MRS. FRANK MAYO
At the Tremont Theatre last night a good company of spectators witnessed the first performance in this city of Mark Twain's "Pudd'nhead Wilson," in a dramatic form. The version presented was the work of Mr. Frank Mayo, who also impersonated the philosophical, astute, and unappreciated hero of the tale.
Mr. Mayo was received with a friendly warmth, which testified in behalf of many in his audience, not only to their recollections of Tom Badger and Davy Crockett, but, perhaps, to their remembrance of the actor's remarkable performance of parts as difficult as Shakespeare's "King Henry VIII."
Opinions differ as to the degree of exactness with which Mr. Mayo's work as a playwright has reproduced the personality of Mr. Clemens's chief figure. But the great majority of theatre goers will probably be willing to sacrifice much of the huge mass of the novel and will be quite satisfied with the substance of the plot and with the faithfully reproduced outlines of Wilson and his confreres of Dawson's Landing in Missouri.
The story is certainly told in a succinct and interesting way. The basis idea -- the substitution of one infant for another much resembling it -- is old and has been made the theme of tragedy, melodrama and comic opera; but in "Pudd'nhead Wilson" the introduction of slavery and the "one thirty-second portion" of Ethopian blood, whose supposed possession dooms one of the children to a life of bondage gives a singular poignancy and pathos to the situation. No other contrast in conditions can be like that, for no difference between rich and poor, between high and low, between the well-reputed and the ill, is to be compared to the difference between the freeman and the slave. The added race prejudice completes the force of the situation.
Mr. Mayo has been more than fairly successful in catching the life, spirit and quality of Mr. Clemens's sketches. The simplicity and provinciality of a rural village in a border slave state before the war, are admirably well reproduced. The peculiar high-bred Southern solemnity and that elaborate dignity so ludicrously close to pomposity, the Southern gallantry towards women, the Southern combination of gentleness and combativeness, the impenetrable Southern prejudice on the subject of race, and the Southern suavity and charm are all so well and so picturesquely suggested, that occasional extravagances and excesses may be excused.
The performances must be pronounced to be, on the whole, admirably good. We are afraid that Mr. Mayo's impersonation of Wilson can hardly be regarded as quite convincing. But for that deficiency author rather than actor may be chargeable. Pudd'nhead Wilson is after all a grotesque and eccentric personage rather than a representative. He stands as a sort of humorous ideal of the shrewd, observing, deep-thinking man, whose superior wisdom passes for foolishness among his shallow associates. And Mr. Mayo makes him a striking, entertaining and very interesting figure. His large, simple style, his loping walk, his mild serenity and imperturbability, his slow, deliberate speech, his bashfulness of manner under excitement, his combination of long-suffering patience with deep-seated pride and conviction of his own superiority, are striking in Mr. Mayo's performance. His violent contortions of mouth, nose and face to express dissent, or doubt, or the entrance of a new idea into his head are less interesting, but cannot be rejected as mere absurdities, since they befit a character whose eccentricities were developed under conditions which developed eccentricity and encouraged it into a free and flaunting life.
The only feature of Mr. Mayo's performance to which definite exception could be taken was the gross farcicalness of his pantomime at the beginning of his address to the jury. That was in an old and exploded vein. But for the most part, his playing was large in humor, dislayed native power and was easily and dramatically effective. Good acting abounded in the support. Mr. Arnold Daly's assumption of Chambers, the real white boy, was really exquisite in its delicacy, grace and sweetness, with a fine suggestion of interior underlying power. Mr. Campeau's performance of Tom Driscoll was a masterpiece of savage, cowardly blackguardism. Miss Eleanor Moretti, as Roxby, the slave mother, showed remarkable mastery of histrionic processes, and at times great force and fire, with contrasting cleverness in hitting the Ethiopian carelessness and levity. Her mode was sometimes too theatrical, but her picturesqueness and power were undeniable. Mr. Aiken's assumption of the serious judge who came from Virginia, Miss Grahame's of the warm-hearted Rowy, Mr. Klauber's and Mr. Hallton's of the Italian twins, Mr. Chisnell's of the sheriff, and indeed nearly every performer deserves favorable mention. The evening with Pudd'nhead Wilson is, on the whole, unique, and abounds in delightful experiences.
Henry A. Clapp.