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The Stage And Stage Degenerates
by [?]

Despite the constant efforts of the classes mentioned in the opening paragraph of this story, the American stage is not being elevated to any extent. It is steadily sinking lower. Year after year its plays grow worse, its players more reckless and debased. This, it has been said, is the fault of the public and, to a great extent, this is so. The managers are in the business for money. They give the people that which the people will pay to see. Nobody cares anything for tragedy any longer. Stage classics have become stage stalenesses. Shakespeare is out of date. “The Gaiety Girls,” “In Gay New York,” “The Merry World,” Hoyt’s buffooneries, “Problem Plays,” social eraticisms have become the rage. Translations from the French, with all of the French immorality reduced to English grossness, pack the theaters. In New York a manager named Doris put on a pantomime which represented the scene in a bridal chamber. The police closed it up after half the bald-headed men and nearly all the boys in town had seen it. That pantomime, I understand, is now drawing crowded houses in Chicago, having been introduced to the citizens of the western metropolis by Sam Jack of “Adamless Eden” game. Continuous performances are proving mines of gold for their conductors and in the continuous performance the vulgar song and ribald jest meet with readiest applause. Your wife or your daughter, who goes down town for her morning shopping, gets lunch with a glass of absinthe, drops into the continuous show for an hour and comes home with memories in her little head of a song which should be interdicted by law, or of a dialogue that ought to land the speakers in jail, or of Hope Booth, posing in imitation nudity as Venus Aphrodite, or some beefy actor, also an imitation nude, as Ajax defying the lightning, or Antinous, facing the audience full front without a stitch of clothing on him. This is pleasant for the wife and daughter, but how about you? You do not look anything like Ajax and your daughter’s brothers bear no resemblance to Antinous.

Thousands of men and women are actors and actresses, but they do not differ in type. They are to be recognized anywhere in any crowd. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested in the business, and it is the business of the owners to make them pay. The public wants filth and it gets it. The plays given to patrons have only the purpose to make money. They are not written to educate, to uplift, to ennoble. The men who make them look only to the collection of their royalties. The best play of the year is Gillette’s “Secret Service.” It is trifling. It does not teach anything. It inculcates no moral. It does not deviate in any way from the well known “war play.” In these days there is always some snipe of a federal lieutenant, who gets shot in the heel, or under his coat tail, or somewhere behind, and is quartered on the family of a southern planter, and the daughter falls in love with him, and her brother is in the Confederate army, and there is a whole lot of trouble and everything comes out all right in the end. Gillette’s hero is a Federal spy instead of a lieutenant, but that is about the only difference. I imagine that he must have been many times to see Bronson Howard’s “Shenandoah,” whose favorite novelist in turn, I think, must have been E. P. Roe, of “Barriers Burned Away.” The next success, it is supposed, will be something in the line of Mr. Howard’s “Aristocracy.” This play, its author assures us, was written to demonstrate the danger that lies in an American girl marrying an European nobleman. Instead, it administers a solar plexus blow to American womanhood. The heroine marries a German prince, merely because he is a Prince, discarding her honest and true lover in a scoundrelly fashion, while her beautiful stepmother comes within an ace of surrendering her person to her son- in-law, and is prevented only by the inopportune arrival of her idiotic husband. It is all very “elevating,” and a good thing to take your wife and daughter to see.

We arrive at this formula: The American stage is debasing; American stage people are dead beats and women of scarlet. There are exceptions, but they prove the rule. The business is Jew-ridden. They do not act, but they handle the dollars. Everybody knows that your Jew drummer and your Jew theatrical manager are incapable of anything sexually wrong. The big syndicate which has its home in this city and is endeavoring to control the theatrical business of more than half the country is composed of Jews. One of them is an undersized Silenus named Erlanger, who used to be a pensioner upon the personal and mental abilities of the ill-fated Louise Balfe and repaid her for her bread and favors by brutally assaulting her in Arkansas.

Yes, Brother Iconoclast, the 2 x 4 newspaper men and the sensational preachers and the prurient prudes who write novels and the unfructified old maids and the narrow-beamed self-elected evangelists are talking, but they do not elevate the American stage to any great extent. It bids fair to remain the same excellent school of preparation for the penitentiary and the bagnio. New York, November 20, 1897.