How "Pudd'nhead Wilson's" Idea Is Being Put to the Test.
"Plays, in which a lesson is taught, have not, as a rule, proved popular. This is a fact well known to those whose business it is to cater to the public's amusement over the footlights," said John Henry Martin, agent of Mark Twain's "Pudd'nhead Wilson," which he is here preparing to present for a second time this season at the New National Theater.
"Folks are unwilling to be preached to in the theater. But sometimes a new idea or a new theory is set forth in such a plain, practical, and interesting way in a play that public attention is attracted, and it thus finds its way into practical uses. Take, for instance, the theory so graphically demonstrated in 'Pudd'nhead Wilson.' The fact that the loops, lines, whorls, curves, and flourishes with which nature has adorned the balls of the thumbs of every human being, are physical signatures, and no two in the world are alike; its coherent demonstration in this play has surely brought forth fruit.
"Nearly every Police Department in the country is doing something or contemplate doing something to prove the theory as a means of criminal identification. Others are testing it with a view of putting it to practical use in a way to make it a means of identification on deeds, powers of attorney, checks, drafts, &c., where forgery is to be guarded against. Great uses are seen for thumb prints in enforcing the laws against Chinese emigration, a practical system of requesting Chinese by taking imprints of their thumbs would surely prove an effectual bar to Mongolians who have not the legal right to enter the country. Already an enterprising citizen has at least applied for, if not obtained, a patent on railway, steamboat, and steamship tickets, on which personal identification is one of the features of the ticket's validity. But are they really a physical signature you ask? I do not think there is a doubt of it. Sir Frances Gatton [sic], the English scientist, says: 'The probability of two thumbs being found, the imprint of which would prove to be precisely alike, is so remote that figures have not the power to express it.'
"Of course in practical use bits of glass will not be used on which to take the imprints, as is done in 'Pudd'nhead Wilson.' They would be impractical. But if you will take any ordinary ink pad, such as in use in all offices for inking rubber stamps, press your thumb on the pad, then touch it lightly to a smooth surfaced paper, you will be amazed at the beauty of the lines, loops, arches, whorls, curves, and flourishes revealed. Have others do the same and it will not take you long to appreciate the truth 'Pudd'nhead Wilson' tells when he says: 'The wonder of it all is there are no two in the world alike.'"
"Pudd'nhead Wilson's" Return Visit to the New National.
"Pudd'nhead Wilson" has been often enough in Washington not to need much of an introduction. He came two years ago in the person of dear old Frank Mayo, who created a new character on the American stage, but passed from the stage of life himself almost too soon to reap the fruit of his achievement. Then the public sadly said, "Mayo is no more, therefore we will no more know Pudd'nhead Wilson." But Mayo's mantle fell on the broad shoulders of Theodore Hamilton, and when that gentleman made his first appearance in the part in Washington the past winter, he was speedily recognized as Mayo's equal; in some points his superior. He came back again last night and was greeted at the National by a house full of old friends, who were glad to welcome both the character of Dave Wilson and its sterling interpreter.
Unlike the second round of current attractions, the company, as a whole, has improved rather than deteriorated. The actors, without being more perfect in their lines, which, in fact, was not necessary, seem to have rather grown into the characters they portray. Consciously or not, they have adopted The Post's previous suggestion, and make a less decided effort to affect the supposedly Southern accent, with the result that they come much nearer the genuine article. Mark Twain's story as a picture of Southern life could not be improved; and the actors, who seem to have grown by association into sympathy with its atmosphere, move peacefully and harmoniously through its varied action as if the stage were in truth the drowsy, ignorant, self-satisfied little settlement of Dawson's Landing.
But the action is not wholly quiet and peaceful. There are wonderfully strong dramatic situations that lift the audience at times and hold it in suspense, and again that move it to well merited applause. Chambers' chastisement of Tom Driscoll at the old mill and Slave Roxy's contemptuous revilement of her worthless son are both cleverly conceived and well executed. And Dave Wilson's bewilderment, when the puzzling thumb marks on the glass seem about to shatter all his lifelong theories, is one of the most speaking examples of the power of pantomime. That scene alone would establish Mr. Hamilton's claim to a foremost place among character actors. The story of the play is too well known to need rehearsal in detail. Its charm is in its atmosphere. Aunt Patsy Mason, in her side curls and glasses, and little Rowy, the impulsive, golden-haired antebellum maiden, might both have been brought to life from some old daguerreotypes. Both Chambers and Tom Driscoll have grown more into life in their interpretation of the Southern slave boy and his despicable young master, while the Judge, Howard Pembroke, the lawyer, Roxy, and the ubiquitous Sheriff are all beyond the need of compliments.