In Mark Twain's story of the interchanged babies, and the man who took prints of people's thumbs on bits of glass, it is claimed that in the title role Mr. Theodore Hamilton portrays with a skill which it would be hard to praise too highly the gentle "Pudd'nhead Wilson." Misjudged by all about him, patiently waiting for nearly a quarter of a century for appreciation at the hands of his neighbors, the character is a delightfully sympathetic one, and Mr. Hamilton, so it is claimed, plays it with a sincerity and simplicity that enables him to preserve all of the author's quaint humor. The play will be seen at the Coates the week of January 11.
When "Pudd'nhead Wilson" shall have been estimated by the test of endurance as well as by the charm of novelty, it will be set down as one of the greatest plays of the American stage. This prophecy is hardly hazardous in the light of the immediately acknowledged strength of the comedy in an artistic way and in view of its present popularity; yet it must be remembered that some of the most artistic successes have been the most disastrous failures and some of the most popular novelties have had the least enduring prosperity. After all, the only real test of a play's entire greatness is an unquestioned worth sustained by long favor--a favor that may be renewed from generation to generation. Those plays that depend in any considerable degree upon the spirit, the idioms, the fashions, the eccentricities or other characteristics of current time do not generally last beyond the period of their particular application, and that period is not generally long, for thought and customs change rapidly in this world of ours. But a story that goes back half a century, and is successful in its presentation, will live. Judged by this standard, there is no reason why Frank Mayo's admirable dramatization of Mark Twain's prolific narrative should not be as entertaining fifty years form now as at present. Its numerous characters, making the permissive allowance for dramatic distinction, are realities of particular people of a particular locality; yet they represent such eccentric types that they are as amusing as intended caricatures. It matters not that those exotics, the Italian twins, are improbabilities in these surroundings; it matters not that two of the characters offer a somewhat subtle study in heredity, the personnel is so interesting in parts and so attractive in relation as to arouse and gratify unvarying attention during every moment of the performance. Aside from the broad currents of human interest that appeal to an audience, the clever dramatist, whose sense of values had been quickened by a studious and well directed career, punctuated the unfolding of his story with innumerable bits of theatrical effect, so deftly employed that they blend into the general spirit of naturalism.
The deep impression made by the play in this city a year ago, when the late Frank Mayo appeared in the title part, was evinced in the large attendance at the opening of the return engagement at the Coates last night, several new and interesting people appearing in the cast. Mr. Theodore Hamilton's Paden, Sr., in "Friends" is about the only character in which this admirable actor can be readily recalled by local playgoers. The selection of this actor for the leading role of Mark Twain' story was a most happy one. He invests the character with the mild deliberation, the gentle disposition and the picturesque exterior appropriate to the man and his surroundings. His voice is one of the most eloquent it is our privilege to hear from behind the footlights. Its rich, orotund quality is fraught with character. When this man speaks you must attend. As applied to Pudd'nhead Wilson, the only shortcoming of the actor is a compliment to the man. It is really difficult for Mr. Hamilton to subdue his intellectual penetration to the simple limitations that would earn for him the title of "Pudd'nhead." His David Wilson might have stayed over night at Dawson, but to have lived there twenty years--never! Yet, if his characterization lacks a few touches of consistency, one gets something that is even rarer than artistic satisfaction--the inspiration of personal superiority.
It is pleasant to note the return of that popular actress, Miss Emily Rigl, who has succeeded Eleanor Moretti in the role of Roxy. Miss Rigl, who is a fine artist in the delineation of character, expresses the dramatic intensity of the white slave with particular force. She succeeds admirably. Edwin F. Mayo, who has hitherto confined himself to heroics and romantics, is doing the sheriff, and evinces a fine humor, of which it was not suspected that he was possessed. Another new member of the company is Frank Smiles, last summer in the Auditorium stock company, who plays Chambers with nice discrimination.
Among the familiar characterizations are Mr. Campeau's really great performance of Tom Driscoll, Mr. Aiken's forcible representation of Judge Driscoll, Miss La Verne's thoroughly delightful Patsy, and the amusing Swan and Campbell of Messrs. Gill and Tucker. Mr. Edward See and Mr. Macey Harlam are doing the twins, and Mr. Frank Currier is the Lawyer Pembroke.
The enthusiasm over last night's performance was quite remarkable. There were numerous curtain calls after each act. The engagement is for the week with matinees both Wednesday and Saturday.