San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin|
9 August 1877 (reprinted from the New York World)
Mark Twain and Bret Harte's New Play at
the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York--
Mark Twain's Funny Speech.
The New York World of August 1st says:
Mr. Daly began his ninth season at the Fifth Avenue Theatre last night with a house as full as a manager could desire, and with a play that has in it the elements of the success most admired by managers. The play is called Ah Sin, and it is the joint composition of Mark Twain and Bret Harte. It was originally produced at Washington in May last, but it ran only for a short time, for the reason that it was not then a playable play. Since then its authors (Mark Twain chiefly, we believe) have pruned and pared it, and rewritten a great portion of the dialogue, so that in its present shape the characters have to speak the language of real life for the most part, instead of, as before, the pedantic, stilted talk of dead books. Ah Sin was written expressly for C. T. Parsloe, who plays the title-role, a Heathen Chinee, whose ways are certainly peculiar. Ah Sin is an American play, the scene being laid in the mining districts of California, the characters being those one might have met there a quarter of a century ago. The language used is distinctively American, as apart from English, about two-thirds of it being the embryo language we call slang--words and phrases that often become crystallized, and when brought into common use give character to the language of a people; and the incidents--the heathen Chinee himself included--are American every one. Yet it is all to dwellers on this eastern coast--scene, characters, language and incidents--as strange and unreal as if the scene was laid in Herzegovina or Timbuctoo.
At the end of the third act there were loud calls for Mark Twain and Bret Harte. The latter being in Washington could not appear, but the former came forward amid immense cheering, and spoke as follows:
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: In view of this admirable success, it is meet that I try to express to you our hearty thanks for the large share which your encouraging applause has had in producing this success. This office I take upon me with great pleasure. This is a very remarkable play. You may not have noticed it, but I assure you it is so. The construction of this play was a work of great labor and research; also of genius and invention, and plagiarism. When the authors of this play began their work they were resolved that it should not lack blood-curdling disasters, accidents, calamities, for these things always help out a play. But we wanted them to be new ones, brilliant, unhackneyed. In a lucky moment we hit upon the breaking down of a stage coach as being something perfectly fresh and appalling. It seemed a stroke of genius, an inspiration. We were charmed with it. So we naturally overdid it a little. Consequently, when the play was first completed, we found we had had that stage break down seven times in the first act. We saw that that wouldn't do--the piece was going to be too stagey (I didn't notice that--that is very good). Yes, the critics and everybody would say this sort of thing argued poverty of invention. And (confidentially) it did resemble that. So, of course, we set to work and put some limitations upon that accident, and we threw a little variety into the general style of it, too. Originally the stage-coach always came in about every seven minutes, and broke down at the footlights and spilt the passengers down among the musicians. You can see how monotonous that was--to the musicians. But we fixed all that. At present the stage-coach breaks down only once; a private carriage breaks down once, and the horses of another carriage run away once. We could have left out one or two of these, but then we had the horses and vehicles on our hands, and we couldn't afford to throw them away on a mere quibble. I am making this explanation in the hope that it will reconcile you to the repetition of that accident.
This play is more didactic than otherwise. For the instruction of the young we have introduced a game of poker in the first act. The game of poker is all too little understood in the higher circles of this country. Here and there you find an Ambassador that has some idea of the game, but you take the general average of the nation and our ignorance ought to make us blush. Why, I have even known a clergyman--a liberal, cultivated, pure-hearted man, and most excellent husband and father--who didn't value an ace full above two pair and a jack. Such ignorance as this is brutalizing. Whoever sees Mr. Parsloe in this piece sees as good and natural and consistent a Chinaman as he could see in San Francisco. I think his portrayal of the character reaches perfection. The whole purpose of the piece is to afford an opportunity for the illustration of this character. The Chinaman is going to become a very frequent spectacle all over America by and by, and a difficult political problem, too. Therefore, it seems well enough to let the public study him a little on the stage beforehand. The actors, the management and the authors have done their best to begin this course of public instruction effectually this evening. I will say only one word more about this remarkable play. It is this: When this play was originally completed it was so long, and so wide and so deep--in places--and so comprehensive that it would have taken two weeks to play it. And I thought this was a good feature. I supposed we could have a sign on the curtain, "To be continued," and it would be all right; but the manager said no, that wouldn't do; to play two weeks was sure to get us into trouble with the Government, because the Constitution of the United States says you sha'n't inflict cruel and unusual punishments. So he set to work to cut it down, and cart the refuse to the paper-mill. Now that was a good thing. I never saw a play improve as this one did. The more he cut out of it the better it got right along. He cut out, and cut out, and cut out; and I do believe this would be one of the best plays in the world to-day if his strength had held out, and he could have gone on and cut out the rest of it. With this brief but necessary explanation of the plot and purpose and moral of this excellent work, I make my bow, repeat my thanks, and remark that the scissors have been repaired and the work of improvement will still go on.--New York World.