Chicago Daily Tribune,
Chicago, Illinois
Tuesday, January 14, 1896


The public was led to expect a character study in Frank Mayo's dramatization of Mark Twain's "Pudd'nhead Wilson," and it finds that play, which is now offered by McVicker's Theatre, to be a melodrama, that is to say, a drama which bases its claims to attention upon incidents and plot instead of upon character. There is disappointment in the discovery and disappointment cannot fail of creating resentment; so that if "Pudd'nhead Wilson" should prove a failure, which seems probable, the responsibility must rest upon the management, not upon author or actors. Very likely the backers of the venture will learn before long that it does not pay in the theater better than elsewhere to attract attention under false pretenses.

For ordinary melodrama, "Pudd'nhead Wilson" is; melodrama and nothing more. Not very good melodrama, either; based upon the old, old complication which Gilbert treated humorously in "Pinafore." There is no little Little Buttercup in "Pudd'nhead Wilson," but the babies have been mixed up without her intervention, and one of them, a Caucasian, is a slave, and the other, a negro, is her cruel and otherwise disagreeable proprietor. The scene, it should be premised for the benefit of those whose sagacity or good luck prevented them from reading the novel when it was magazined in the Century, is a Missouri town on the Mississippi River; the time is 1850, except during the prologue, which is laid in 1830.

Of course the masquerading master maltreats the unjustly bound slave and does his level best to convict her of the crime of theft, with which she is untruly charged. But it all comes out right in the end; not, however, without a good deal of agony. The deus ex machina is due to a variation of the older methods of melodrama. Nobody confesses, nobody who has been indisposed or blind or delirious for three or four acts turns up and says he (or she) was "passing that way" on the night in question and witnessed the proceeding. No: "Pudd'nhead" Wilson, a kind of Mr. Dick, whose hobby is not King Charles' head, but the thumbprints of the population, proves conclusively that the villain committed the crime and that the heroine is innocent.

Rather cheap and tawdry, all this, and not well designed to make much of an impression; and the more irritating because it is apparent how vigorous and powerful a character might have been manufactured from the materials. In the play, "Pudd'nhead" Wilson, the simple-hearted, kindly, philosophical country lawyer, "who never had a case," is ruthlessly subordinated to the utterly common-place sufferings of an uninteresting Adelphi heroine. This is very modest and self-sacrificing of Mr. Mayo, who made the play, and acts the role of "Pudd'nhead," and was to have been expected of a man of his well-known character; but it does not contribute nearly so much to the public pleasure as another and more artistic course would have done.

It is not to be denied that some of the scenes of the play possess a certain interest; but that interest derives from the same source which makes "Monsieur Lecocq" [sic] one of the most fascinating of narratives. "Pudd'nhead Wilson" is therefore to be classed with "The Cotton King" instead of with "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Old Homestead" and "Shore Acres." The scenery is handsome and the costumes, which, it can well be believed, were designed from pictures of those in style thirty-odd years ago, are quaint and picturesque. Of the company it must be said that it is uniformly excellent.

New York Dramatic Mirror,
January 18, 1896

For the present week the house is presenting Pudd'nhead Wilson by a very fine co., with Frank Mayo at the head. The play is one of the best that has been given by the Coates management this season, and Mr. Mayo's conception of the part of Wilson is very natural to life. Miss Moretti, who plays the part of Roxy, gives an extremely good version of the slave girl. Frank Campeau as Tom Driscoll, Arnold Daly as Chambers, Frank Aiken as Judge Driscoll, Miss Laverne as Patsy, and Frances Grahame as Rowy all rendered their parts very acceptably. In fact, the whole co. has a make-up that produces a very finished play. Fanny Davenport in Giamonda follows.

New York Dramatic Mirror,
January 18, 1896

Good Entertainment Well Patronized, but Poor Shows Play to Red Plush.

The report appears to have gone abroad that this city has lost its reputation as a good "show town," and outsiders seem to imagine that there is not a dollar here for attractions. Kindly allow me to correct this erroneous impression. Good shows are taking more money here than ever before, and bad shows (which appear to be more numerous this season than ever) are playing to red plush. Chicagoians will dig down deeper than ever to pay for a meritorious attraction, but will have none of the cheap and nasty at high prices. Mr. Southern has taken nearly fifty thousand dollars at Hooley's with his splendid performance of the Prisoner of Zenda in five weeks; Sol Smith Russell played to about ten thousand dollars at the Grand on New Year's week with The Rivals, and filled the theatre last week with An Every Day Man and Mr. Valentine's Christmas; while at half the regular prices The Passing Show took over eight thousand dollars at the Chicago Opera House. The Olympic stands people up all day long with continuous variety, and Colonel Hopkins does likewise at his South-Side house. Nearly one hundred thousand people paid fifty cents each to see the Bicycle Show at Tattersall's last week, and the two Jacobs' houses have never done so well since they were first opened. Give us a good show and we will pay for it, but Chicago will not accept the "confederate money" so frequently offered in exchange for good theatrical simoleons. Chicago is all right! . . .

Over at McVicker's last night Frank Mayo scored an artistic triumph in Mark Twain's play Pudd'nhead Wilson. His company is an excellent one.

With Frank Mayo, Frank E. Aiken, Mary Meyers, and Roland Reed in town, the old stock days of Chicago are vividly recalled.

New York Dramatic Mirror,
January 25, 1896

I don't know when I have enjoyed a performance as I did that of Pudd'nhead Wilson at McVicker's, where it is doing a large business. The second week opened last night. I have always taken off my hat to Mr. Mayo for what he has done, and I now make to him a sweeping obeisance for what he is doing. He is a great artist. As we left the theatre Mrs. Hall paid two actors what I think was a great compliment to both. She said: "Mr. Mayo is as thoroughly artistic as E. M. Holland." Good work is done in the company by Frank E. Aiken, another old timer. Once in a while a man longs for "the palmy days."