Drama - The Play Of The Day
( Originally Published 1913 )
Illustrated by" The Earth" By JAMES BERNARD FAGAN
TO illustrate certain developments in the modern drama, this play may be chosen, not as of pro-found significance or perfect execution, but because it is interesting, full of promise, and typical of the plays of the day, as we see them coming in on the horizon, and of the plays of the morrow as we fancy they may prove to be. The newer plays, of which this is a fair sample, involve a technique which is as yet imperfectly worked out in its modern form, or in its adaptation to the content of the modern play.
In fine, we have here a play with a big enveloping interest, touching the world at large, and inclosing, as a kind of nucleus, a plot whose interest is personal, domestic, and centered in the private lives of a few characters.
First observe that the mere form is nothing new; in fact, until recent years, nearly all famous plays had an enveloping interest which was ample, momentous, affecting a realm, a kingdom, or a whole people. OEdipus was king of Thebes, Hamlet prince of Denmark, Maria Stuart claimed the throne of England, Hernani was a rival of the king of Spain. Even Othello, whose tragic fate after the opening act hangs upon personal issues, makes his first appearance as the hope of the Venetians in their war against the Turks.
The time of action of these plays was long, the scenes were many and varied, the characters numerous.
About a generation ago, Ibsen created " A Doll's House," which will doubtless be, to the end of time, the typical sex-problem play. Moreover, it proved an epoch-making play, the forerunner of a long line of problematic dramas. Such plays did not and often could not involve large social interests and affairs of state, or directly affect anybody except the person immediately concerned. But they sprung up all over Europe, surprisingly similar in theme, dealing over and over again with the same problems in the relation of the sexes. Sudermann was at work in Germany, Echegaray in Spain, D'Annunzio in Italy, dramatists without number in France, Pinero, Jones and Shaw in England. For thirty or forty years these plays were produced almost exclusively.
We say we are tired of the theme and of the plays. Nor is it yet wholly apparent what their intellectual trend and moral bearing is likely to be. But it is perfectly clear that silent forces, not to be lightly estimated, were at work to hold the modern play for so long a time to one kind of plot and action.
Another thing is clear. During the thirty or forty years in which Europe produced such plays abundantly and almost exclusively, a wonderful dramatic technique was perfected. These dramas, involving in their very nature few characters, centering themselves inevitably in the home, working out again and again the fortunes and misfortunes of the domestic triangle, favored and made possible an ingenuity, adroitness and economy of ways and means that had never before been possible.
The soliloquy began to disappear; likewise the aside; likewise the superfluous and semi-detached characters who used to wander aimlessly about the stage; likewise the often unnecessary mass scene or stage crowd; like-wise many other clumsy devices.
The old modes and fashions, which, if they are not really clumsy, are often unnecessary on the modern enclosed and brilliantly lighted stage, not only began to disappear thirty odd years ago, and kept on disappearing, but they seem to be gone never to return.
It is inconceivable that they are likely ever to be used again. At the same time, it is inconceivable that plays should keep on forever being so small and so centered. Certainly, in our age, that cannot be expected. Ours is a time of social awakening, and since drama is above all else a contemporary art, reflecting the life of its time, spreading new ideas, and quickening all currents of thought, the play of our day must of necessity cease to be wholly personal and individualistic. It must be truly social, involving the causes that people are struggling for and giving their lives for in this wonderful present in which we live. Otherwise it will become wholly effete and ineffectual as a mode of expressing the life of its time.
The difficult question is, how the play of the present, and of the immediate future as it is foreshadowed, can have the social consciousness and at the same time preserve the exquisite technique so carefully worked out in the domestic drama, and how it can adapt itself and its ample themes to the small stage, the proscenium arch and the modern theater in general.
The play which comes bravely to the grapple with plots that grow out of strikes, or labor unions and leagues, or municipal corruption, or frenzied finance, or prison reform, or immigration laws, or the rule of the political boss, or the press versus the public, is from the outset at a disadvantage theatrically, not to say dramatically. For example, the mechanics of business life is too complicated and obscure to be worked out on the stage and made visible to an audience in every part of the house. For another example, political wire-pulling, however exciting it may be in life, is so underhand and deliberate as not easily to be forced to a crisis in the two hours' traffic of the stage.
The question of how vast interests and minutely finished technique can be reconciled is not yet answered; but the problem is in process of solution. Such plays as those of Mr. Galsworthy, Mr. Granville Barker, Mr. Patterson, Mr. Sheldon and others are full of timely interest, and on the whole the most stimulating and absorbing drama on the stage.
Mr. George Tyler, who has produced two hundred plays in twenty-five years, many of them, like " The Melting Pot " and " The Fourth Estate," ventures worth making, says, " There are so many vital issues in America which the drama can treat, and this country of ours is such a great seething mining-camp, that it is hard to say no to any interesting experiment."
To be perfectly honest in our estimate, we must admit that these plays have not as yet quite arrived or achieved technically. Perhaps the dramatists of the day and the morrow, obsessed by their tremendous themes, and having a coming on disposition, underrate the difficulties that confront them. At all events, they have not quite passed the experimental stage. In the inevitable passing of the old and the welcome advent of the new something has been lost. Their plays de-scribe or narrate, where they ought to act. They are full of sayings instead of doings. That does not dull our interest in them : stimulates it rather. Most of us would go further and more cheerfully any night to see a play of big endeavor than to see the most perfect sex-problem play ever made. But we often realize, in the midst of our enthusiasm, that technically the work is far below that of " The Great Galeoto," or " Magda," or " The Thief."
Now these reflections upon present issues must be good plays, addressed to the eye as well as to the ear; otherwise they might better call themselves metaphysics, or political economy, or moral philosophy, and keep off of the stage altogether. They cannot continue to be merely promising, no matter how interesting the promise is.
In all plays with an enveloping interest the outer and the inner plots must be closely interwoven, so that there is constant action and reaction between them at all critical points. When this is adroitly accomplished, two effects are gained : the inner plot the tense personal interest vitalizes the outer plot, holds it down to earth, and makes it dramatic ; which abstractions and sociological speculations never are.
The outer plot or setting broadens and deepens and in every way expands the play, making the inner, centered, domestic plot less stereotyped, less hackneyed and commonplace, causing the incidents to take on new meaning and strengthening the dramatic pressure toward the end.
The Play of the Day Illustrated
Such construction is exemplified in Mr. Fagan's play, " The Earth."
The hero is neither a man nor an idea, but a great London newspaper. The outermost setting or interest of all, the enveloping plot that takes hold on the life of the time; is the relation between the daily press and the public. Inside of this there is a closer setting which is yet not quite the nucleus of the plot a conflict between Trevena, the cabinet minister who is working to get a Wages Bill into Parliament, and Janion, editor of The Earth, who is working through his papers to smash the bill before it comes to its first reading. Then at the center is one of the eternal trios or triangles the unhappy wife, the lover, and the man who, having by chance discovered their relations, has them in his power. In this case the lover is the cabinet minister, and the man who holds the power is the editor.
These, then, are the three circles or concentric rings of plot: the press and the public conflict; the editor and the cabinet minister conflict over the Wages Bill; and the love-story conflict, endangering Lady Kitty's reputation.
In order to make a play that is stageable and actable, these lines must somehow meet and intertwine at all critical points; for the personal and domestic phase of the plot comes perilously near being worn out and vacuous.
It is a pertinent question, why the old outmoded partie trois at all? If the author wished to stage a member of parliament and an editor fighting over a Wages Bill, why not make their conflict the sole motive of the play? With the minor characters and issues naturally involved, it would be interesting and exciting enough, surely.
It is too much to say that this cannot be done; but one suspects that it is impossible, because it never has been done. No matter what the meaning or intent of a play, no matter how absorbing and vital its thesis - if it has a thesis it must somehow be held down to earth and fitted to the stage; and the stage is, after all, a very small place.
In this instance, what fixes and concentrates the attention of the audience upon the press and public conflict is its bearing upon the intrigue between Trevena and Lady Killone. And what saves the intrigue from being utterly commonplace is Lady Killone's defiance of Janion near the close of the play, in a speech which marks her plainly as a woman of affairs in the best and most modern sense.
Again following the suggestion in chapter first, a study of this play is begun by giving events from their far beginning, in chronological order, and in story form.
The "Story" of " The Earth"
Fifty years before the play opens, Felix Jansen was born in New York City. His father was German, his mother was Scotch. This, according to Lady Susan of the play, is " a good grasping blend." When he was a child his people migrated to Canada. At seventeen he founded a newspaper in a backwoods town. Later he went to Montreal, where he ran two evening papers of opposite politics, which went for each other so violently that soon everybody in the place was buying one or the other or perhaps both in order to get at the real truth !
When Jansen was about thirty, he removed to Lon-don, and soon worked up to a position of responsibility on one of the London dailies. Under him on the paper was a younger man by the name of Trevena, a Cornishman, very different from Jansen a man of winning personality, fine looking, influential, popular, capable of high enthusiasms, with a Celtic lyrical strain in his nature that made him something of a dreamer.
Seven years before the play opens, Janion (he had by then changed his name) founded or got control of a morning paper called The Earth, and ran it on the principle of making things happen, seeing importance into them, without regard for facts. He put it in this way:
" Before I went into journalism, wives used to ask over the breakfast table, ` Anything in the paper, dear?' and the husband invariably replied, `Nothing, darling.' Well, I changed all that. If any man says that with one of my papers in front of him, he 's a liar; if he isn't, my editor 's a fool."
On another occasion, storming at the report of a special correspondent, he cried:
" There 's no color, no details, no imagination. He 's got to make you see this accident sling his news at you in spasms hurl it at you in raw chunks of bleeding humanity. If he can't, let him go and grow flowers somewhere we 've no use for him. When people open their papers in the morning, let them think the world 's upside down. Take their breath away hit them in the eye, bang, every day. They like it it 's a tonic. It makes them think they are jolly lucky they 're alive."
The circulation of this paper reached 2,000,000. As Trevena said, " It 's a rag ; but that rag is on every bush in England."
Four years before the play opens, Janion offered a prize for the best forecast of the coming cabinet, and canvassed the readers of The Earth. Trevena got many votes. Janion then pushed him, paragraphed him, wrote leaders about him, and when the cabinet was formed Trevena " got there." As Lady Kitty said, he was like a patent pill, swept to success on a flood of advertisement.
To look backward for a moment: Some years before Janion founded his paper a very beautiful but penniless young Irish girl, the Lady Kitty of the play, married a worthless Irish baronet or was married to him by her match making mother. " You brought me," Lord Killone once remarked, " the biggest dowry of Irish pride that ever came into the market; but we can't live on it"; and again, " Strikes me most of us get married when we 're too young to know the value of money."
As for Killone, a hint of what he was may be gained from an exclamation wrung from Janion's secretary who, like most private secretaries, had learned to refrain from comment: " How could Lady Kitty have married that "
Speaking for herself, Lady Kitty says, as the dιnouement is drawing on, " My friendship with Mr. Trevena has been the one good thing in my life yes, in spite of all, the only thing that made me feel I was of any use in the world a decent member of society. That sounds odd, but it 's true one of the strange per-verse truths that stupid people cannot see."
She was desperately unhappy, but being a brilliant woman, was not entirely without resources in herself. She joined the Woman's Political Union; and when she appears in the play we find that she is on a committee to promote a Wages Bill to put an end to the sweating of women and children in the shops. She is not, like Chantecler's pheasant hen, a foe to the Idea; and she develops a social conscience.
In the course of her committee work she makes the acquaintance of Trevena, who is to bring the bill into parliament; and each is attracted by what is best in the other.
Then comes about what appears a commonplace liaison. Lord and Lady Killone see less and less of each other. Trevena maintains an apartment in London occupied by an old housekeeper, a family pensioner; and he and Lady Kitty spend part of their time there. The author's endeavor is to make it out something a little more interesting than the ordinary story of affinity.
By this time Janion is in control of eighty news papers in England two-thirds of all the papers in the country. Sixty of these are unimportant, but by means of the others he has Janionized the public press and opinion. Though he poses as an enemy of trusts, he has formed the most pernicious and dangerous kind of trust a trust of ideas. He proclaims the freedom of the press, and yet by means of his three principal papers he has cornered the voice of public opinion.
Janion is fighting the Wages Bill. He calls it an ill-digested piece of legislative lunacy, and has condemned it before it is presented to parliament. For a month he has staked his reputation that the bill will never see its first reading. It must be smashed, or his reputation will be smashed.
We come now to the opening of the play. With a view to finding out how the government is taking the newspaper campaign against the Wages Bill, Janion has invited Trevena to visit at Arrowleigh Court. It happens rather too coincidentally that Lord Killone is there also on a wind raising expedition, and that he has brought Lady Kitty with him. By chance Janion discovers the relation between Trevena and Lady Kitty, and so gains the whip hand over them. This is the exciting force.
Among the characters not already mentioned are : Dickson, Janion's managing director, a man of the same stamp as his chief ; Morrish, editor of The Earth, a man of refinement, who relucts from much of the work thrust upon him; and Lady Susan Sturrage, society scavenger for Janion's papers.
What is a " Talky " Play?
Before considering structural points, it may be said that this play is often stigmatized as " talky." We are apt to make such criticism of any play in which there is little obvious or external action. But it is evident to any one who watches the stage carefully that this does not describe the talky play. For example, the closing scene of " A Doll's House," in which Nora and Helmer are in colloquy alone. Never was there a scene in any play which presented so little action in the literal sense. The two figures on the stage keep almost perfectly quiet through it all. At one point Helmer starts to rise from his chair, but Nora bids him be seated again. Aside from that there is no movement.
Now nobody was ever known to call that prolonged scene talky. It is as tensely dramatic as the ghost scene in Hamlet or the smothering scene in Othello. The audience sits absorbed, enthralled, spellbound.
But it will be remembered that every speech works directly and powerfully upon the emotions of the audience. The scene is not a stage conversation. There is nothing literary about it. It is as far as possible from being brilliant, or even quotable. It comes from the heart of the characters on the stage, and appeals to the heart of the audience, every word of it power-fully backed by all that has gone before in the play.
Thus we begin, as Henry James would say, to strike a light in regard to the talky play. A play which converses, however brilliantly or wittily, addressing its conversation to the minds of the audience, is talky; and everybody on the stage and in the audience knows that there is something seriously wrong with it, though they may not be clear as to exactly what the trouble is. The audience grows restless. The actors here is an interesting point are apt to try to put life and mettle into the scenes by moving about. This is an utterly hopeless attempt, because, if a speech is coldly brilliant and conversational, nobody can make it dramatic by bustling up and down the stage, or walking about, or rising from one chair only to be seated in another for no ostensible reason.
Henry Miller relates that Boucicault once criticised him for crossing the stage during a long speech in one of the Irish dramatist's plays.
" Why did you make that cross? " Boucicault asked. " To create a sense of action," replied Mr. Miller.
" I want to tell you something," said Boucicault. " If I cannot interest the audience with my pen, you cannot interest them with your feet."
Whenever we are conscious of an aimless, futile moving about on the stage and we see it too often it is interesting to give special attention to the colloquy, observing whether it is not deteriorating into conversation, and for that reason making the actors restless.
This play, in the opening scene of its second act, where Janion and Trevena hold forth at great length upon politics and the press, may fairly be called talky; for the speeches are addressed to the mind and not the heart, and no amount of walking about can put feeling into them. But even this long colloquy was popular in England, where political discussions are so common in society that they are tolerated when society is represented on the stage.
Building the Play
Coming now to the play, we observe that the action is dated neither in the past nor in the present, but in the future tomorrow. This takes it at once into the realm of conjecture, where the author can be as speculative and hyperbolical as he chooses. The work borders too closely upon the preposterous to be called high comedy ; nor on the other hand can it fairly be called farce. Like many plays of the day, it is something of an experiment in structure.
The scene of Act I is the garden at Arrowleigh Court. It is Whitsunday morning.
First comes an incident skillfully introduced to set the tone of the piece, and put the audience in the right mood.
Enter Stronge, Janion's secretary, followed by a footman who is bringing a telephone, so that Sir Felix, when he returns from church, can sit in the arbor and connect with his office in London. The servant bends down, looking at the telephone plug in the table.
Stronge. What 's the matter, Tupper?
Tupper. A small snail in one of the holes of the plug, sir.
Stronge. Oh, shove it in and smash it ! We can't waste time over a snail.
Tupper (shoving in the plug). Yes, sir.
In the following scenes we learn that for several years Lord and Lady Killone have not been on good terms, and that Lady Susan is maliciously watching them. Janion is talked about by his secretary, his sister, and Lady Kitty from their various points of view, so as to stimulate the curiosity of the audience beforehand. Sir Felix then makes what may be called an appropriate telephonic first enter. The telephone bell goes off suddenly in a prolonged peal.
Stronge (lifting the receiver). Yes yes he 's just coming. . . . Sir Felix. . . .
Janion comes down the steps.
Presently Janion has a conference with Dickson and Morrish, in which the latter is plainly given to understand that his services as editor of The Earth have been unsatisfactory. It develops that his ideals have got into the wrong part of the paper.
Janion. I'm all for high ideals myself in their proper place. They 're splendid inspiring lift you out of yourself ! Stick them into the leader page. Shove your whole heart and soul into them. But don't you Iet any of that spirit leak out over the rest of my paper.
After Trevena arrives, the audience is informed that Janion means to defeat the Wages Bill. It also learns, through a brief interview between Trevena and Lady Kitty, what their relations have been.
Throughout the act there are sparkles of satiric wit and humor. Interest is maintained by exciting news that comes at intervals over the phone, first of a scan-dal in London society, and then of an earthquake in Antigua, both of which Janion disposes of in a few volcanic sentences.
Finally the telephone gives one last peal, and the curtain falls with Janion at the receiver, saying, " Yes yes it 's I. (Pause.) But I don't care a damn it 's advertisement."
The scene of Act II is the library. Janion and Trevena are in conference.
First is indicated with great skill, by means of four brief speeches, the fundamental difference between these two characters, so soon to play opposite each other in desperate conflict.
Janion takes out a fresh box of cigars, and opens it with a formidable looking dagger. As they begin to smoke he says to Trevena, holding out the dagger, " Like my paper knife? "
Trevena (taking it). It hardly suggests cutting books.
Janion. No. It 's a reformed character. That 's the knife Curley killed those three old maids with at Colchester you remember the case.
Trevena. Horrible! (Lays the knife on the desk with a suggestion of disgust.)
Then for fifteen or twenty minutes the action is slowed up or blocked by a long discussion concerning a wages board, government non-interference, trades unions and employees, socialism, individualism, etc. With due allowance for the fact that in this part of any play there is apt to be some grading or retardation of the movement toward the climax, this opening scene may justly be criticised as too long and too conversational. It is brilliant, but not drama.
Then Janion excuses himself to speak to Dickson, and after a moment Lady Kitty looks in at the window and then enters. She reports bad news from Ireland. She and Lord Killone may be forced to live on their estate.
Trevena. If you are taken away to Ireland, do you know what will happen? I shall arrive one morning and say, " Kitty, come away with me ; let 's throw up everything and make a bolt."
Lady Killone. Love makes men foolish and women wise. You 're a fighter, a doer; you must be right in the front of actual things. I know quite well that if I let you give up your career for me in the end I should lose your love.
Then, rather late in the play, and again somewhat coincidentally, comes the exciting force the incident that brings on the struggle which motives the plot. As Trevena bends over Lady Kitty and kisses her forehead, Janion appears outside the window. He stops, stares at them a moment, and retreats unobserved.
After Trevena has taken leave to return to London, Janion cautiously interviews Lady Susan as to any gossip which may be afloat concerning Lady Kitty. Learning enough to confirm his suspicions, he summons his henchman, Dickson, and sets him promptly to work.
Janion. I want you to take this business in hand at once. If you find there is anything in it, I want evidence reliable, damning evidence, such that, if it were placed in Lord Killone's hands tomorrow, it would enable him to institute immediate proceedings for divorce. You 've just twenty minutes to catch the five train. You get to work on this tonight.
Thus the curtain descends upon suspense which brings on the next act with a rush.
The scene of Act III is Trevena's study in London, on Thursday night. The Wages Bill is to be introduced the next Monday.
The act opens with a few speeches between Trevena and his secretary, when Lady Kitty is announced. On her way home from a dinner party with certain nouveaux riches, she has recklessly stopped to give Trevena a description of the gorgeousness and gorging. She declares that when one of the innumerable courses came about served on gold, she longed to say to the servant, " Please, I can't eat any more, but may I keep the plate? " As they talk, she falls for a moment, into the one poetic strain in all the play for like many mod-ern plays, this does not pause for sentiment.
" We 're Celts, you and I you 're Cornish, I'm Irish just two wandering Celts, with our home in the air, and our love a dream a dream that we come to out of the world for rest and happiness. We '11 go on dreaming; we '11 drift in the crowd, and when the crowd brings us together, I shall whisper, ` How is my lover?' and you '11 say, ` Well, when he 's near you.' Don't spoil the dream by thinking of reality that 's out of our reach."
Then, just as Trevena is about to read his speech to her, Janion is announced. Lady Kitty exits into the drawing room, without, as the first-night reviewers observed, taking the usual theatrical precaution to leave behind her a glove or a handkerchief or a fan to betray her presence. As soon as Janion comes in, how-ever, the climax is promptly worked up to, without any artificial help from Lady Kitty's reckless visit. Revelation is part of it, as so often at this point in the unfolding of a plot. Janion has learned the story of Trevena's life for the last three or four years, and has obtained evidence in the form of signed statements ; so that Trevena is speedily driven to the wall.
Trevena. You've struck at me through a woman's good name and you know I can't let her run the risk of losing it. My hands are tied. You 've got me what do you want?
It is the sharpest turn in the plot.
Janion. I want the Wages Bill. Either you withdraw the Wages Bill, or I go to Lord Killone.
Trevena. (Stares before him in silence. At last he speaks brokenly.) !Yes you've got me. Very well. I shall see the Premier tomorrow. There will have to be a cabinet meeting some of them are in town. I suppose I shall be able to concoct some kind of explanation. The announcement will be made as soon as possible.
Janion. The announcement will be made in tomorrow's issue of The Earth. (Taking a slip of paper from his letter-case and reading.) " The Earth is enabled to inform its readers, on the highest authority, that the Wages Bill will not be brought forward this session, and will in all probability ultimately be allowed to drop." I have got to see that my readers get important news before the readers of other papers.
Trevena. Good God ! The whole thing to you is nothing but a journalistic scoop !
After Janion exits, Lady Kitty returns for a moment, and though she questions Trevena in vain, she feels that some crisis is upon them, and goes away in great alarm.
The fourth and final act is the most dramatic and unhackneyed of all. The time is the next morning. The place is Janion's editorial office in the East End. Hanging against the bookcase at the back is a contents bill of The Earth, containing a single announcement in huge letters : TEE WAGES BILL ABANDONED.
Dickson is exulting, and reading from the paper in loud tones, when the chief enters.
Janion's attitude toward the whole affair is hit off at once in a few speeches made in the same spirit in which he closed his stormy interview with Trevena the previous evening.
He orders Dickson to take the bill down, and refuses to discuss the matter, merely because it is done with. Then he throws himself tremendously into his next enterprise a plan to publish an Encyclopaedia of pictures in colors, of every conceivable thing on the earth, with the names underneath in the five principal modern languages.
Then follows a farcical interview with the editor of one of his religious papers. Then Trevena calls up on the telephone, to ask when he can see Janion. Before he arrives, Lady Killone's card is brought in. From this point to the dιnouement we have the most unique scene in the play. Lady Kitty explains that she has seen Trevena that morning; refusing to be put off, she has learned what passed the night before; and that she cannot and will not allow Trevena to withdraw the Wages Bill and ruin his career merely to shield her reputation. In the midst of her courageous defiance and Janion's hard, matter-of-fact defense of what he calls his political expedient, Trevena arrives.
The fall of the action is then arrested at two points. A last hope appears for a moment, only to disappear.
Trevena. How did you get the information you published? There is the Official Secrets Act, which you seem to have overlooked. They may not order an inquiry, but if they should, you had better be ready with your " story " and evidence.
The editor is startled, and for a breathless moment the audience expects that the knot of the plot is to be cut at once. But Janion manages to invent a story of a stolen letter, which, Trevena contemptuously assures him, is no worse than the other devices which bolster up the whole business.
Then Lady Kitty puts in a shrewd remark which rouses Janion again, and makes him bluster. She warns Trevena that the desperate expedient of withdrawing the bill will not end this affair.
Lady Killone. You 're tied hand and foot for the rest of your life if you give in now. This is only the beginning; do you think he '11 forget what he knows . . .
Then Trevena rounds on Janion in the bitterest speech of the play.
" Do you think it isn't true what she said to me? It 's the simple truth. . . . You, the self-styled mouth-piece of a great country that professes the charity of Christ you who make your filthy profits by selling a woman's shame at the street corners in your miser-able rags ! You 're ghouls you 're ghouls, I tell you ! -- feeding on human misery and human frailty and shame. Come away, Kitty let 's get out of this."
Lady Kitty makes a last appeal to him to contradict the announcement that the bill is withdrawn. Again Trevena declares that he cannot. Then she goes to the end of the desk, and speaks straight across at Janion.
" Very well, then, I know what I have to do. I am going straight from here to the office of the Press Association. I shall dictate the entire story of this intrigue this political expedient this blackmail this call it what you will. This afternoon the truth -- the whole truth will be in every newspaper in the country yours, perhaps, excepted."
Trevena. Kitty ! You don't mean .
Lady Killone. As there 's a God above us, I do mean it ! You have a higher duty than any man owes any woman. Your work 's not your own no, nor your life. It belongs to others, to the hundreds of thousands of others you work for. And you 'd give it up. Why? To save my good (name my reputation ; as if any woman's reputation was worth such a sacrifice ! Forty fifty years hence what will my name matter, so that your work was done? What will it all matter, when history has put the wretched scandal that followed among the little petty things that don't count?
Trevena. Janion on Monday I introduce the Wages Bill. You can do your worst.
Then comes the reversal.
Janion. One moment, Trevena. I want a word with you. Shut that door, please. (Janion faces Lady Killone with a grim smile) Lady Killone, I know when I'm beaten. You yve beaten me this time. . . . I undertake that the Withdrawal of the Wages Bill shall be contradicted in the next editions of all my evening papers. Tomorrow's issue of The Earth will, of course, inform its nmerous readers of er a " regrettable inaccuracy on the part of our informant." (He takes out his letter-case and produces from it a paper.) As for this " political weapon," I have no further use for it. He gives it to Trevena.) You 're living on a precipice, you two. You'll fall over soon enough without my pushing you. That 's all. You can go. (He turns away.)
Trevena. Yes, we are going. But a day will come, Janion, when decent men and women will rebel against a tyranny that does not respect their private lives, that knows neither pity nor remorse, and then you will go.
The Inconclusive Ending
In some such inconclusive fashion as this many plays of the day bring themselves to a close. The modern dramatist seems persuaded that the work of investigation is enough for him to do, and that he ought not to be expected to wind up his plot like a piece of special pleading in court. He is ambitious above all else to open the minds of his audience and stimulate thought, and he fears lest, if he solves all his problems, and answers all questions, the audience may accept the solutions and the answers too hastily, and think no more about it. So he fights shy of his Q. E. D.
The old play often seemed content to close in every sense of the word, hermetically, with all its characters either dead or married. And if its author had a taste for edification and the smooth perversions that administer a falsified moral comfort, it was sure to get the better of him as his last act moved on apace toward that strange finality which is reached on the stage and not in the world.
Neither the reader, in turning the last pages of a play, nor the spectator in watching the final scene in the theater, is apt to realize how difficult it is to make vital drama reach its finale without being everlastingly final, and conclude without being altogether conclusive. While the action is going on, there is always the possibility of making it like life; but when the moment comes to bring it to a close, artificial means must be used. For there are no endings in human experience that correspond to the dropped curtain, the extinguished lights, the deserted theater. Somehow or other, life goes on and op in eternal sequence. Only plays come to an end.
The new play makes its characters so alive that even the ringing down of an asbestos curtain cannot kill them or marry tem. The audience goes away wondering what is likely to happen next, and speculating upon the situations which have been created and investigated.
The Unhappy Ending
To digress for a moment : It is curious to observe that sometimes the public, facing a new play of the day, protests against the ending because it is " unhappy," when the only trouble seems to be that it is an ending, and hen 'e artificial in comparison with the earlier parts of the play.
Three years ago, when Mr. Patterson's " The Fourth Estate," also a newspaper play, was produced, the audiences could not' endure or would not endure the suicide of Wheeler brand, which formed the original dιnouement. It proved absolutely necessary to devise some kind of fortunate ending, if the play was to be saved from speedy oblivion.
Now it happened that in the course of the same season Stephen Philips' "Herod " was presented for the first time in this country. The public seemed quite unaware how calmly it was viewing the tragic catastrophes of that play. When Aristobulus was drowned and Sohemus, mortally wounded, rolled down a flight of brass step , and Mariamne was poisoned, and Herod passed into a cataleptic trance, the audiences looked on complacently. If anyone had thrills of horror, they seemed to be agreeable thrills.
But such a play as " Herod " is artificial throughout, with a kind of artificiality which, however imaginative and poetic, is unmistakable. And so the old tragic finale fitted on without a break, and nobody cried out against it.
" The Fourth Estate," on the other hand, was very successful realism. The " naturalness " and costly verisimilitude of manager's office and composing room were the outward symbols of the inner spirit of the play. Its original ending seemed unreal just because, being an ending, it demanded more obvious contrivance than the preceding scenes. The makers of the play had apparently succeeded very well in keeping their hands off while the action was evolving; but when the time limit of performance was reached, they were forced to interfere, merely because the play could not go on forever.
And that made all the trouble.
Perhaps in fairness to those dramatists, not a few, who are now striving so earnestly to create life and not the shadow of life upon the stage, we ought always to be fully satisfied when, by a tour de force, they succeed in getting a situation vividly presented; for it is easy to understand that there is small chance for a play to be truly realistic after that point has been reached.
Turning toward the Future
At all events, returning to the play chosen for illustration :
To make a play end like " The Earth," on a completed situation, and yet at the same time open it out upon the future toward which the vital play should ever turn its face, is admirable ingenuity in meeting a stubborn dramaturgic difficulty.