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- Washington Square Plays - 1/19 -


Volume XX, The Drama League Series of Plays

Washington Square Plays

1. The Clod . . . . . By Lewis Beach 2. Eugenically Speaking . By Edward Goodman 3. Overtones . . . . . By Alice Gerstenberg 4. Helena's Husband . . . By Philip Moeller


PREFACE BY EDWARD GOODMAN Director of the Washington Square Players


Copyright, 1916, by DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY


In its present form these plays are dedicated to the reading public only, and no performance of them may be given. Any piracy or infringement will be prosecuted in accordance with the penalties provided by the United States Statutes:

SECTION 28. That any person who willfully and for profit shall infringe any copyright secured by this Act, or who shall knowingly and willfully aid or abet such infringement, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment for not exceeding one year or by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars or both, in the discretion of the court. SECTION 29. That any person, who with fraudulent intent, shall insert or impress any notice of copyright required by this Act, or words of the same purport, in or upon any uncopyrighted article, or with fraudulent intent shall remove or alter the copyright notice upon any article duly copyrighted shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars and not more than one thousand dollars. Act of March 4, 1909.




The rigid conventionality of the theatre has been frequently remarked upon. Why the world should ever fear a radical, indeed, is hard to see, since he has against him the whole dead weight of society; but least of all need the radical be dreaded in the theatre. When the average person pays money for his amusements, he is little inclined to be pleased with something which doesn't amuse him: and what amuses him, nine times out of ten, is what has amused him. That is why changes in the theatre are relatively slow, and customs long prevail, even till it seems they may corrupt the theatrical world.

For many generations in our playhouse it was the custom to follow the long play of the evening with an "afterpiece," generally in one act, but always brief, and almost always gay, if not farcical. Audiences, which in the early days assembled before seven o'clock, had to be sent home happy. After the tragedy, the slap-stick or the loud guffaw; after "Romeo and Juliet," Cibber's "Hob in the Well"; after "King Lear," "The Irish Widow." (These two illustrations are taken at random from the programs of the Charleston theatre in 1773.) This custom persisted until comparatively recent times. The fathers and mothers of the present generation can remember when William Warren, at the Boston Museum, would turn of an evening from such a part as his deep-hearted Sir Peter Teazle to the loud and empty vociferations of a Morton farce. The entertainment in those days would hardly have been considered complete without the "afterpiece," or, as time went on, sometimes the "curtain raiser." It is by no means certain that theatre seats were always cheaper than to-day. In some cases, certainly, they were relatively quite as high. But it is certain that you got more for your money. You frequently saw your favorite actor in two contrasted roles, two contrasted styles of acting perhaps, and you saw him from early evening till a decently late hour. You didn't get to the theatre at 8.30, wait for the curtain to rise on a thin-spun drawing-room comedy at 8.45, and begin hunting for your wraps at 10.35. One hates to think, in fact, what would have happened to a manager fifty years ago who didn't give more than that for the price of a ticket. Our fathers and mothers watched their pennies more sharply than we do.

For various reasons, one of them no doubt being the growth of cheaper forms of amusement and the consequent desertion from the traditional playhouse of a considerable body of those who least like, and can least afford, to spend money irrespective of returns, the "afterpiece" and "curtain raiser" have practically vanished from our stage. They have so completely vanished, in fact, that theatre goers have lost not only the habit of expecting them, but the imaginative flexibility to enjoy them. If you should play "Romeo and Juliet" to-day and then follow it with a one-act farce, your audience would be uncomfortably bewildered. They would be unable to make the necessary adjustment of mood. If you focus your vision rapidly from a near to a far object, you probably suffer from eye-strain. Similarly, the jump from one play to the other in the theatre gives a modern audience mind- or mood-strain. It is largely a matter of habit. We, to-day, have lost the trick through lack of practice. The old custom is dead; we are fixed in a new one. If Maude Adams, for instance, should follow "The Little Minister" with a roaring farce, or Sothern should turn on the same evening from "If I Were King" to "Box and Cox," we should feel that some artistic unity had been rudely violated; nor am I at all sure, being a product of this generation, but that we should be quite right.

Matters standing as they do, then, it seems to me that the talk we frequently hear about reviving "the art of the one-act play" by restoring the curtain raisers or afterpieces to the programs of our theatres is reactionary and futile. All recent attempts to pad out a slim play with an additional short one have failed to meet with approval, even when the short piece was so masterly a work as Barrie's "The Will," splendidly acted by John Drew, or the same author's "Twelve Pound Look," acted by Miss Barrymore. Nor is it at all certain that the one-act plays of our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, the names of which you may read by the thousands on ancient playbills, added anything to the store of dramatic literature. Some of them are decently entombed in the catacombs of Lacy's British Drama, or still available for amateurs in French's library. Did you ever try to read one? Of course, there was "Box and Cox," but it is doubtful if there will be any great celebration at the tercentenary of Morton's death. For the most part, those ancient afterpieces were frankly padding, conventional farces to fill up the bill and send the audiences home happy. To the real art of the drama or the development of the one-act play as a form of serious literary expression, they made precious little contribution. They were a theatrical tradition, a convention.

But the one-act play, nonetheless, has an obvious right to existence, as much as the short story, and there are plentiful proofs that it can be as terse, vivid, and significant. Most novelists don't tack on a short story at the end of their books for full measure, but issue their contes either in collections or in the pages of the magazines. What similar chances are there, or can there be, for the one-act play, the dramatic short story?

An obvious chance is offered by vaudeville. The vaudeville audience is in the mood for rapid alterations of attention; it has the habit of variety. This is just as much a convention of vaudeville as the single play is now a convention of the traditional theatre. Indeed, anything longer than a one-act play in vaudeville would be frowned upon. Any one wishing to push the analogy can find more than one correspondence between a vaudeville program and the contents of a "popular" magazine; each, certainly, is the present refuge of short fiction. Yet vaudeville can hardly be considered an ideal cradle for a serious dramatic art. (Shall we say that the analogy to the "popular" magazine still holds?) The average "playlet" -- atrocious word -- in the variety theatres is a dreadful thing, crude, obvious, often sensational or sentimental, usually very badly acted at least in the minor rôles, and still more a frank padding, a thing of the footlights, than the afterpiece of our parents. It has been frequently said by those optimists who are forever discovering the birth of the arts in popular amusements that vaudeville audiences will appreciate and applaud the best. This is only in part true. They will appreciate the best juggler, the cleverest trained dog, the most appealing ballad singer such as Chevalier or Harry Lauder. But they will no more appreciate those subtleties of dramatic art which must have free play in the serious development of the one-act play than the readers of a "popular" magazine in America (or England either) would appreciate Kipling's "They," or George Moore's "The Wild Goose," or de Maupassant's "La Ficelle." To expect them to is silly; and to expect that because the supreme, vivid example of any form is comprehensible to all classes and all mixtures of classes, therefore the supreme example is going to be developed out of the commonplace stuff such mixed audiences daily enjoy, is equally to misunderstand the evolution of an art product in our complex modern world. But, indeed, the matter scarce calls for argument. Vaudeville itself furnishes the answer. Where are its one-act plays which can be called dramatic literature? It is a hopeful sign, perhaps, that certain of the plays in this volume have percolated into the varieties! But they were not cradled there.

If the traditional theatre, then, is now in a rut which affords no room for the one-act play, and if vaudeville is an empty cradle for this branch of dramatic art, where shall we turn? The one-act play to-day has found refuge and encouragement in the experimental theatres, and among the amateurs. The best one-act plays so far written in English have come out of Ireland, chiefly from the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where they were first acted by a

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