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is present for a purpose of knavery, he is startled to find himself taken at his word by the ruler of France, and installed in the office of his discomfited and degraded foe. During one week, as ordained by the offended sovereign, he can exercise authority; then he must suffer death, for treasonable censure of the King. His regnant conduct, as Constable of France, is the substance of the play, and this conduct is, by turns, humorous, sentimental, and martial: he passes judgment, in a comic yet righteously benevolent strain, on his unruly old companions of the tavern; mystifies and enraptures the woman of his love and, by his valorous leadership of the army, in battle, defeats the assailing forces of rebellious Burgundy and maintains intact the fortitude of Paris. At the close of his brief reign, and when the scaffold has been set for his execution, he is redeemed by the devoted fidelity of a woman's heart-King Louis having agreed to accept a vicarious sacrifice and Katherine de Vaucelles, whom Villon loves, being willing to die for him.
This is “Gringoire”—with a difference. But it is all free, gay, and pleasant, and Mr. Sothern,—ardent, impetuous, pictorial, as Villon,-gave a smooth and dashing performance in a sympathetic mood and an expert style. The part is one of the showy, laborious order, imposing on its representative the need of a wide range of simulation for Villon is by turns and in rapid succession vagabond, poet, tosspot, lover, brawler, soldier,
schemer, moral hero, and ideal gentleman; but the comedian flashed boldly through all changes, and was deficient only in that winning quality of vocalism, expressive of feeling and diffusive of poetic glamour, which is the dominant charm of the romantic actor.
Mr. Sothern acted the Cardinal, in Bulwer's fine play of “Richelieu,” for the first time in New York on March 29, 1909, at Daly's Theatre. In choosing that part he chose wisely, because, aside from the fact that it admits of superb dramatic effect, it is consonant with the refinement of his style and calculated to elicit an effective use of his best serious powers. His performance of Richelieu was not intrinsically good in ideal and in some particulars of execution, but it was auspicious of much higher achievement. He did not express either the deep tenderness of Richelieu's nature, as it has been drawn by the poet, or the pathetic loneliness, the intellectual isolation, of his age, but he gave a worthy and creditable representation of the stately ecclesiastic and the crafty statesman. There is, in Richelieu, a massive distinction of commanding personality, which can, indeed, be imitated, but which cannot be embodied unless it is possessed, and that weight of majestic character reposes on a basis of profound feeling: the passions have been lulled to rest, but they only slumber, and when they burst forth they irradiate a noble intellect
and make it sublime in its protective vindication of virtue and honor.
There is, fortunately (because everybody can, thereby, sooner or later be pleased), a wide difference of opinion as to the province of drama and as to what should be considered the essential constituents of a great play. The comedy of “Richelieu,” which has held the stage for about seventy-five years, contains action, story, character, situation, suspense, contrast, and picture, and it blends humor and pathos. The central character,unique, sympathetic, essentially human and continuously interesting,—is a great man, whose inspiring motive is patriotic devotion. No actor since Edwin Booth left the stage has fully manifested Richelieu. Macready, the first representative of the part, was long considered supreme and incomparable in it, but the veteran John Ryder,—who came to America with Macready, and acted with him, and idolized him,-said to Edwin Booth, after seeing Booth's Richelieu: “You have overthrown my idol.” Forrest was effective in it. John McCullough, Lawrence Barrett, and Henry Irving gave admirable performances of it,—that of Irving being notable for an artistic infusion of the French temperament and quality: but no one of those performances rose to the grandeur which invested the embodiment of the Cardinal given by Edwin Booth. That performance was perfect: it enthralled every beholder, and it will dwell forever in the annals of great acting. The best representative of
Richelieu now on the American Stage is Robert Mantell,—the best, because he possesses the deep heart, the large experience of life, the philosophy, the repose, and the power that are imperatively essential. It is inevitable when, as happened at the time of Mr. Sothern's first attempt in Richelieu, two prominent actors appear at the same time in the same character that a comparison of their performances will glide into an observer's thoughts. In one particular Mr. Sothern had the advantage: in his performance of the Cardinal there was a little more of that deliberation and that attention to detail which are vitally essential to the effect of the part, but his personation lacked that inherent majesty of soul, that simplicity of demeanor, and that overwhelming power which were prominent and right in the performance given by Mr. Mantell.
Mr. Sothern's acting showed careful and thoughtful study, and likewise it indicated acquaintance with some of the stage examples,-notably those of Barrett and McCullough, as well as that of Edwin Booth, and possibly that of Creston Clarke, Booth's nephew, who gave a striking performance of the part, closely copying that of his uncle. Mr. Sothern's “make-up” was good, , although the hair (described in the text as "whitening”) was yellow rather than gray. His execution was firm and generally neat, though deficient of flexibility. His development of the Cardinal's slightly ironical humor was instinct with satirical but not unkindly playfulness,
—shown to the auditor, while veiled from the interlocutor, by expert use of transparency. A radical defect was finical juvenility,-singular in the case of an actor no longer young. The Richelieu of fact died at the age of fifty-seven; the Richelieu of the play is, prematurely, much older. A more serious defect was the hard, brittle, unsympathetic vocalism. In the climax of the Fourth Act,—where the decisive test is applied, -Mr. Sothern was obviously and conspicuously artificial. The situation, no doubt, is one that has been artfully devised to create a theatrical effect; but, when it is rightly treated, the artifice of its fabric is not apparent, except to expert observation: and, notwithstanding the commonplace notion of top-lofty criticism, that things done on the stage should be “done only because you can see no reason why they should be done,” the situation is neither forced nor unnatural.
It was one of the peculiarities of the Richelieu of fact that by power of will he was able at times to compel himself to vigorous exertion when, almost at the same instant, he had been fainting. Moreover, great situations do, sometimes, occur, even in actual life, and sometimes they are greatly met. Genius could enforce, and has enforced, the truth of nature in that pivotal situation in the play of “Richelieu.” The expedient of obvious strength, obviously pretending to be weakness, will not serve an actor's purpose there. The tremendous excitement of that moment suddenly ani