"Friends" drew, as it always does, one of the largest houses of the season at the Lansing last night. When Mr. Royle first brought his new play out in New York several years ago, it was feared that the general public were not sufficiently interested in the private life of artists and singers to care for a play whose scenes were laid entirely within the coasts of Bohemia. But the public is interested in any play that is warmly human, whether it deals with artists or artisans. What saves Mr. Royle's play is that it is a play of action, not of epigrams, that his men and women are something more than wits. The construction of "Friends" is by no means faultless, the fainting scene is incongruous and done by any less gifted artist than Selina Fetter would be ineffectual. The last act is rather weak, and instead of being a climax is a decided descent. Karje's blindness is uncalled for and very stagy. But we can forgive bad construction on the American stage just now, because we have so little but construction. "Friends" gives us some large generous emotion and that by far outweighs any little flaws that it may have. It deals not with the transient evils of the world, but with the lasting good. It has not escaped from a hospital or a French dissecting table.
It has no purpose, moral or immoral, beyond being a good play, and it exalts emotion instead of analyzing it or sneering at it. The rather sentimental nature of the masculine friendship may be a little strained and unnatural, but it at least only belies nature by making it better than it is, which is rather refreshing in these days when most of the lying is done the other way.
The success of the play is very largely due to the talented woman who plays the leading role. Selina Fetter's work is always good. Indeed, her powers have scarcely opportunity to appear in their full scope in the character of Marguerite Otto . She is an exceptionally graceful and womanly actress and is capable of deep feeling. Bits of acting like that burst of sobbing at the piano are worth seeing and pleasant to remember. The second act is particularly her own, and she makes the conflict between the woman and the artist plausible and moving.
Mr. Henderson and Mr. Royle seem to improve as the years go on. They are less sentimental in their friendship than they were last year and have discontinued several fond embraces. They are all the better for it. Mr. Royle, particularly, now makes a strong and sustained distinction between sentiment and sentimentality. E.D. Lyons has not par-icularly improved Hans Otto , because improvement would be very difficult. In the third act it would be almost impossible. He comes just near enough to the melodramatic, never too near.
Harry Allen is a thoroughly good John Padden jr. and Mr. Jackson is much more successful as Herald Huntington than Mr. Bergman , who essayed the part last season. The enthusiasm of the house was, to say the least, unusual. Curtain calls followed every act, even the first, and at the end of the third Mr. Royle made a little speech before the curtain.