After witnessing the first Washington performance of "Pudd'n-head Wilson" at the Grand last night, all who saw it are forced to the conclusion that if Mark Twain's novel of that name was not quite up to his standard, he at least provided Frank Mayo with the material for a great play. Possibly America's master humorist was unconscious of the fact at the time, and merely started out to write a quaintly amusing sketch of life in old Missouri; but seen in the full blaze of the footlights it is chuck full of dramatic power. This is the fourth character of his creation who has found a place on the stage, and is by far the best. The first was Col. Mulberry Sellers, that quaint caricature of the American speculator, who found his living realization in John T. Raymond. The second was "Tom Sawyer," who, although sadly changed from the original, attained popularity in farce comedy. The third was "The Prince and the Pauper," who was rather overshadowed by "Little Lord Fauntleroy's" fame and did not live long. But "Pudd'n-head Wilson" has found both an adapter and interpreter in Frank Mayo, and will take rank beside "Davy Crockett" in his repertoire.
Primarily it is the story of two children, differing only in the matter of a few drops of negro blood, changed in the cradle so that the born slave grows up to be the master, while the true heir is forced to bear all the labor and humiliation of servitude. In the book Mark Twain treats this with the broad, satiric touch, which has become prominent in his more recent writings; in the play it becomes intensely dramatic, and is furthermore heightened by the fact that the change was made by mistake, and the slave mother, Roxy, although cognizant of it, acquiesces merely to save her son--a maternal and altogether commendable [act].
But blood will tell, and the mock master shows his yellow strain, while the pseudo slave grows a manly fellow, who wins the love of the village belle in spite of his menial condition. Then comes the attempted murder of Judge Driscoll and the fastening of the guilt upon Tom by Wilson, nicknamed "Pudd'nhead," by his system of thumb marks, now an accepted method of identifying criminals. This brings out the leading character, quaint David Wilson, who has all along played the part of a pearl before swine in the appreciation of his neighbors, although the audience values him at his worth from the very first.
Admirable and established actor though he has been considered heretofore, Frank Mayo wins new laurels in this part. The odd, whimsical character just suits his quiet humor, which made Davy Crockett a human rather than a dime-novel hero. The relish with which he delivers many pat apothegms from "Pudd'nhead's" famous diary is irresistible, and throughout he makes the man one of the most lovable characters that has been introduced on the stage for many seasons. Truly the American drama will be advanced by a few more such additions.
Moreover, "Pudd'nhead" is not alone. There are those unconsciously droll types of the back woods town--Sheriff Blake, impersonated by that droll comedian, Newt Chiswell. Judge Robinson, Swan, and Campbell, the "three wise men of Dawson's"; Aunt Betsy, played with skill by Lucille Laverne, and the slaves, of whom Miss Elena Mar[s] was noticeable for dialect and makeup. Contrasted with these are those strange Italian twins, Luigi and Angelo, picturesquely impersonated by Adolph Klauber and George Hallton, who made up as like as two peas and carry their peculiar parts well.
To Arnold Daly as Chambers, Frank Campeau as Tom Driscoll, the changelings, and Miss Eleanor Moretti as Roxy are assigned the leading parts of the piece, which they play effectively. Frank E. Aiken, an old-time actor of merit, is at home in the part of Judge Driscoll, while Emmett C. King carries the part of the young lawyer cleverly. Miss Frances Grahams makes a charming Rowy, which part is considerably elaborated in the play from the novel. "Pudd'nhead Wilson" is staged effectively and makes a most enjoyable evening's entertainment.
Frank Mayo's dramatization of Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson meets with the approval of a fine audience at Allen's Grand Opera House. The presentation is thoroughly pleasing in every respect. Mr. Mayo and excellent support were repeatedly honored. The first productions of the Heart of Maryland comes next.