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.
Lewis Morrison: Lewis Morrison (1845-1906) was born Morris W. Morris in Jamaica, and came to the U.S. before the outbreak of the Civil War; he served as an officer in the Union army. After the war he became an actor, appearing with Lawrence Barrett, Tommaso Salvini, Edwin Booth, and Charlotte Cushman. Having made his reputation in supporting roles, he formed his own touring company with his wife, Florence Roberts, as leading lady. His most famous role was as Mephistopheles in Faust, which he opened in New York in April 1889.
Morrison's daughter Rosabel was also an actress; movie stars Constance and Joan Bennett were two of his granddaughters, and actor Morton Downey, Jr., was his great-grandson.
version of: Because of loose copyright laws in the United States, nineteenth century actors and managers were free to adapt the works of both classic and contemporary writers to suit their tastes and casts.
Faust: There was one (or possibly two) German astrologer-magicians named Faustus in the sixteenth century, who allegedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge. His (or their) feats were recorded or invented in an anonymous work, Faustbuch (1587), full of coarse humor and vivid descriptions of hell and the strange character of the devil Mephistopheles. An English translation in 1592 inspired Christopher Marlowe's Tragicall History of Dr. Faustus (1604). In early versions of the legend Faust's damnation is assured.
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.
Faust: Part one of Goethe's verse drama was published in 1808, the second shortly before his death in 1832. In it Goethe presents Faust as a romantic hero, a seeker after knowledge who is ultimately purified and saved from damnation. Goethe's Faust inspired many other 19th century versions, including a cantata by Hector Berlioz (1846) and an opera by Charles Gounod (1859). Later versions tended to focus more on the love story between Faust and Marguerite.
Lawrence Fossler, professor of German at the University of Nebraska, presented a series of lectures, "Goethe and Faust," in the fall of 1891 which Cather, then a freshman, may have attended. In "Old Mrs. Harris," the young Vickie Templeton looks at a German edition of Goethe's Faust and wishes she could read it (Obscure Destinies 90).
Marguerite: The character of Marguerite does not appear in early accounts of Barras's The Black Crook (1866); it may be a member of the chorus, or possibly a renaming of the other major female character, Stalacta, Queen of the Golden Realm.
Brocken scene: Probably the tumultuous scene on Walpurgis night, toward the end of the play, where Faust encounters hosts of witches. Faust says:How strangely glimmers through the gorges,Like morning's red, a turbid glow!Down the abyss itself it forges,Cleaves its way through gulfs far, far below.
It is trying to rise! . . . Save it!: In the final scene of part one, Faust begs Marguerite to escape with him, but she is dying and in a kind of madness imagines that their child might still be alive, imploring him to go save it from drowning.
Irving: Henry Irving (1838-1905), the great British actor-manager, was born John Henry Brodribb, and after a long apprenticeship made his debut under the Irving name as the Duke of Orleans in Richelieu. His London debut followed in 1866, and he began a long association with the Lyceum Theatre in 1871, making it known for the quality of the acting (Ellen Terry was his leading lady) and for the rich production values of the staging. Irving was especially famous in Shakespearean roles, and in 1895 he was the first actor to be knighted.
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.
A Trip to Chinatown: In Charles Hoyt's musical "A Trip to Chinatown", Mrs. Guyer, a widow from Chicago, comes to San Francisco and fosters romance among several young couples with the help of a rich man's lost wallet. The song, "The Bowery" (music by Percy Gaunt, words by Charles Hoyt), was one of the first big Broadway show tune hits. Later the song "After the Ball" was added; the two songs came to exemplify two dominant strains of the 1890s stage, the slightly naughty and the overtly sentimental. This was Charles Hoyt's biggest success. It toured the country for nearly a year before opening on Broadway in 1891, where it ran for a record-breaking 657 performances—a record that would not be broken for nearly thirty years. It toured the country for years after.
A 1912 musical, A Winsome Widow, was based on the play, and later commentators have seen many echoes of the plot in the mid-twentieth century hit, Hello, Dolly!
Frank McKee: Frank Mckee, who had been the general manager of "A Trip to Chinatown," became Charles Hoyt's managing partner after Hoyt's partner, Charles Thomas, died in November 1893. McKee had worked on several of Hoyt's productions.
Hoyt's Madison Square theatre: Daly's Fifth Avenue Opera House at on 24th Street, near Fifth and Madison, in New York was renovated by Steele Mackaye in 1879 and renamed the Madison Square Theatre. Charles Hoyt took it over in 1891, when it became known as Hoyt's Madison Square Theatre, or simply as Hoyt's Theatre. The building was torn down in 1908.
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.
Kimball Opera Bouffe company: This touring musical troupe, which used various names, such as the Kimball Opera Comique and Burlesque Company and the Kimball Opera Bouffe Company, was managed by Jennie Kimball. An item in the New York Dramatic Mirror noted that "Mrs. Kimball's enterprise is one of the very few that employs a special car for its scenery. The car she uses was built expressly for her, and is perhaps the most complete of its kind traveling" (24 December 1892, p. 73c).
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).