The Lansing was crowded last night. The audience was a sort of travesty on the usual audience, and the sons and daughters of toil greatly predominated. The maids of all work, attired in elaborate evening dresses and wearing several dozen roses in their corsages, gracefully flaunted their feather fans in the boxes usually occupied by their mistresses. The dress circle was "held down" by that miscellaneous brotherhood which haunts the gallery on less august occasions. The audience was certainly informal, feeling at liberty at any time to call out the approval or disapproval in not unmistakable terms. But they were just the kind of people who know how to enjoy themselves and who are thoroughly uncorrupted by any suspicion of taste. They don't go to the theatre often enough to be critical or to lose their enthusiasm, and the Lansing seldom holds more enjoyment than it held last night.
As to the Wilbur company itself, like a country circus it embraced—figuratively—almost everything. There was some excellent trapeze work by a husband and wife, in which the woman—like Mrs. Kendal , the English daisy—usurped all the heavy acting, while the meek little man, like the long-suffering and much enduring "Willie" allowed himself to be suspended by his toes and hung by his teeth, and jerked hither and thither in the muscular arms of his Amazonian wife. Then there was a song by a maiden in a wig of variety blond, and skirts of variety brevity. There was a guitar solo by a maid with floating locks, and some skilful ring work by a young man, whose name is unknown, and a complete dearth of programs, was one of the conventional features of last night's performance. Then there was a magic lanterns show of the old fashioned kind in which the Doges palace was alternated with "Patronize the Lincoln Sausage Factory" and the leaning tower of Pisa with the Lincoln Pants company. That finished the first round, and the second was very much like it. The company is a good variety company and sets a commendable example to other companies of its kind to stick to variety and not abandon the trapeze and tightrope for Camille or Romeo and Juliet . There are so many Camilles and Juliets who ought to be doing the iron jaw and slack wire acts.
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.
Wilber company: The Wilber Entertainment company was a variety troupe.
Mrs. Madge Kendal: Madge (née Margaret Robertson) Kendal (1849-1935) was born in an established English theatrical family (her brother Tom Robertson was a well known playwright), and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1929.
Image available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.
Mr. Kendal: William Hunter Kendal (1843-1917) was less celebrated than his wife; as a shrewd actor manager, he produced plays to showcase his wife.
Image available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.New York Public Library Digital Gallery.
magic lantern: A magic lantern was a form of projector, first described in the West in the seventeenth century. A small oil or kerosene lamp behind a lens projected images painted on glass plates or slides onto a wall or screen. In the nineteenth century magic lanterns were used by lecturers and popular entertainers, and were manufactured for home entertainment also. The glass sides were often sold in sets featuring exotic places, famous buildings, works of art, or people, and in series of posed images telling stories.
In Cather's O Pioneers!, Carl brings a magic lantern home from town.
Doges palace: The Doge's palace in Venice—the Palazzo Ducale di Venezia, constructed in the fourteenth century, was the residence of the ruler of Venice when it was an independent state. Its famous arcaded facades face St. Mark's Square and the great Lagoon. The palace was also the administrative center of the republic, and was connected to the jail next door by the Bridge of Sighs in 1602. Ruskin (1819-1900) called the doge's palace "the central building of the world" in The Stones of Venice (1853) because it embodied gothic art and history, which Ruskin considered the highest and purest.
Lincoln Sausage Factory: The 1895 Lincoln city directory does not list a Lincoln Sausage Factory, but there was a Lincoln Meat Company at 916 P Street, owned by Philip Manger. However, many of the city's forty-three butchers probably made their own sausages.
leaning tower of Pisa: The round campanile, or bell tower, of the cathedral of Pisa, Italy, was begun in 1173. Construction was halted after the third story was completed, and the tower began to lean due to an inadequate foundation and unstable soils. In the century before construction resumed, the soil settled. The thirteenth century builders tried to compensate for the tilt by building the stories higher on the low side. The bell chamber at the top, for seven bells tuned to the musical scale, was finished in 1372. The tower is about 185 feet tall and has been stabilized to lean nearly four degrees from the vertical.
Lincoln Pants company: According to the 1895 Lincoln city directory, the Lincoln Pants Company, at 1223 O Street, was owned by C. M. Carpenter and B. H. Kempster, tailors.
variety: Variety shows originated as saloon entertainment for men in the mid-nineteenth century, but as the performers sought a wider audience the acts were cleaned up and skill—at singing, dancing, acrobatics, magic, and other performances—was emphasized over sexual content, and the shows moved into theaters. Vaudeville was the later incarnation of variety shows.
Camille: The English play Camille is based on the play La Dame aux camélias (1852), based on the novel (1848) by Alexandre Dumas the younger (1824-1895). In the play, Armand Duval, a poor young man of a good family, falls in love with a famous courtesan, Camille (named Marguerite Gautier in the original). Skeptical of his love at first, she comes to return it and the two retire to an idyllic life in the country. However, Armand's father comes to her and begs her to set Armand free for the sake of his reputation and for the marriage chances of Armand's young sister. Camille pretends to be tired of Armand and returns to Paris and her old life. She is, however, dying of tuberculosis, and the two are reunited before her death. The role of Camille was also a favorite of Sarah Bernhardt and many other tragic actresses.
Verdi's opera La Traviata (1853) is based on the story of Camille, and the play has been made into films as well, notably one starring Greta Garbo (1936).
Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare's early romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, was written c. 1594-95. Romeo and Juliet come from families feuding with each other, the Montagues and Capulets, but fall immediately in love. They are forced to meet in secret—the balcony scene being the most famous in all of Shakespeare—and try to marry in secret. The friar gives Juliet a potion that simulates death, and Romeo, in despair, kills himself. When Juliet awakes to find Romeo dead, she kills herself.