeed the scenes between the two old boys were among the best in the play. Miss Isadore Rush as Mrs. Joy is one of the best actors in a very good company. She is beautiful and her face and carriage have a peculiar charm and adapt themselves readily to any change of expression. Her laugh is like low music and her gowns are things to haunt one in dreams. She leaves the impression that the role is rather too trivial for her and that she is fitted for much heavier work. Mr. Myers as Mr. Walton and Mr. Bunny as Dr. Lane did highly creditable work. The actors are all good and the performance last night was a finished and clever one.
The "Faust" company played again at the Lansing last evening and the play was successful as heretofore. The actors improve with every performance and are getting in excellent trim for their Chicago engagement. That they can keep the enthusiasm of Lincoln theatre-goers warm for a week's stand speaks well for the merit of the production. The company is very favorable noticed in the Chicago papers this week.
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.
Mr. Frank C. Zehrung: Frank Connell Zehrung (1858-1942) was born in Cedar Rapids, IA, the son of John and Mary Connell Zehrung. According to Who's Who in Nebraska, he was educated at Lincoln High School and at the University of Nebraska. He was in the drug store business from 1879 to 1897, and managed the Funke Opera House from 1894 to 1900. In partnership with L. M. Crawford he managed the Oliver Theatre (formerly the Lansing Theatre) from 1899 to 1917. He married Jessie L. Voris (d. 1944) in 1911. He was active in civic affairs, as a member of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary club, and the Order of Elks, and he served as five terms as mayor of Lincoln: 1913-15, 1921-27, and 1931-33.
Zehrung's drug store was at 1213 O St. until 1894.
The Woman Hater: The Woman Hater was described on a Boston playbill in 1889 as "David D. Lloyd's original eccentric comedy in four acts," starring Roland Reed. David Demarest Lloyd (1851-1889) is best known for The Senator (1890), one of W. H. Crane's big hits. He was the brother of Henry Demarest Lloyd, author of Wealth Against Commonwealth (1894).
King Henry I: King Henry I of England (1068-1135) was born in England, the youngest son of William the Conqueror. He was educated for the church, but became king in 1100 upon the unexpected death of his brother, William Rufus, in a hunting accident. Prince William, Henry's only legitimate son, drowned in the sinking of the "White Ship" as he and his court returned from Normandy. Henry is said to have never smiled again. His daughter, Matilda, wife of the Holy Roman emperor, became the heir to the throne.
Charles Hoyt: Charles Hoyt (1860-1900) was born in New Hampshire, moved west to a cattle ranch in Colorado, became a newspaperman, then wrote his first play and had it produced in 1883; he became one of the most successful producer-playwrights by the late 1880s, perfecting the style of Broadway musical in which a farcical, light-hearted plot gives opportunities for songs and specialty features.
Mr. Roland Reed: Comedian Roland Lewis Reed (1852-1901) was born into a theatrical family in Philadelphia, making his debut at six months of age. By the 1880s he had made his name, starring in Fred Marsden's Humbug (with the then-little-known dancer, Loie Fuller), and making an even bigger success in Lend Me Your Wife in 1887. He also toured with David D. Lloyd's The Politician; or Woman's Plank, and The Woman Hater (1889), in which he played Samuel Bundy, a timid old bachelor who finds himself engaged to three widows at the same time.
Mr. Sheridan Tupper: Actor Sheridan P. Tupper (c. 1861-1904) was born in Illinois, growing up in Decatur. He was a member of William Stafford's company by 1884, playing King Claudio to Stafford's Hamlet. He also played in Roland Reed's and William H. Crane's companies.
Isadore Rush: Actress and singer Isadore Rush was noted for her beautiful costumes. She co-starred with Roland Reed in the 1890s in such plays as The Woman Hater, The Club Friend, and The Politician. By 1900 she was with the Rogers Brothers company, in The Rogers Brothers in Central Park; she appeared on the cover of the songsheet of J. Cheever Goodwin's "If the Cabby Told Half that He Knows." A recorded version of "Egypt" as sung by Rush was very popular for a time.
Mr. Myers: The cast lists in the New York Times reviews and in Odell's Annals of the New York Stage, volume XV, do not list a Mr. Myers in Roland Reed's company; however, they do list Mrs. Mary Myers, who plays one of the three widows.
Mr. John Bunny: Actor John Bunny (1863-1915) was a member of Roland Reed's company. He left the stage and made his greatest fame as one of the first and most popular movie comedians, starring in over 200 short films between 1909 and 1915. He was short, gnome-like, and weighed nearly 300 pounds when he began his movie career.John Bunny's brother, actor George Bunny (1867-1952), who resembled his more famous brother, also had a career in the movies, beginning as Cap'n Eri in Cap'n Eri (1915) and lasting until 1950; he was uncredited in most of the films he appeared in after 1935.
Faust company: In 1894 Lansing Theater manager Ed Church organized a touring company to perform Goethe's Faust. George Baker of Beatrice, Nebraska, played the role of Faust, according to the Nebraska State Journal (18 December 1894). The company had an engagement in Chicago.
Cather referred to this company in her September 13 and 16, 1894 columns.
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.