Mr. Robert Downing appeared in "The Gladiator" to a good audience at the Lansing last night. It is the most unpleasant task in the world to condemn or even to disparage any honest artistic endeavor. It is a most difficult task to disparage a performance in which there is no radical error, but which fails only in that it attempts the sublime and never reaches it, because it deals with great themes and yet never uplifts the audience by one thrill of transfiguring emotion. An actor's impersonation may be good and yet be very far from great. It may please the eye and the ear, and yet never get any nearer to the soul, never penetrate the flesh and reach the spirit. In many ways Mr. Downing is admirably fitted for the role of Nero, the Gladiator . His strength of voice and power of gesture and even his somewhat too robust physique are perfectly in harmony with the part. Mr. Downing gave a very conscientious rendering of the play last night. His first scene was perhaps his best. There he maintained much of the repose of tone and manner which characterized him when he traveled as Mary Anderson's leading man years ago, when greater things were hoped of him than he has ever achieved. His reading of many of his lines was strong and self-contained. His "Oh to crush the universe" was powerful by reason of its hopeless quiet. But Mr. Downing is no more a great tragedian than he was last year, or the year before. The best part of his career lies behind him. Just wherein he fails no one can say. Tragedy is a dangerous undertaking. There is seldom more than one tragedian in a generation. There is holy ground even in the theatre, and Mr. Downing cannot enter upon it because, like the sons of Aaron, he carries in his censer only earthly fire. No one can say why a man with everything in his favor has not commanding greatness, any more than they can say why a man with everything against him has it. Science has never told us the origin of genius.
Miss Eugenie Blair appeared as Neodamia . Miss Blair has an unusually beautiful face, though she is growing rather stout and she has a most unfortunate pose of the head. Miss Blair does not rise to an emotion; she tumbles slouchily into it. Her intonation was at times moving, but her acting has the same willowy droop as her head and shoulders. No matter how classical her robes, Miss Blair is always a comfortable modern matron. There is nothing exalted or spiritual in her love, and it utterly lacks passion. She has neither the fine dignity nor the coarser emotions both of which are so necessary to a tragedienne. She is limited to the mediocre. Her love is the sort that might make a comfortable fireside, but cannot made a great tragedy. Her caresses made up in length and duration what they lacked in fervor. Her religion lacked the same intensity and exaltation as her love. The conflict between the higher aspirations of the soul and the human yearnings of the flesh which made the slave girl's sacrifice she did not bring out at all because she felt neither. She simply turned her emotion on and let it run and it came in a placid and untroubled streamlet. She never loved at all she was simply sweet and affectionate.
Mr. Edmund Hayes as Flavius should be highly commended. His person and voice are excellent, and he has a freshness and fervor in his acting that makes it promising. Mrs. F. M. Bates as Faustina should purchase a safer and more reliable brand of hairpins, so that when the Roman mob is beating in the doors she won't have to delay the denouement by doing up her back hair.The wrestling match between Mr. McChrister and the champion, Mr. George Stryker , elicited great applause, and Mr. Stryker proved himself an exceedingly skilful wrestler as well as an athelete of great prowess. The scenic effects of the play were highly picturesque, especially the scene in Flavius' garden on the Tiber.