ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)
19. Fascination (1887) - continued
The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (24 January, 1888)
“Fascination,” the improbable comedy by Mr Robert Buchanan and Miss Harriett Jay, recently tried at the Novelty Theatre, has been put in the Vaudeville evening bill; but it fails to make the desired impression.
The Stage (27 January, 1888 - p.14)
On Thursday evening, January 19, 1888, was produced here a “new and improbable comedy,” in three acts, written by Harriett Jay and Robert Buchanan, entitled:—
Lord Islay ... ... ... Mr. H. B. Conway
The Duke of Hurlingham ... Mr. F. Thorne
Count de Lagrange ... ... Mr. Royce Carleton
Lord Jack Slashton ... ... Mr. W. Scott Buist
Mr. Isaacson ... ... ... Mr. F. Grove
Mirliton ... ... ... Mr. J. Wheatman
Captain Vane ... ... ... Mr. Frank Gilmore
Reverend Mr. Colley ... ... Mr. Thomas Thorne
Lady Madge Slashton ... ... Miss Harriett Jay
The Duchess of Hurlingham ... Mrs. Canninge
Arabella Armhurst ... ... Miss Banister
Adele ... ... ... Miss Gertrude Warden
Miss Cora Wilmere ... ... Miss Grace Arnold
Mrs. Isaacson ... ... ... Miss Edith Maunder
Mrs. Sedley ... ... ... Miss M. Lea
Miss Lestrange ... ... ... Miss A. Adlercross
Miss Poppy Field ... ... Miss Nias
Mrs. Delamere ... ... ... Miss Vane
When this strangely constructed play was first produced at a Novelty Theatre matinée on Thursday, October 6, 1887, we, in our issue dated October 14th the same year, said:—“Fascination is not only improbable, it is to a certain degree impossible. The plot is one upon which a most interesting and valuable play might have been founded had it been treated in a proper and workmanlike manner. There is nothing ‘new’ in the story of a man who, engaged to a young, beautiful, and wealthy girl, becomes ensnared in the toils of a dangerously fascinating adventuress. All who know anything of dramatic literature must recognise this as an oft told tale. Its sequel is also as familiar. By means of stratagem the cast aside fiancée manages to remove the scales from her lover’s eyes, and he, before it is too late, seeing how near to ruin he has been, casts aside his passing fancy and returns to his old love to be forgiven and made happy, while the adventuress, finding that the game is up, promises to reform and lead a better life. As we have remarked, much could have been done with such a plot. Miss Jay and Mr. Buchanan have, however, played with the idea as if fearing their capability to carry it out in a dramatic and consistent manner, and so they make their heroine, Lady Madge, don male attire and assume the name of ‘Mr. Marlowe’ that she may visit a haunt of vice, and so find out if her lover, Lord Islay, be true to her—not only does she, in company with her devoted brother Jack, enter the abode of Mrs. Delamere, but she also makes love to that woman before her own future husband’s eyes in order to pique him and draw him on to a declaration of his passion for Mrs. Delamere, the adventuress. This, it will be at once perceived, is not only an unpleasant incident, but one that is quite impossible—for Lady Madge is a lady, and her brother is the soul of honour. Again, Lady Madge is too thinly disguised to escape detection at the hands of Lord Islay and his friends—who, by-the-bye, are also her friends—for she trusts to hide her facial identity from her lover by means of pince-nez only. According to the authors such a disguise is sufficient, for Lady Madge’s lover remains in ignorance as to who the young gentleman—from whom he has suffered insult in the presence of Mrs. Delamere and her self-invited guests—really is. Not to make a short story long, suffice it that through the agency of the Comte de Lagrange—who, it appears, has lured Lord Islay to Mrs. Delamere’s house in order that he may not only win money from him at cards, but make overtures to the neglected heroine—all is cleared up, Lady Madge finds out that her lover had no true affection for the adventuress, but that his was a case of ‘fascination.’ She, therefore, in true womanly fashion, blots out the past, forgives him, and all ends happily. From this sketch of the plot it may be argued that the authors, evidently in doubt as to how their modern comedy would be accepted, were perfectly right in calling it ‘improbable.’” Fascination, since its appearance at the Novelty Theatre, has been but slightly altered. In the first act the setting of the stage is reversed—the house is now on the right, and so arranged as to give more room than before. Lady Madge, when in male attire, now wears a curled wig instead of a straight-haired one. Count de Lagrange has become an Englishman as far as his intonation and accent are concerned, and Miss Dottie Destrange is now christened Miss Lestrange. Apart from these trifling alterations the play remains much as it was. Fascination is unsatisfactory and inartistic throughout. To complete the unreality of the play the authors have retained the original poetical tag that ends with an appeal to the audience against the introduction of which we protested when the play was first produced. The day for such an absurdity is passed, and the authors are strongly to blame for trying to reintroduce it. The stage is more realistic than ever—more true to nature. A play is but a chapter from real life that is closed when the curtain falls. The illusion should be kept up by a dramatist till the last if an audience is to be interested. We never could understand a certain section of the Press praising this play, and now we are equally at a loss to fathom the meaning for its production at the Vaudeville Theatre. Perhaps Mr. Thomas Thorne saw money in the piece or he thought that he could make much out of the part of the Reverend Mr. Colley. We are unable to say. Everything in the way of stage adornment has been done for Fascination. Each of the three scenes is perfection in its way, but, though elaborate sets and beautiful painting will do much to assist the success of a piece, they will never make a good play out of a bad one. Strange to say, the acting of the company at the Vaudeville does not do much to help matters. Mr. Conway does not appear to be at home as Islay, there is no heart in his acting. He delivers the author’s words as if he did not quite believe in them. Mr. Fred Thorne, too, has not caught the right conception of the old Duke. We take it that the silly old man should be represented as a somewhat sly and artfully-disposed person anxious to escape from his wife’s apron- strings that he may indulge in the questionable pleasures of fast life, though preserving to the world a moral exterior. Mr. Fred Thorne makes him slow and plodding, not at all the sort of man who would lie about the House of Lords to his wife that he might visit the abode of the adventuress, Mrs. Delamere, and her attendant sirens. Mr. Carleton cannot be congratulated upon his performance of the Count. Mr. Buist is again the Lord Jack, which he plays in the same vigorous and straightforward manner as before. Mr. Wheatman and Mr. Grove have but little to do, but succeed. The same remark applies to Mr. Gilmore. Mr. Thomas Thorne, though differing in every way in his reading of the clergyman from that given by Mr. E. Righton, who was admirably suited in the part, manages to amuse his audience, and to secure their laughter and applause. Of Miss Jay’s Lady Madge, we can only repeat what we have before said. She is artistic throughout the part, what might be made ridiculous by many is, through her talent, made to stand out as a triumph of dramatic art. Mrs. Canninge is hard and uninteresting as the Duchess, and is certainly not an improvement upon the original exponent of the part, Miss Ethel Hope. Miss Banister is fairly good as Arabella. Miss Arnold is satisfactory as Miss Wilmere and Miss Warden as Adele contributes the sketch of a pert, pretty maid whose nationality would lead us to expect a better French accent than Miss Warden gives us. We have purposely mentioned the name of Miss Vane last, for her acting deserves special mention. Miss Vane gives, as Mrs. Delamere, a portrait that is the complete opposite of that contributed by her predecessor in the part, Miss Yorke. Miss Vane’s Mrs. Delamere is an anxious, scheming woman, yet one full of superb dignity and graceful poses—a woman that would with her presence rather control a man, and force him to her side, than fascinate and lure him on. Her scenes with Islay are not so much remarkable for a pretty display of feminine graces as for an over-powering majesty, upon which the adventuress appears to rely to bring her lover to her feet. Miss Vane’s acting is sound and artistic. Her final exit in the last act is one that only an actress possessing fine dramatic instinct that has been nurtured by experience could accomplish. On Thursday, Fascination appeared to please the audience, and loud calls for the authors were raised in the gallery and pit. There was no response. Cut off with a Shilling precedes the comedy, and is played by Miss Gertrude Warden, Mr. W. Scott Buist, and Mr. Fred Thorne in a manner that might, with advantage, be improved upon.
The Penny Illustrated Paper (28 January, 1888 - p.10)
Mr. Thomas Thorne had in the character of the surreptitiously married butler a part that suited him “down to the ground.” So much so that I wonder at his withdrawing Mr. Henry A. Jones’s “Heart of Hearts” in favour of the “improbable comedy” of “Fascination,” by Mr. Robert Buchanan and Miss Harriet Jay. This talented and good-looking authoress assumes in “Fascination” both skirts and unmentionables. She is Lady Mable Slashton. In love with, and loved by, a young officer in the Guards, Lady Madge is jealous of Mrs. Delamere, a siren with whom her lover is entangled; and her Ladyship dons male attire in order to be able to watch gallant Lord Islay’s flirtation with this attractive woman at an evening party. Her father, the Duke, and his attendant Curate, also attend this party. There are other “improbabilities,” which deprived the piece of interest. The Curate, enacted by Mr. Thomas Thorne, was very shadowy. The senile Duke of Mr. Fred Thorne was an impossible peer. Mr. H. B. Conway, on the other hand, made a manly Lord Islay; Mr. Royce Carleton was a good Count De Lagrange; and Miss Harriet Jay, Mrs. Canninge, Miss Vane, and Mr. S. Buist and Miss Warden played their parts very well, Miss Vane imparting considerable strength to the part of seductive Mrs. Delamere, “a fine figger of a woman,” as Joe Gargery put it.
The Entr’acte (28 January, 1888 - pp.5-6)
VAUDEVILLE.—The comedy entitled “Fascination” is well worth seeing, if only to enjoy the thoroughgoing manner in which the heroine of the story abandons herself to the scheme she adopts in order to test the real feelings of the young man who professes to love her. This part if played by Miss Harriett Jay, who, with Mr. Robert Buchanan, shares whatever honour there may be attaching to the authorship of the piece. Lady Madge Slashton loves the good-looking Lord Islay, and her love is returned, though his lordship finds some difficulty in shaking off an infatuation for a “society beauty” in the person of a Mrs. Delamere. Lady Madge is, by the Iago of the story, told of Islay’s admiration for Mrs. Delamere, and the flame of jealousy is carefully fanned until it becomes a big blaze. It is then that Lady Madge adopts the expedient of donning male garb and, under the assumed name of Mr. Marlow, visiting the house of the rival, chaperoned by her brother. There she professes to be fond of what is called “life,” and even pays marked attentions to the notorious hostess. But she is maddened at seeing her lover do the same kind of thing; and when she sees him take from his finger the ring which he has vowed to keep there at all hazards, a “situation” is created. Lord Islay really loves Madge, and only lends the ring believing that Mrs. Delamere will return it after it has sealed a letter, for which purpose it has been avowedly borrowed. Instigated by the Iago of the play, the lady, who is smarting under Islay’s neglect, chooses to retain it, upon which his lordship, finding her inexorable, hints that surely she cannot mean to steal it, an inuendo which provokes a withering denunciation from Mrs. Delamere, who humiliates her whilom admirer by telling her guests of how she has been pestered by the attentions of this man, who all the time has been trying to make a cousin in the country believe that she claimed the whole of his love. As a matter of course, the guests take the side of the hostess; and the visitor who so markedly champions her cause, and who throws a glass of champagne in the face of the apparently unchivalrous Islay, is no other than Madge, disguised as Mr. Marlow. This would not be a comedy if such a tension as we have adumbrated were permitted to continue, so that in the next act the rough places are made tolerably smooth, and the love of Madge is valued at a just figure by the man for whom it has sacrificed so much. As we have before said, Miss Harriett Jay throws her whole soul into the theme, and her thoroughness undoubtedly gives a value to “Fascination” that it otherwise would not possess. With such an example before him, one would imagine that Mr. H. B. Conway, who is cast as her lover, would be equal to pumping up a little enthusiasm; but, alas! there is no sign of such support; the well seems dry. When this piece was first tried at a matinée, Mr. Henry Neville played the rôle now entrusted to Mr. Conway, and it was commonly remarked at the time that Mr. Neville was too old for the part; but Mr. Conway’s acting has not a tenth part of the youth which marks Mr. Neville’s method,—in fact, Mr. Conway’s Lord Islay seems to be invertebrate, and destitute of that heartiness which would be likely to enslave such a heart as that possessed by Madge. Mrs. Delamere enjoys an excellent representative in Miss Vane; Mr. Thomas Thorne, as a country clergyman who takes rather kindly to frivolities, provides an amusing character sketch; and the same may be said of Mr. Fred Thorne, who is happily cast as Lord Hurlingham. Mr. Royce Carleton, as the mischief-maker, acts with his customary stiffness.
The Graphic (28 January, 1888)
The reproduction of Fascination at the VAUDEVILLE Theatre has not furnished any reason for modifying the opinion we have already expressed upon this “improbable comedy.” The cast generally was somewhat weaker than that at the Novelty Theatre; but Miss Harriett Jay retains her original character, and plays it very cleverly. The scene before the clergyman and the over-demonstrative ladies in the second act cannot be praised for decorum or good taste. Altogether the expediency of reviving this eccentric production on the stage of the Vaudeville is not very obvious.
The Athenæum (28 January, 1888)
‘FASCINATION,’ an improbable comedy by Miss Harriett Jay and Mr. Robert Buchanan, produced late in last year at the Novelty Theatre at a morning performance, has replaced at the Vaudeville Mr. H. A. Jones’s ‘Heart of Hearts.’ It does not improve upon acquaintance. The moral sense is shocked by the presence in a compromising establishment of a young lady of rank who is conducted thither by her brother, and the opportunities for histrionic display which are afforded fail to compensate for the shortcomings of the story. Miss Jay wears masculine costume with ease and courage. She is not, however, seen at her best, and does not reconcile us to her hardy experiment. The earnestness and passion she displays in the stronger scenes only render the whole more distasteful—the spectacle of a young lady in a swallow- tail coat and black cloth trousers crying over, quarrelling with, and insulting a lover who does not recognize her being as unpleasant as it is unreal. In other characters the piece was acted with little conviction. Mr. Thomas Thorne was very amusing as a meek clergyman who not unwillingly drifts into scenes of dissipation. Mr. F. Thorne gave a whimsical caricature of an old duke who fills his coat pockets with his own champagne to join secretly a party of ladies to whom he has just been introduced. We can, indeed, but repeat our former judgment that ‘Fascination’ needs Offenbachian music. It is about as serious a production as ‘La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein.’
The Illustrated London News (28 January, 1888 - p.3)
THE LADIES’ COLUMN.
. . .
Most of the theatrical critics, I perceive, have objected to Miss Harriett Jay’s clever and interesting play, which was placed on the boards at the Vaudeville last week, on the ground of the impossibility of the central incident—viz., of the girl dressing in manly attire, and mixing for an evening in company without detection, even by her own lover. The plot in this respect, obviously, precisely follows Shakspearian precedent; and is Shakspeare to be eulogised as the greatest dramatist the world ever produced without receiving the true flattery of imitation? But, apart from fiction, there is no small accumulation of evidence that a woman can successfully defy detection in manly guise. Not where a pre-engaged lover is supposed, however—I grant the critics that; and surely he would be but a poor lover who neither by look, nor voice, nor that je ne sçais quoi, which, for want of a better name, we must call magnetism, would get revealed to his perceptions the presence of “the object,” in any costume or situation. But so far as the disguising dress goes, to unsuspicious and uninterested observers, there is plenty of illustration of the actual accomplishment by a woman of the part of Portia or Lady Madge Slashton. The dress-coat of civilisation is an admirable disguise for such a character, too. Portia’s doctor’s robe, doubtless, is the ideal garment for the masquerade; but a dress-coat being cut off at the waist, conceals better than any other form of attire could do the outline of the figure where it in a woman naturally differs most from that of a man. This is, as every artist knows, at what Leigh Hunt calls “those-never-to-be-without-apology-alluded-to hips.” But in far less suitable disguising attire than dress-coats and advocate’s robes the women who played the man have been unsuspected, if, indeed, there be any truth in historic legend.
There was Hannah Snell, for instance, who enlisted in the British Army not long prior to the period of which the costume was shown in last week’s Illustrated London News (p. 58). Hannah served in the Army, under the name of James Gray, for about a year, and then deserted in order to re-enlist as a Marine. In this capacity she served, without detection of her sex, for some twelve years: she was in several engagements, and displayed so much valour and so much spirit that, though she was at first called by her comrades “Miss Molly,” in derision of her smooth cheeks, which never needed the razor, the nickname was speedily altered into “Hearty Jemmy,” by which cognomen she was known throughout her warlike career. Then there was Anne Chamberlayne, who, in 1690, according to her monument in Chelsea Church, “fought valiantly, in man’s clothing, against the French,” on board a ship of war commanded by her own brother; whether with or without that gentleman’s knowledge and consent, the epitaph sayeth not. In a Brighton churchyard is the tombstone of a woman who served in the Army during several years, and for a long time afterwards lived at Brighton in receipt of a good-service pension. It si sadly true that during the American Cicil War more than one or two women were found dead on the field under a private’s uniform, the disguise of which had never been penetrated. One who served as a surgeon in the United States Army during that period remained in the service afterwards, and rose to the rank of Inspector General of Hospitals; she died, in London, in the course of the last decade, having been known only as “Dr. Barry” to all her English acquaintances. Finally, not to enlarge the list further (though there are many more instances at command), there was in a more exalted station the notorious Chevalier d’Eon, who was allowed to be a girl as a baby, but was put into boy’s clothes at the age of three; was, when about twenty, accredited as a woman on a secret mission from the Court of France to that of Russia; but, later, returned to the same Court as a male Envoy; and then became a Lieutenant of Dragoons as a man, and fought at the battle of Ostervich. The Chevalier actually was appointed Ambassador from the Court of France to that of Great Britain, and negotiated the treaty of peace signed in 1763; but ended her (or his?) life in female attire and character, this being made the condition on which alone Louis XVI. would continue the pension which had been granted by his Royal predecessor to the Chevalier as a man, a soldier, and a diplomatist. So now who can say that “Fascination” is an impossible comedy in its central incident?
The curious play “Fascination,” by Miss Harriett Jay and Mr. Robert Buchanan, that created considerable interest at a recent morning performance, has been taken in hand by Mr. Thomas Thorne and produced at the Vaudeville. To some it is still attractive from its cleverness; to others vexing on account of its improbability. Some think that seriousness and extravagance will not mix better than oil and vinegar. But the play, strange as it is, is well worth seeing on account of some capital acting that it contains. First of all, nothing could be better than the Lady Madge Slashton of Miss Harriett Jay, one of the very best representatives of boys’ characters on the stage. The Lady Madge in question suspects her lover of want of fealty, and follows him into fashionable and fast society dressed up as a boy. This is the true spirit of comedy; and the part is both tenderly and expressively played by Miss Jay, whose natural acting shows into forcible relief much of the farcical business by which it is surrounded. Another excellent sketch of genuine character comes from Miss Vane, who plays a woman of the world with the core of her heart pecked at by the birds of society. It is a most striking and true picture, and it is handled in the firm grasp of an artist. Mr. Thorne is capital as the shy curate, Mr. Colley, who follows like a dog at the heels of Lady Madge; and every attention has been paid to the society pictures that form an important feature of the play. At any rate, everything has been done for it that could be done, and it is so well acted that it ought to succeed.
The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (28 January, 1888 - p.6)
A SECOND experience of Fascination—a play named on the lucus a non lucendo principle—quite fails to explain why Mr. Thomas Thorne thought it worthy of transfer from the experimental Novelty to his popular stage. Vaudeville audiences have shown long ago that they do not object to the mixture of farce with comedy, but this is something very different from the amalgamation of serious comedy and extravaganza. In certain scenes of their piece Mr. Buchanan and Miss Jay go as near as they can to a comedy sketch of the society in which a Duke of Hurlingham, a Lady Madge Slashton, and a Lord Islay are likely to appear. The picture is not a very natural one, but it is realistic in treatment, and so far one understands fairly enough what the playwrights are driving at. But when, in a peculiar fashion, Lady Madge’s jealousy of the adventurous Mr. Delamere is aroused, and when she determines to test Lord Islay’s fidelity, the play loses all grip, not only of probability—it is confessedly an “improbable” one—but of possibility. Lady Madge dressed up in a man’s evening clothes, and appearing at Mrs. Delamere’s fast supper party, is a figure fit only for burlesque, and for interpretation by actresses of the Sisters Watson order. She would deceive no one—least of all her father and lover—as to her identity. She is, ex hypothesi, quite out of place in her fast surroundings. She is playing her lover an unworthy trick, or, at any rate, a trick which commands little sympathy. Moreover, when the climax comes, and she is worked up to a fury by the flirtations of Lord Islay and Mrs. Delamere, she goes perilously near to making a fool of herself, as she throws her glass of wine in the face of her recreant admirer. A disagreeable flavour is given to the whole proceedings by the presence of the elderly Duke and the young clergyman. Mr. Thomas Thorne, it is true, makes of the latter a sufficiently amusing creature, with his outward respectability and his mildly vicious tastes. But if the situation means anything at all, it is one in which a clergyman should hardly be introduced as a figure of fun.
The play is fairly well written, and except as regards its principal motive it is not badly put together. But the net result is the reverse of satisfactory, even when it is not actually disagreeable. Miss Harriett Jay resumed her place in the cast as the representative of the erratic heroine. She plays with considerable spirit, and carries her masquerade through bravely to the bitter end. It is difficult to see how more could well be made of the part, but enough is certainly not accomplished to justify the tour de force. Mr. Conway succeeds Mr. Henry Neville as Lord Islay, whom, of course, he makes a presentable fellow, but he appears doubtful how far he dare impart sincerity to so whimsical a creation. A great improvement upon the original cast is provided in the Mrs. Delamere of Miss Vane, an actress whose work generally has character and decision of its own. Fascination went smoothly on its first night, but gave little indication of a lasting success.
The Sporting Times (28 January, 1888 - p.3)
SCENES AND NOT TO BE SEENS.
I WAS not present at the first performance of Fascination at the Vaudeville for reasons that I fully explained last week [Cut out—unfit for publication.—Master]. I went later on, however, and so saw the play under every possible advantage. First night nervousness, of course, was not present; everybody had, or should have, settled down into their respective places, and it was therefore possible to consider the show for all it was worth without explanation, palliation, or excuse. Harriett Jay and Robert Buchanan call their play an “improbable comedy,” but what this vague designation is intended to cover or convey I fail to understand. I sat it out sternly determined to comprehend its meaning or purpose if I could—but I couldn’t. And the more I think about it the more certain do I feel that the entire work is a dreary and depressing combination of slushy sentiment, vulgarity, regrettable bad taste, and complete impossibility.
IN the first act we see the Duke of Hurlingham, who looks like a retired grocer in an old-fashioned farce, sitting on his lawn by the banks of the Thames. He is talking to his wife, the Duchess, and to his nephew, Lord Jack Slashton. Of course they inform us that Lady Madge Slashton, Jack’s sister, can perform a variety of athletic feats, that she is passing fair and unusually beautiful. The voices are heard “off,” and it appears that Lady Madge is rowing a race with a parson on the adjacent river. Everybody shouts, and then her ladyship enters, seated in a dinghy which she has obviously been propelling with a broomstick. She is not passing fair. She is not unusually beautiful. She is a large, ordinary, rather awkward, woman of apparently some five and thirty summers, and she studiously refrains from exhibiting her muscular dexterity or intellectual superiority from the rising of the curtain to the going down thereof. When the unhappy parson, the Reverend Mr. Colley, arrives—also in a dinghy, also with a broomstick—Lady Madge exhibits exceedingly bad taste. A parson is a parson, after all, and his calling should secure for him some respect. By virtue of his black coat and his white tie many a parson in London is permitted freely and unmolested to enter courts and alleys off the Dials and in the East End where no policeman dare venture save in broad daylight and at the risk of his life. The creatures evolved out of the joint imaginations of Harriet Jay and Robert Buchanan have no regard for the holy calling of Mr. Colley. In their eyes he is quite the most fitting block on which to chop the inane vulgarisms that pass current with them for wit. Indeed, when Lady Madge carefully beguiles him into the singing of a comic song, which involves the enunciation of an oath, all the characters on the stage affect to be vastly diverted. Those amongst the audience however, who happen to possess any remnant of decent feeling cannot be other than sad.
THE lady Madge Slashton loves a certain Lord Islay and she has promised to be his wife. Count de Lagrange, a Frenchman with absolutely no accent whatever, loves Lady Madge, not for herself—no wonder!—but for her fortune, so he proceeds to poison her mind by artfully detailing the beauties and advantages of Mrs. Delamere, and hinting at the attention so assiduously paid to her by Lord Islay. Presently Islay arrives, and the circumstances of his arrival should be carefully noted. “I came down to Windsor,” he says, “then missed the train, and so got a hack and rode over.” Islay is dressed in very correct breeches and boots, so we must either conclude that it is his custom to affect riding costume whenever he goes by train, or else we must assume that he dressed in the ordinary fashion and kept his boots and breeches in his trousers pocket, so as to be always prepared for casual emergencies.
ISLAY tells Lady Madge that, amongst other things, he reads the Sporting Times every Sunday, and instantly she suspects the nature of his affection for her. Lord Jack Slashton subsequently lectures Islay at some length on the errors of his way in the direction of Mrs. Delamere, and Islay gets petulant; but their interview is interrupted by an incident. “What sweet sounds are those that float upon the water?” says Islay. “Don’t know,” says Lord Jack. “Perhaps it’s the Maria Wood.” It is not, however. It is supers at the wings singing out of tune, as an introduction to the entrance of yet another dinghy, this time alluded to as a punt, in which is seated a bevy of charming ladies surrounding Mrs. Delamere, who plays an excellent seven stringed banjo in brown suède gloves. Islay is nervous, and stammers a refusal to join the party. But the Duke of Hurlingham smartly picks up several bottles of champagne, such as it is thoroughly well-known dukes always keep loose about on their lawns, and he risks a watery death by squeezing into the already over-full dinghy, and is broomsticked away up the river as the supers recommence their inharmonious efforts. Islay sits regarding the proceedings with an expression of countenance that suggests a pain in the stomach, and Lady Madge, marking his look incontinently, ejaculates, “I wish I was a boy,” and she sinks into a chair as the curtain falls.
NOTHING very noticeable, it may be observed, has happened so far. Nothing very remarkable occurs, as we go on. Mrs. Delamere gives a party, and Count de Lagrange improves the occasion by informing her that he made her, and that she is in his power. It is not clear how, but apparently she is, for she does his bidding implicitly. The nice young ladies out of the dinghy presently arrive, also the Duke of Hurlingham and Islay, and, finally, Lord Jack Slashton, bringing with him someone he calls “Mr. Marlow, of Jamaica.” This is Lady Madge in male evening dress. The costume is not becoming. In trousers, her legs don’t look straight, and her shoulders are ridiculously narrow for a woman with such large hips. That nobody should recognise the fact of her sex is perhaps the real reason why the play is called “Improbable.”
OF course, the unhappy parson, Mr. Colley, is dragged to this assembly, and once more jeered and jibed at. He is stuck down amongst a lot of leering painted women, and snubbed and laughed at in the usual execrable taste. His presence serves no purpose whatever, and does not advance the story at all; indeed there is no story to speak of. Lady Madge makes violent love to Mr. Delamere, and makes Islay jealous. Then hearing from De Lagrange that he has “documents” in his possession that will ruin Islay, she purchases what turn out to be bills for £2,000, giving in exchange a cheque signed “Charles Marlow.” Now Islay, so far as may be gathered, has lost the money to De Lagrange at cards; but he has never repudiated his liability. The bills are good, therefore. For Lady Madge to acquire them by aid of a “stumer” is distinctly fraud. But what is a trifle such as this to Harriet Jay and Robert Buchanan? Later on there is a row, and Lady Madge first insults Islay, and then chucks a glass of champagne at him. Tableau. Curtain.
THE subsequent proceedings were veiled in chaos and mystery. I tried hard to follow the erratic gyrations of the plot, but I cannot say that I succeeded. The scene is set down as “Lady Madge Slashton’s”—house understood, I presume—and we see her ladyship looking very uncomfortable while talking to a very pretty girl. Perhaps she is conscious of the contrast. At any rate, she makes the pretty girl accept the hand of Mr. Colley in marriage which seems to prove that she does not like her. Then Lady Madge proceeds to write notes and send forth erratic messengers, and gradually she collects the entire cast in her room. She has a scene with De Lagrange; a scene with Mrs. Delamere; a scene with Islay; but nothing in particular comes of it. Ultimately foreign detectives come for De Lagrange. Mrs. Delamere goes away to repent, and Islay is forgiven. This act, in fact, is characterised by an utter absence of ingenuity. It is clumsy, chaotic, and uninteresting. The authors have somehow got hold of a good idea in the disguised girl seeking her lover in the bower of a syren, and inducing that syren to fall in love with her; but they have studiously refrained from developing their notion with anything like aptness. They have bungled, blundered, and muddled coarsely through three acts, only to arrive with much effort at complete failure.
THE acting was adequate, and that is all. Tom Thorne overdid the parson, and brother Fred was very like anything on earth but a duke. Conway—poor Conway!—evidently felt keenly how utterly hopeless was the part he had to play, and naturally he made nothing but an ordinary walking gentleman out of Islay. When I remember his Faust, his Romeo, and his admirable Captain Bradford in Peril, I wonder how he could constrain himself to the assumption of a commonplace twaddler like Islay at all. Royce Carleton, clever actor that he is, failed to do anything with De Lagrange. He spoke without any accent, and did not dress the part with any eye to character. Miss Bannister looked sweetly pretty, and played with ingenuous freshness, as the ultimate bride of Mr. Colley. Miss Florence Warden looked nice, and spoke English well, and French well; but failed lamentably over English with a French accent. Mrs. Canninge, as the Duchess of Hurlingham, had hardly anything to do, but she looked remarkably well; while as Mrs. Delamere, Miss Vane was strikingly beautiful, and altogether admirable. Her performance was clever, strong, brilliantly finished, and, indeed, it was little wonder that Islay should have preferred this gorgeously handsome, splendidly figured, and exquisitely dressed young woman to such an angular, hesitating, spasmodic person as the Lady Madge Slashton of Mr. Robert Buchanan’s collaborator.
The Freemason’s Chronicle (28 January, 1888 - p.11)
THE THEATRES, &c.
Vaudeville.—The improbable comedy, “Fascination,” by Miss Harriet Jay and Mr. Robert Buchanan, was put into the evening bill at the above theatre on the 19th instant. This piece was produced at the Novelty some little time back, and we may say that it is rightly described as “improbable.” some of the situations being decidedly so. The play itself in some parts is very good, but in others feeble, and taken altogether is a most peculiar work, as there seems a sort of “air of mystery” about it which cannot be explained. The different situations are well conceived and capitally depicted, while the acting, taken all round, is first class. Miss Harriet Jay, as Lady Madge Slashton, has decidedly improved since the first production, and may be congratulated on her performance. Miss Vane, as Mrs. Delamere, the adventuress, is certainly one of the best characters in the piece. This lady acts with all the force the character warrants, and scores an undoubted success. Mr. Thomas Thorne, as Rev. Mr. Colley, plays in his own inimitable style, which admirably suits the part. Mr. H. B. Conway, as Lord Islay, seemed a little undecided, while Mr. Royce Carlton is not up to his usual form as Count de Lagrange. Mr. Fred Thorne’s Duke of Hnrlingham was amusing, while Mr. Scott Buist, as Lord Jack Slasbton, acted in a manly and straight-forward manner. The piece is exceedingly well mounted, and we should not be surprised to see “Fascination” remain in the bill for some time to come. The other characters were represented by Mrs. Canninge, the Misses Bannister, Gertrude Warden, Grace Arnold, Messrs. F. Grove, J. Wheatman, and Frank Gilmore.
The Theatre (1 February, 1888)
A New and Improbable Comedy, in three acts, written by HARRIETT JAY and ROBERT BUCHANAN.
First produced at a matinée at the Novelty, October 6th, 1887.
Reproduced at the Vaudeville, January 19, 1888.
In the last November number of THE THEATRE I described the plot of this comedy with its then cast, but as the latter has been almost completely changed, I have given the fresh one. The improbability of the incidents appeared to jar upon some members of the audience assembled on the night of the reproduction, who seemed unable to determine in their minds whether to take it altogether au serieux, but the general verdict was a favourable one, the consummate acting of Miss Harriett Jay, admirably supported as she was by her rival, Mrs. Delamere, in the person of Miss Vane, producing this desirable result. Mr. W. Scott Buist, too, played his original character with as much freshness and originality as on the previous occasion. Mr. H. B. Conway was but half-hearted as the weak and easily led away Lord Islay. The Reverend Mr. Colley of Mr. Thomas Thome was humorous, and will doubtless be elaborated after a few nights, but Mr. F. Thorne has been seen to greater advantage than as the Duke of Hurlingham; he made the amorous and rakish nobleman too senile. Mr. Royce Carleton’s evil nature as Count de Lagrange was too transparent. The character of Arabella Armhurst was very naturally played by Miss Banister (incorrectly set down in some of the playbills as Miss Barton). The other parts were well filled, the ladies’ dresses handsome, and the scenery “on the banks of the Thames” beautifully painted by W. Perkins. The “interiors” were upholstered in excellent taste by Messrs. Maple. The authors were called, but only Miss Jay responded. The piece is decidedly worth seeing.
The Academy (4 February, 1888 - No. 822, p.86-87)
“FASCINATION” AT THE VAUDEVILLE.
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN and Miss Harriett Jay took the right measure of their piece at the Vaudeville when they called it an “improbable comedy.” It brings into the full nineteenth century a Rosalind masquerading in boy’s clothes; but the new Rosalind is stirred somewhat by jealousy, and her investigations take her into haunts which are not very choice. It is true that the lady whose relations with her own lover she suspects is described repeatedly as a fashionable beauty, if not a professional beauty, or a society beauty. Yet at the same time we are informed that nobody recognises her, and that at the very least she has a past which is discreditable. Perhaps Mr. Buchanan’s and Miss Jay’s notions of her were a little indefinite. Her conduct in the play does not seem to be very blameworthy. Nevertheless, it requires extraordinary tact on the part of an actress to reconcile us to the appearance of a young gentleman in a swallowtail coat and trousers, among some rather fast people—among, at all events, a group of undesirable men, of whom a mischievous and ancient duke is about the worst, and a silly but good-natured and fairly innocent clergyman about the best. And Miss Jay—for it is the authoress herself who plays the part—does display extraordinary tact, unquestionably. In the mere matter of wearing boy’s dress with naturalness and refined ease, she surpasses the most famous actress of the day. And other qualities she has besides the art de savoir porter—not la robe, but the swallowtail. She acts, in every sense, with spirit and feeling—takes the piece safely through its emotional passages, and through, at least, her share of comic situations. She betrays feeling with discretion, and swaggers very prettily. There can hardly before have been afforded so large an opportunity for exhibiting Miss Jay’s command of certain not unimportant phases of histrionic art.
All the while, the piece remains what it professes to be—“improbable.” And, we must remember, to confess a fault is not always to atone for it; hence, the difficulty of taking even the serious scenes quite seriously. It is only when the pure comedy is being enacted that we can receive what passes with complete confidence. There are some well-imagined comic characters. The mischievous and somewhat wicked, but habitually genial old duke is at least a happy sketch, though Mr. Fred Thorne is not seen at his best in embodying him. Mr. Scot Buist and Mr. Royce Carleton help the play considerably. Mr. Conway is forcible and picturesque. Miss Vane—with whom London playgoers are not yet very familiar—performs with earnestness as the lady of doubtful position whose heart is touched by the lover of “Rosalind.” But the part wants investing with a more obvious fascination, we think; and to that Miss Vane may direct her further efforts. As the gay and good-hearted clergyman, Mr. Thomas Thorne is very quaint and funny. You like him, you disapprove of him—then you discover that, though distinctly skittish, he is excellent at heart, and a firm and timely friend. Mr. Thorne’s dry and absolutely unconscious humour, and his complete discretion, serve him admirably in this character. He is always entertaining, yet he never exaggerates—whatever others may do, he, at all events, never “forces the note.”
We shall not prophecy long life for “Fascination,” since our prophecy of a very long run for “Heart of Hearts”— following on the immediate and almost phenomenal success of its first representation—was not entirely realised. But it is, in its own way, a clever comedy, though an “improbable” one. And it is acted smoothly all round, and really well by several, and as well as it could possibly be by Miss Jay and Mr. Thorne.
[Press notices for Miss Vane in the Vaudeville Theatre production of Fascination
from The Era (4 February, 1888). Click image for the full advert.]
The New York Mirror (11 February, 1888 - p.10)
London News and Gossip.
LONDON, Jan. 26.
. . .
Since the holiday entertainments above alluded to got well under way certain managers have put forth more or less new ventures in the shape of drama, comedy, comedietta, farce, and what not. The latest of the principal ventures in this connection was the production at the Vaudeville a few nights ago of Robert Buchanan and Harriet Jay’s “improbable” comedy Fascination. Of the story and general details of Fascination I gave you some account when the piece was first tried on the matinee dog during Miss Jay’s brief tenancy of the Novelty Theatre. You will, perhaps, remember that although I found some good points in this piece I could not see any money—unless it were made more consistent. Four months have elapsed since Fascination’s trial trip and now here it is again, with little or no alteration. Therefore I am again constrained to say that I don’t see much chance for it. The fair Harriet (a fine figure of a woman) once more plays cleverly and with great go as the aristocratic young lady who disguises herself as a male masher in order to watch her lover’s proceedings at a notorious West-end house, where the female guests are no better than they should be, if so good. H. B. Conway assumes the character of Lord Islay, originally sustained by Henry Neville, but makes little out of it, whereas Neville made much. The inevitable comic clergyman is now played by Thomas Thorne, who shows some humor, but is not nearly so funny as his predecessor, Edward Righton. Royce Carleton, who made such a hit here as Blifil in Sophia, now fails as a foreign adventurer. Barring Miss Vane, who plays with great power as the naughty, fascinating siren, and Fred. Thorne, who is very comical as a doddering old duke, the rest of the cast is not up to the Novelty form.
Liverpool Mercury (7 March, 1888)
NEW AND FORTHCOMING PLAYS.
We have had several new plays in London during the past few weeks, and two or three of them deserve to be chronicled in Liverpool, for it is more than probable that they will be seen here before very long. The “new and improbable” comedy called “Fascination” will shortly be withdrawn, after a run of little more than a month. It has not been a remarkable commercial success, and it is not easy to say that it has been an artistic success. Nevertheless, it has much brightness, some humour, and a little real pathos. Improbable it is, but hardly more so than any of the many Elizabethan plays in which a woman is disguised as a man. Every playgoer knows the story. It is simply that of a young titled lady following her lover into his disreputable haunts to see if he is really unworthy. The acting of the part of the lady has been most excellent, and has put Miss Jay very high in her profession. But the piece as a whole lacks some needful sentiment. It is neither a serious drama nor a wild farce. The audience are fogged by it in one respect. They never know whether they are to take it seriously or as a joke. Probably this is one of the reasons why it does not succeed in any eminent degree. One thing should be said. If the piece comes to Liverpool, no one need keep away from the theatre where it is played out of fear that it is improper as well as improbable. One of its scenes does, indeed, take place in the house of a fashionable lady adventuress, who lives in St. John’s Wood; but there is nothing done or said that need outrage true modesty.
The piece by the same author that is to follow this one at the same London theatre is to be a dramatised version of Fielding’s “Joseph Andrews” under the title of “Joseph’s Sweetheart.” It is the love story of Fanny, with all the complications that came of Lady Booby’s assaults on the honour of her Joseph. The accessories are to be remarkable. One of the scenes is to be that of a masquerade in Ranelagh-gardens. Of course Parson Adams will be a prominent figure, and it ought to be easy for the dramatist, by the help of Fielding’s genius, to make a most touching and humourful personage of that dearest of old parsons. In fact, though Fielding is the reverse of a dramatic novelist, there is so much grit in his characters that it should be difficult to let the flavour of his humour escape. The play ought to be enjoyable.
The New York Times (9 March, 1888)
Col. Sinn, in spite of the adverse criticisms of the English press on “Fascination,” has booked Miss Cora Tanner for the play on the road as well as at the Fourteenth-Street Theatre in this city. “Fascination” was tried at the Brooklyn Park Theatre a year ago, and the result of that presentation satisfied Miss Tanner and Col. Sinn. Changes are being made in the piece by Charles Coote, stage manager of the “Alone in London” company and a brother of Miss Carrie Coote.
The New York Times (3 June, 1888)
Elaborate preparations are in progress for the scenic dress of Robert Buchanan’s “Fascination” at the Fourteenth-Street Theatre next Fall. The now familiar alleyway at the rear of the stage is to be utilized to represent the winding Thames in perspective in one of the scenes. “Fascination” is owned by Miss Cora Tanner, who will “star” in it all next season.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1 July, 1888 - p.6)
THE HOME OF AN ACTRESS.
An Interview With Miss Cora Tanner.
Keeping House in Brooklyn—Domestic Tastes.
What She Thinks of the Combination System.
Ideas in Dress.
Mrs. William Sinn (Cora Tanner), the young actress who closed her season in the West two or three weeks ago, has returned to her pleasant home on State street. I had a little chat with her the other day on theatrical matters in general, but before I reproduce what she said I should like to give the reader an idea of her home and domestic life. Actresses are reputed deficient in domestic tastes, but Cora Tanner is an exception. Her home is a substantial and comfortable one. She has been busily engaged in furnishing it anew from top to bottom and has shown skill and judgment in the arrangement and selection of the furniture. She feels very proud of the fact that she did all the buying herself. She has succeeded in introducing into her home an effect of quiet elegance and harmony. The carpets, the paper, the drapery and furniture—every piece of which is different—tend toward harmonious combination in the blending of colors. Here and there are examples of Mrs. Sinn’s excellent taste. For instance, the mantel in the front drawing room displays one of her designs in draping which an enterprising local decorator has been quick to copy, giving it the name of “Mrs. Sinn’s design.” The mantel shelf is first covered with rich electric blue silk plush, hanging over in a deep border; then a brass rod is placed along the edge of the shelf, and another one, six inches above. Between these rods another piece of plush is gracefully twisted or festooned. Another piece of plush a foot wide hangs from another small brass rod against the wall above the mantel. The whole effect is very pretty. Mrs. Sinn’s dressing room is on the second floor front, and here again is her handiwork exhibited in decoration. She calls it the blue room because the mantels, the mirrors and the alcove are draped in blue silk. Large mirrors running to the floor are placed at each end and an immense ashwood dresser is placed at one side. On the mantel stands a cathedral clock and ornaments of brass and bric a brac. The windows are heavily curtained in blue plush and the furniture is easy and comfortable. A little old fashioned rocker, 75 years old, which once belonged to Mrs. Sinn’s grandfather, stands in one corner.
Anyone conforming less to the usual conception of an actress, in bearing and demeanor, it would be difficult to find. She seems delighted with home life. She is tall, and has a well rounded, graceful figure, sympathetic features, a full, melodious voice, dark blue eyes, very light brown hair and fair complexion. Her taste in dress is exquisite and original. The day on which I called was very warm and she was attired in a cool lawn dress with big, delicious looking plums stamped on it. She wore diamond ornaments. Mrs. Sinn is fond of animals, and of dogs in particular. A Yorkshire terrier with bangs down to the tip of his nose stretched himself out on a Turkish rug at her feet with an air of contentment. He comes of a good kennel and his foreign name is Ben II., but the actress calls him Trouble.
“Many persons think that actresses have no domestic tastes, but they make a great mistake. It comes just as naturally to me to overlook the affairs of the house as though I had never been on the stage. I derive a keen enjoyment from housekeeping and find it a most delightful diversion from my professional labors. I presume, however, that I should weary of it in time, just as other women do, but you know I travel perhaps forty weeks out of the fifty-two in a year, and this settling down to quiet housekeeping is mere fun and rest. But I go into it in real earnest and make a study of it from all sides. I go down into the kitchen one hour each morning and take lessons in the art of cooking. I have promised to cook a dinner for my husband to-morrow evening, and the colonel has actually agreed to eat it, even if it kills him.”
“Does not the time drag on your hands before the day is over?”
“No, indeed; I haven’t a moment’s space. When my household duties are done I give myself up to reading, of which I am very fond, and to entertaining my friends.”
“What are your tastes in reading?”
“Well, I read a little fiction, poetry and literature bearing on my profession. I am particularly fond of George Eliot, Dickens and some of the older writers. When I go to the country I will devote myself to studying my part for ‘Fascination.’ I love the water and usually spend the mornings in rowing. I often go a-fishing with the colonel. Another exercise I greatly enjoy is long tramps on the country roads just at sunset.”
“Do you forget all about your profession in the country?”
“I don’t think any person can entirely forget what her life is wholly wrapped up in. I certainly cannot, though I try to think of it as little as possible.”
“What is your opinion of the combination theatrical companies?”
“I don’t think the combination system is near as detrimental to the profession as some of the old actors claim. At the present time actors and actresses make more of specialties and when you go to work to cast a new play you first study the different characters and then make up the company by choosing from the whole profession. The profession of law and medicine have had their specialists, why should not the theatrical profession? It is only in specialties that most men of the present day succeed. In olden times young actors and actresses didn’t care to disfigure themselves in playing old parts; to-day some of the youngest in the profession play old character parts with greater success than those of the profession who are well along in years. Instead of casting your play out of your own company you cast it out of the profession at large to-day. The old members of the profession hold up their hands in horror at this and cry for the olden days. That the new system is successful is assured from the fact that the performances are smoother to-day; weeks are spent in rehearsal, whereas, in olden times a part sometimes had to be learned in forty-two hours, and never over a week was given for its study. The public get a better performance. The performance given in Albany is as good as that given in New York. The combination companies were not started by managers. The idea was first conceived by such eminent members of the profession as E. L. Davenport, J. W. Wallack and Rose Eytinge. Mr. Edwin Forrest always had his leading man and lady with him. These actors would have carried their entire company, but the managers could not afford to engage them and let their own stock companies stand idle. The result was that the stock companies were disbanded for the benefit of an exacting public. The most important man used to be the prompter. Now we have no use for the prompter after the first two or three nights. The prompt book of ‘Alone in London’ was not called out three times during the season, while with a stock company it would not be safe to be without the book for five minutes. In olden times the wardrobe of an actress (of course I am speaking of the rank and file) consisted of five dresses, and before the season was over you would see those same dresses in a great many different styles. But now, from the highest to the lowest, actresses have dresses for every part.”
“What does it cost the star for dresses in a season?”
“Ah! that depends in what part the leading lady plays. My ‘Alone In London’ dresses (here Mrs. Sinn smiled) cost me $100 for three years. You know I wore rags in that play. It is just as difficult to have a ragged dress made up as it is to have a fine one. The dressmaker is at a loss to know how to fit you to rags, or how to make rags look real. My dresses for ‘Fascination’ next season will cost me nearly $3,000.
“I have my own ideas as to how ladies should and should not dress on the street,” said Mrs. Sinn. “In the first place, I do not believe in big bustles. I dislike the bustle on general principles. One day you will see a woman with a bustle on as large as a pillow and the next day she may appear on the street as slim as a Quaker. To me it breaks the charm to see a woman distort her figure in such a way. The material of the gown, if properly arranged, will do all the disguising beside offering more comfort to the wearer when walking or riding. I believe as Mrs. Langtry does in regard to the back of the dress. It is made so that the long Greek curve of the back, from the nape of the neck to the broadest part of the hips, is clearly indicated. From there the skirt falls to the ground, not full enough to be clumsy nor scant enough to be round, but just full enough to follow the wearer and not go with her. I believe in light underclothes the year round and resorting to wraps in cool weather. It certainly is more comfortable and if you always wear the same kind of underclothes you are apt to have your dresses fit you better. Most women use little judgment in the matter of corsets and undergarments. If they would only strive to get simple, comfortable things they would find themselves much better off and the cost of dressing less expensive. There has been so much written and said on the dress subject that I doubt if I could add anything new. I have my own ideas on the subject and am guided by no fashion plates nor by what other women wear.”
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1 July, 1888 - p.11)
A fat woman recently appeared in a San Francisco variety theater and created great disgust by refusing to dance. She read a poem addressed to herself by an admirer, and a correspondent suggests that such “a bold and dangerous creature deserved to be welcomed with a lot of well seasoned eggs.”
. . .
Colonel Sinn has ordered $15,000 worth of lithographs for “Fascination,” the comedy by Robert Buchanan in which Cora Tanner will play for some seasons.
The World (New York) (22 July, 1888 - p.13)
The regular season at the Fourteenth Street Theatre will begin Sept. 10 with five presentations of “Fascination.” Cora Tanner will be the star of the play. Prior to the regular season a preliminary one will be inaugurated by an offering of the comedy called “Fitz Noodle,” a rather questionable title at best, in which Mr. Pigott will play the leading rôle. This preface to the regular opening will not be a long one, two or three weeks’ time only being allotted to it. “Fascination” will be put upon the stage for a run, and as the house is celebrated for its runs of late years, there is every possibility that Cora Tanner’s venture will prove equally successful with the many successful plays that have passed current into popular favor there. The scenery is now being prepared, and a company strong in all its requirements will aid Miss Tanner. There will be some changes in the interior of the house—not many, however, as it has always been kept up to a good standard. The exterior of the theatre will be changed somewhat by a new garb of white paint, which will give it the appearance of a marble front. After “Fascination” has run its course a new play by Joseph Arthur, altogether different from “The Still Alarm,” will take its place.
The New York Times (12 August, 1888)
“Crucify Her” is the startling and ill-chosen title of a new play in which Miss Selena Fetter, who sat down on the floor suddenly in “The Henrietta” last season, is to star.
. . .
Robert Buchanan’s play called “Fascination” will be presented for the first time in New-York at the Fourteenth- Street Theatre Sept. 10. Miss Cora Tanner, hitherto associated in this country with another play of the same author, “Alone in London,” will sustain the chief rôle.
The New York Mirror (25 August, 1888 - p.6)
Cora Tanner’s Fascination.
George W. Sammis, business manager of the Fascination company, which is at present rehearsing, is most enthusiastic over both play and players. In talking to a MIRROR representative recently he said:
“The piece is not a one-part play, but has several very strong parts, and is one that requires an unusually strong company in order to give it a proper production. Colonel Sinn has exercised great care in the selection of the company to support Miss Tanner. C. D. Hess will attend to the work in advance. The two characters Miss Tanner appears in—that of Lady Madge Slashton and Charles Marlowe—were written especially for her, and when she appeared in them in Brooklyn achieved great success, and undoubtedly made the hit of her artistic career. The dresses of all the characters will be of the highest order, the minor parts not excepted.
“While Miss Tanner does not depend on her wardrobe for success, but strictly on her artistic merits, she will, it is safe to say, show something in that line that will cause a good deal of admiration. The lady is thoroughly American, and has had all her wardrobe made in this country. She finds no trouble in procuring people here that can turn out work fully as satisfactory as the more celebrated Parisian modistes. Fascination can be played with the stock scenery of any first-class theatre in this country, and the success of the play does not depend, as so many plays do nowadays, upon its scenic effects. While Fascination does not require any special scenery, Colonel Sinn has decided to carry all his own sets, furniture and properties, so that the play shall be well put on wherever produced.
“Charles Coote, who has been engaged by Colonel Sinn as general stage-manager of all his productions for a term of years, is now busy rehearsing the company. We open at the Fourteenth Street Theatre on Sept. 10. After the New York run the company goes to Boston, then spends a few weeks on the New England circuit, returning to Brooklyn for the holidays. After that we go West as far as Omaha, playing all the large cities. The season is booked solid to the middle of May next.”
The New York Times (3 September, 1888)
Miss Cora Tanner and her company, who are to follow Miss Wilkes at the Fourteenth-Street Theatre next Monday night, are having the final rehearsals of “Fascination,” which is to be produced with a view to running it several weeks. Col. Sinn, Miss Tanner’s manager, and Mr. Rosenquest, the manager of the theatre, both have the greatest confidence in the attractive power of the play, which was written for Miss Tanner by Robert Buchanan, whose successful drama “Alone in London” was the medium through which the lady first secured her position as a star actress. “Fascination” is described as a comedy-drama, constructed with a special view to utilizing the versatile talents of Miss Tanner, but the cast is nevertheless so filled with strong characters that it is in no sense to be regarded as a one-part play. Miss Tanner will be seen in the double rôle of Lady Madge Slashton and Charles Marlowe, and her supporting company comprises Isabella Waldron, Eleanor Cary, Maggie Deans, Lucy Escott, Belle Waldron, Clara Knowles, Helen Ten-Broeck, Lionel Bland, Edward Bell, Augustus Cook, P. A. Anderson, W. F. Blonde, G. F. Gaden, Charles Coote, Norman Campbell, W. Deihl, W. Gilmore, Robert Mack, R. Matthews, and Frank Farnham. All the scenery, costumes, and properties have been manufactured expressly for the production, and Mr. Braham has composed new music, which will be a feature of the performance. The sale of seats for the first week will begin at the box office of the theatre on Thursday.
The New York Mirror (8 September, 1888 - p.6)
Cora Tanner Chats.
A MIRROR reporter went over to Brooklyn the other day to have a chat with Cora Tanner. He met her just as she came from rehearsal, and was enabled, with the assistance of Charles Coote, to take her an unwilling captive to the cosy retreat of her husband, Colonel Sinn, in the Park Theatre.
When a woman is on the eve of doing anything, whether it is prigging an apple for man’s eternal confusion, or carefully getting up a play for his eternal delight, she is apt to be high-strung, expectant and interesting. Fascination being a distinct and novel departure in the career of Miss Tanner, she manifested these conditions. Our representative found her full of ardor and rosy health, fresh from a long, quiet rest at her island home off the coast of Maine, and flushed with the bracing air of that splendid climate. Fascination was naturally the theme of conversation.
“This play,” she said, “has personally a double interest. First, I appear in male attire, a rather startling innovation for me, but the most fastidious need not be alarmed; there is nothing indelicate about my role—all the broadness is smoothed away by the perfect purity of the motive of the ‘business.’ Secondly, it was written expressly for me by Robert Buchanan, who, by the way, is one of my very best and truest friends. Our acquaintance dates from the time I was playing his Lady Clare in New York. Happening in town one night he dropped into the theatre, and in a few days wrote me a letter, which I greatly prize, complimenting my performance and expressing a desire to become acquainted.
“Then followed Alone in London, done by him for me, and now Fascination, of which—pardon my vanity—I do expect great things for myself and company. Why, we are all so perfect already that without the least uneasiness we could appear to-morrow. As in the past, I shall not depend for success upon the extraneous attractions of diamonds and costumes, but rather on the hard labor and earnest study I have devoted during the past year in the preparation of the piece.”
The reporter incidentally mentioned to Miss Tanner the crusade THE MIRROR has started against the flower nuisance. He was somewhat surprised when she jumped up exclaiming, “Now, that’s too bad, too bad. Why, I never knew a word about it—not even having time to read my paper, and it’s only two weeks ago I ordered a notice printed on all my programmes to the effect that flowers should be sent to the stage door; they would not be accepted nay other way. I heartily endorse the MIRROR idea, but now they will say I got it there, when, oh, dear me! I thought I was original.” When the reporter consoled her by reminding her that this was simply another example of great minds running in the same channel, she quieted down, and remembered that the day was too hot to get excited.
Cora Tanner has many interesting reminiscences, and her knowledge of the dramatic world is complete and thorough. A great believer in the excellent training of the old stock days, yet, in her opinion, were actors to perfect themselves in specialties, the same as is now done in all the professions, it would be a great aid to managers when searching for material. She added that in her opinion this would ultimately be the trend of the modern stage. Men and women would choose a certain class of work, and essay no other, and the ultimate result would be perfection from long-continued practice merged in one aim.
[Advert for Fascination from The New York Mirror (8 September, 1888 - p.10). Click image for readable version.]
New-York Daily Tribune (9 September, 1888 - p.16)
Manager Rosenquest begins the regular fall and winter season at the Fourteenth Street Theatre tomorrow night, when Miss Cora Tanner will be seen for the first time in this city in a society drama called “Fascination,” which was written especially for her by Robert Buchanan, the author of “Alone in London.” The play was first produced last season at Colonel Sinn’s Theatre in Brooklyn, where Miss Tanner made an instant hit in the dual roles of Lady Madge Slashton and Charles Marlowe and established herself as an actress of unusual and varied ability. The parts are well suited to her style of work, and as Charles Marlowe, the handsome young actress is said to present a decidedly picturesque appearance. Her manager, Colonel Sinn, has selected the supporting company with great care, and, as the comedy is not a one-part play, they will have an excellent opportunity to display their ability.
The New York Times (11 September, 1888)
“Fascination” is a play written by Mr. Robert Buchanan. Its heroine (who, strangely, is also its hero) is Lady Madge Slashton, a healthy English girl, who can row a boat, ride a horse across country, and smoke a cigarette as well as her brother Sam, who is a pretty good hand at all these things, too. Lady Madge loves her cousin, Lord Islay (pronounced Eye-lay) and he loves her, too, but he is a fool of a fellow and proud of being seen at the opera with beautiful Mrs. Delamere, and of being looked upon by all the other fellows as the favourite guest at her handsome little dinner parties where the cards are brought in after the coffee and cigars, and the stakes are high. Now Mrs. Delamere is, of course, a common adventuress, not wholly to blame for her misdoing, poor thing, because she is in the toils of a villainous French Count, highly esteemed at the best clubs in London and an honored visitor in the homes of the élite, who, of course, is not a French Count at all, but just a plain thief, and a very stupid one, unworthy of his calling, as it turns out.
Well, Lady Madge Slashton learns of Lord Islay’s infatuation, (from the French Count, of course,) and, although her heart is breaking, (as she remarks,) she determines to see for herself whether her perjured lover has a spark of manhood left and, incidentally, to learn just what sort of a woman has made him a victim. To accomplish her purpose she transforms herself into a pale, plump, impertinent boy, who talks with a nasal drawl and who looks as if he had led a dissipated life from his infancy. The name of this youth is Charles Marlowe, and he is supposed to be a new arrival in London from the island of Jamaica. In the company of Sam Slashton, already mentioned, he appears in the lobby at the opera and also at one of beautiful Mrs. Delamere’s dinner parties, where he performs wonders. Beautiful Mrs. Delamere, who, like the fascinating lady with no two eyes of the same color in Victor Hugo’s “L’Homme qui Rit.” is evidently fond of extraordinary persons, is quite fascinated with him. He completely outwits the wicked French Count, and he precipitates a very lively row, in which Lord Islay figures in a very bad light.
Then, next day, most of the persons in the play, good and bad, assemble in the house where Lady Madge Slashton is visiting in London, and Lady Madge having learned that Islay’s heart has always been hers and hers alone, forgives him. The adventuress is let off easily, having confessed herself an instrument employed by the foreign thief to ruin Islay, the thief himself is brought up to a short turn, and an era of happiness dawns.
Having put Mr. Buchanan’s plot into narrative form it is scarcely worth while to devote many words to a discussion of the qualities of his play. Its incidents are preposterous, and its text, at best, is commonplace. The device of dressing a woman in male attire and making her the central figure in a resort where ladies address a casual male visitor as “dear,” where the men burn tobacco at will, and most of the conventional restrictions of society are disregarded, is not a happy one. Although the bill of the play at the Fourteenth-Street Theatre, last evening, bore the shrewd announcement that Mr. Buchanan’s new “society comedy” is a satire on the English aristocracy, the play bears internal evidences that its author intended it to be taken with perfect seriousness. The “satire” on British aristocracy seems to be embodied chiefly by an aged peer of the realm who carouses and drinks too much wine for his old head, when he is supposed to be chained to his seat in the House of Lords, and a clergyman of the Established Church who is a clown and a willing liar. Both of these sketches are amusing travesties if the spectator will divest himself of prejudice and regard them from the right point of view. In the hands of two capable actors (Mr. Lionel Blande was the Duke of Hurlingham and Mr. Charles Coote the Rev. Mr. Colley) these parts were of more value in entertaining the large audience last night than any other in the play.
Miss Cora Tanner was the star of the occasion, and she is an exceedingly attractive young lady. She looks much better in the robes of Lady Madge than in the coats and trousers of Charles Marlowe. She has an easy address and a sufficient mastery of the small technicalities of the stage to carry a part of ordinary difficulty successfully. There is not an actress in the world, and there never was one, who could make the principal rôle in Mr. Buchanan’s play continuously sympathetic and agreeable. Miss Tanner certainly deserves to be commended for her courage. Her facility in depicting the frolic and dash of an ardent, joyous nature is not particularly noticeable. Her description of a boat race and a fox hunt, in the first act, did not awaken any enthusiasm. But in the quieter portions of the drama, when Lady Madge was her own proper self, Miss Tanner pleased by the naturalness of her manner and the influence of her engaging personality. Many good parts in English comedy lie well within her range.
The general performance was not even. Miss Eleanor Carey portrayed the adventuress very well, and Mr. P. A. Anderson acted the adventurer very badly. Such a coarse, repulsive man never would be tolerated even among people of loose character who aimed to preserve in their intercourse some semblance of polite manners. Mr. W. F. Blande treated a dull, overdrawn sketch in a gentleman-like way. The scenery was new and showy. Two interiors were quite handsome enough for the stage of any theatre.
New-York Daily Tribune (11 September, 1888 - p.4)
CORA TANNER IN “FASCINATION.”
Cora Tanner made her first appearance in New-York last night at the Fourteenth Street Theatre, in Robert Buchanan’s new comedy “Fascination.” The house was well filled and the applause signified approval. The play is a daring experiment. It certainly merits the author’s claim of unconventionality, but this unconventionality is furnished by incidents and situations that are utterly impossible in life. The story is woven around Lady Madge Slashton, a bright, beautiful and fearless girl, who is betrothed to Lord Islay. The latter treats his engagement in a matter-of-fact way, while he amuses himself with a fascinating adventuress named Mrs. Delamere, who ultimately succeeds in enchanting Islay completely. Lady Madge, of course, has her eyes opened to the truth in time, but instead of pining away and nourishing a vain regret, she disguises herself in her brother’s attire and is presumed to become so metamorphosed that her false lover not only fails to recognize her, but becomes so jealous of her attentions to Mrs. Delamere that he is nearly involved in a duel with her. Even the keen perception of Mrs. Delamere, a woman of the world, is so blinded by the disguise that she actually falls in love with Lady Madge herself. A series of complications follows, but Lady Madge triumphs in the end, defeating her enemies and winning back her repentant lover. In the construction of the play Mr. Buchanan’s hand lacked the boldness of his ideas. There was too much uncertain wandering and unnecessary explanation before a situation was arrived at. The treatment, too, was a little crude, but there were two or three quiet bits of action that in a great measure made one overlook the rough edges. The comedy element was thoroughly English, much of it being quaint and pleasing.
Plainly the purpose of the various complications was to give Miss Tanner full scope for the display of emotional power and versatility. She has talent, and a great deal of it; she is sincere, and she has a charming presence and graceful bearing, all of which go to make a successful actress; but she lacks experience. This was evidenced in the earlier scenes, where she failed to fully catch the true spirit of the rolicking English girl. When it came to the portrayal of the womanly feelings, however, there was a sympathetic tone, a sincerity of power and clearness of understanding that entitle her to a place in the front ranks of her profession. The supporting company were all above the average and a few of them were really clever.
The Evening Post (New York) (11 September, 1888 - p.8)
MUSIC AND DRAMA.
“Fascination,” a machine-made melodrama of a coarse and hackneyed type, written by Robert Buchanan, and impudently called upon the playbills a satire upon the English aristocracy, was produced in the Fourteenth Street Theatre last evening for the purpose of displaying Miss Cora Tanner, an actress better known in Brooklyn than New York, in the character of a vulgarized Lady Gay Spanker, who masquerades as a man, and is a libel upon womanhood generally. The story is constructed upon the most antiquated of models, and deals chiefly with those violent travesties of life which are accepted as entirely veracious in country districts. There is a comic curate, who is an outrage on common sense and decency, an idiotic swell, a foreign sharper, a Hebrew money-lender, a scarlet woman or two, a fast young guardsman, and a host of other lay figures as old as the scenes in which they are made to move. Miss Tanner is an actress of limited experience and third-rate ability, who works hard, but is utterly unable to lend even a semblance of plausibility to the preposterous situations in which she is placed. Some of these, it may be added, are objectionable on other grounds than those of their absurdity. The mounting of the piece is fairly good, and Miss Eleanor Carey, Mr. Charles Coote, Mr. Edward Bell, and Mr. P. A. Anderson acquit themselves acceptably in the parts assigned to them. The other performers are mostly sad examples of misdirected ambition, but the piece is beyond all chance of redemption even by the best of acting. It was plainly intended to go on the road, and the sooner it is sent upon its mission, the better for this neighborhood.
The Daily Graphic (New York) (11 September, 1888)
RECORD OF AMUSEMENTS.
CORA TANNER IN “FASCINATION” AT THE
FOURTEENTH STREET THEATRE.
The regular season at this popular house opened last night with Miss Cora Tanner in “Fascination.” The house was full to overflowing, with an audience that unmistakably enjoyed itself.
“Fascination” is announced as a society comedy by Robert Buchanan, and is further declared to be a satire on the English aristocracy. It tells a story of the true love of a young person named Lady Madge Slashton.
As is to be expected, the course of Lady Madge’s young affections is not smooth. She is devoted to boating and hunting, sports that she describes with much elaboration and vigor in the first act, but her sweetheart, Lord Islet, finds the entertainments of London more fascinating than country sports or his lady loves society. He comes in in the first act wearing his uniform and with a heart torn by conflicting emotions, because he likes Lady Madge when he sees her and feels badly about the way he has been going it in town with a professional beauty named Mrs. Delamere. His repentance is much stimulated by Lady Madge’s brother, a stout, young man who exercises a censorship over him, which is far from softened by the fact that he has been lending the erring lover money. Just in the nick of time, for the entertainment of the audience, but a fearfully inopportune moment for Lord Isley, this very Mrs. Delamere comes floating by at the back of the stage, in a boat of very superior mechanical construction, surrounded by song and lesser professional beauties. Of course, as soon as she sees Lord Isley she springs out of the boat and comes down to the footlights to claim his acquaintance. He finds her presence more embarrassing than an innocent man would have done, and in fact before the curtain falls contrives to give himself away pretty thoroughly.
Lady Madge makes her brother swear to stand by her in anything she does to try to fathom her lover’s true character, and then the curtain falls. In the next act the brother’s sense of the sacredness of an oath is severely attested, for Lady Madge’s little game is neither more nor less than to dress herself in men’s clothes and go out to look for the elephant in the haunts most frequented by Lord Isley. In full evening attire and under the name of Charles Marlowe she intercepts that gentleman and the siren who is playing the mischief with her heart’s happiness in the lobby at the opera, and contrives an introduction to them both. The scene now changes to the interior of Mrs. Delamere’s house. The occasion is a dinner party to which Mrs. Marlowe (otherwise Lady Madge) has skilfully contrived to get himself invited. Here he exercises great energy and activity. He mashes Mrs. Delamere and raises a lively row with Lord Isley, and gets into the track of the villain, a certain French count who has been hovering around on every occasion since the curtain first went up. The Count is himself an aspirant to the hand of Lady Madge; it is her that has been working a racket to estrange the two young lovers all the time. The scene of the next act is a house that Lady Madge has taken in London. She is there in her own proper person, but she relapses into the costumes and accents of Mr. Charles Marlowe with a rapidity and frequency that is bewildering. She contrives, with the assistance of the first comedienne, who is playing a young curate, to gather the entire dramatis persona around her. She meets Mrs. Delamere as Marlowe, and contrives by flirting with her to get out of her the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Lord Isley. This verocious story goes to show that the nobleman’s heart is still true to Poll, even though he has been making presents to a professional beauty. Lord Isley arrives, and in consideration of his repentance, his good looks and the fact that he never did anything very bad after all is forgiven. The villain is informed of his real name and that the French police are after him, these facts having been wormed out of the Delamere by young Marlowe, and the Delamere herself after is read a little lecture on propriety by the versatile heroine and is sent off, left first entrance, bowed with repentance and good resolves. Now of course the two lovers, all troubles past, fall on each other’s bosoms and are happy forevermore.
Miss Tanner is a fine, buxom, handsome girl, and she knows a good deal about the details of stage technique. The part she plays is that marked by unity and consistent development of character, but it is in a way picturesque, and she invests it with interest. She contrives to give some illusion of masculinity to Mr. Marlowe, which it must be admitted is a striking instance of the triumph of mind over matter.
Her company is a very good one. Eleanor Carey plays Rose Delamere, and though she lacks smoothness sometimes she is often charming and always handsome. Edward Bell makes Lord Isley an attractive young fellow, and Mr. Charles Coote by very great skill gives a part that is in itself farcical a semblance of possibility, and makes it very good comedy. The piece is beautifully put on, some of the changes of scene being so skilfully managed as to rouse the house to wild enthusiasm.
There is a novelty about the piece that, together with its skilful use of theatrical device, will probably insure it a successful run.
The Evening Telegram (New York) (11 September, 1888)
MUSIC AND THE DRAMA.
Cora Tanner In “Fascination” At the
Fourteenth Street Theatre.
In his writings for the stage Robert Buchanan is a chronic if not a constitutional violator of the law of probability. Witness his “Alone in London,” and his adapted dramatization of a French story and play, which A. M. Palmer produced here as “Partners.”
Witness again “Fascination,” which Colonel Sinn brought out at the Fourteenth Street Theatre last night.
Here we have a high bred and presumably pure young girl, who has had all the advantages of education and of association with people of wealth, refinement, culture and position, masquerading as a callow boy in places which none but vicious persons should visit simply to find out whether her fiancee is really false to her, and to also get a glimpse of the representative of the demi-monde who has fascinated him.
It is not at all probable that an honest young woman would do anything of the sort, and for the very good reason that if she did her identity would be discovered and she would be disgraced for life.
According to Mr. Buchanan, however, Lady Madge Slashton, his heroine, disguises herself as Charles Marlow, a juvenile from Jamaica, and visits the apartments of Rosa Delamere, where she meets, among others, Lord Islay, an officer in the English army, and her fiancee, Count La Grange, and adventurer, who is scheming to win her hand and her fortune, and, although the only change in her appearance is that made by her wearing the conventional evening suit worn by gentlemen instead of the more confiding garments worn by ladies, neither of these ardent swains recognizes in this swashbuckling masquerader the object of his adoration.
English army officers and Continental adventurers must be dolts if Mr. Buchanan correctly pictures them.
But Mr. Buchanan writes for the millions who don’t think, not for the hundreds who do; that is why he is financially successful as an author.
The audience which sat through the performance last evening liked “Fascination.” The first act went very slow, but that was the fault of the actors. It is strange that no matter how many rehearsals actors have, or no matter how many times they may play a part on the road, in Philadelphia, Pullman, San Francisco or Hoboken, bring them to New York and they are as nervous on the night of the first performance here as a timid girl delivering the valedictory at the end of her collegiate course. Beginning with the second act and continuing until the close of the play the actors recovered spirit and the performance rattled on merrily.
Miss Tanner is a stately young woman, with a superb figure and a commanding presence. She looked well as Lady Madge, but she did not evince as much feeling in that sympathetic role as she did in that of the reckless young rake, Charles. Her costumes were all in exquisite taste, except the one shown in the last act.
Her supporting company contains several excellent actors. One of the best of them is Edward Bell, who has been hidden in the forests of one-night stands too long. He is manly and graceful in appearance, and he played Lord Islay with an easy grace that was captivating. P. A. Anderson was the Count La Grange, and he did so well with that altogether improbable character that he won a genuinely hearty recall.
Charles Coote, as the meek and mild curate, was charmingly natural and his character picture was on a par with that of Lionel Bland’s Duke of Hurlingham and W. F. Blande’s Captain Vane. Eleanor Carey was called upon to play one of those disagreeable roles in which she is seen at her best. She did Rosa Delamere so well that the audience sympathized with the vanquished adventuress and brought her back after she had spoken her last line and made her exit.
Equally worthy of praise with the company is the scenic adornments of the play. The river and valley view of the first act is a dream in rusticity. The drawing room in the succeeding act is exceedingly handsome, and the interior set of the third act is restful to the eye.
“Fascination” will be played at the Fourteenth street for seven weeks, and it will be seen by large audiences.
New York Herald (11 September, 1888 - p.5)
THEY “LIKED IT VERY MUCH.”
Robert Buchanan’s “Fascination” at
the Fourteenth Street Theatre.
Lady Madge Slashton ....................................
Charles Marlowe ...........................................} Cora Tanner
Duchess of Hurlingham ................................... Mrs. Isabella Waldron
Rosa Delamere .............................................. Miss Eleanor Carey
Arabella Armhurst ......................................... Miss Maggie Deane
Dottie Destrange ........................................... Miss Lucy Escott
Connie Wilmore ............................................ Miss Georgie Waldron
Mrs. Isaacson ............................................... Miss Clara Knowles
Adele ........................................................... Miss Helen Ten Broeck
Duke of Hurlingham ...................................... Mr. Lionel Bland
Lord Islay ..................................................... Mr. Edward Bell
The Hon. Sam Slashton ................................ Mr. Augustus Cook
Count La Grange .......................................... Mr. P. A. Anderson
Captain Vane ................................................ Mr. W. F. Blande
Earle Sparks ................................................. Mr. George T. Gadden, Jr
Rev. Mr. Colley ............................................ Mr. Charles Coote
Mr. Isaacson ................................................ Mr. Norman Campbell
Mirliton ........................................................ Mr. W. Gilmore
The audiences at the Fourteenth Street Theatre for some time to come will resemble the Rev. Mr. Colley in “Fascination” and “Like it so much.”
Mr. Robert Buchanan’s comedy, which was first seen in America at the Park Theatre in Brooklyn a year ago last May, was acted for the first time in New York last night by Miss Cora Tanner and a support which included among the principals the majority of those who were like her in the original cast.
“Fascination,” which was fully written of in these columns at the time, scored a success on its first performance. This success was repeated on its revival last evening. The large audience went away repeating Mr. Colley’s catch phrase and really did like it very much.
As was originally pointed out, the chief defect of the interesting, well constructed and in the main most cleverly written comedy, lies in the improbability of its story. It is hard to imagine an aristocratic young English woman assuming male attire to find out whether her lover is faithless, still harder to believe that she could thus disguised face him and others who know her well undetected, and, hardest of all, to understand how she could make a woman, her rival, believe she was a man and cause that woman to feel the beginning of a passion for her. As for the last two points, they may do in the Forest of Arden, but hardly seem natural in England of today.
It may be well to state, also, that it is hardly likely that a young Englishman of noble family and otherwise apparently of excellent breeding would tell a woman that she lied, and especially before her guests as Lord Islay does, and that Lady Madge Slashton when pretending to be young Charles Marlowe carried things with a perilously high hand. However, “Fascination” has in several minor points been improved since its first appearance and is undoubtedly a thorough popular success. The emotional portions of the comedy are, as was stated after the original production, not as good as the comedy. That is excellent.
Handsome Miss Tanner plays her part extremely well, though she seems not very much broken up at first by the story of her lover’s perfidy. As the youth Marlowe, in looks, action and speech she is inimitable, and well deserved the recall she had after her first exit in that character. A manly, sympathetic young fellow did Mr. Edward Bell again make of Lord Islay, but he should not forget that an English officer never wears his uniform except on duty or on public occasions and does away with his crimson ribbon worn across his shirt with his dress suit. So should Mr. P. A. Anderson, who makes such an excellent villain as Count Lagrange and speaks his French so perfectly. It is not likely that either of them had a right to any such insignia of an order.
Mr. Anderson was honored with a recall, as was Miss Eleanor Carey, who looked and acted well as Mrs. Delamere. In emotion, however, she was a little ineffective at times. In their old parts of the Duke and the Rev. Colley, Messrs. Lionel Bland and Mr. Charles Coote were inimitable. The latter kept the audience in roars. Mr. Augustus Cook repeated the good impression he formerly made as the Honorable Sam, and Mr. W. F. Blande was capital as Captain Vane.
The stage settings were excellent, the interiors being very pretty, and there were calls before the curtain for Miss Tanner after the first of the three acts, and for all the principals after the second one.
The New York Times (13 September, 1888)
Col. Sinn bows to the popular verdict and advertises “Fascination” as “an improbable comedy.” Thus the spectator is informed at the start what point of view to take while witnessing the performance of Miss Cora Tanner and her associates at the Fourteenth-Street Theatre. The play has thus far drawn large audiences.
The New York Times (14 September, 1888)
Buchanan’s improbable, but interesting, comedy of “Fascination,” with Miss Cora Tanner in a double rôle, is drawing large audiences to the Fourteenth-Street Theatre, who appear willing to be amused without criticising too closely the work of the author of the play.
Col. Sinn threatens to enjoin the presentation of “The Paymaster” at the Star next week, because he had secured the time for his own company in “Lost in London.” Mr. Moss promptly canceled the engagement when he found that Miss Cora Tanner was not to be in the cast of “Lost in London,” and offered Col. Sinn time for his attraction in Albany. Both parties have placed the matter in the hands of attorneys, and there is likely to be quite a theatrical war over the subject.
The Daily Graphic (New York) (15 September, 1888)
POPULARITY OF “FASCINATION.”
“Fascination” seems to have won and is keeping its audiences at the Fourteenth Street Theatre, which is crowded nightly. The play and the performance have been received favorably on all sides. The real objection to the play was manifest. It might safely have been worshipped without breaking the fourth commandment in its unlikeness to anything which occurs on this footstool. This fact, however, as we have seen, has not detracted from the interest of the play nor from the skill of the performers. It appears that the management has seen it in this light; and boldly taking the bull by the horns, now advertises it as “an improbable comedy” by Robert Buchanan. Probability or even possibility is not a necessary element in artistic enjoyment. Fairy tales are not only food for babies, but frequently offer charming entertainments to all classes and are often successful on the stage. When improbability does disconcert is when a portion of a play or story is accepted as of the probable kind and the rest is found not accordant with that theory. Miss Tanner’s managers have done a wise thing in concluding to settle the minds of her audiences at the start off by letting them know that the entertainment offered them pictures life under highly improbable conditions. This is calculated to free their minds so that they can properly enjoy the vivacity, the originality and the great theatrical skill of the play.
The New York Mirror (15 September, 1888 - p.1)
NYM CRINKLE’S FEUILLETON
Mr. Buchanan’s Play of Fascination—An
Elegant Patchwork with a Tawdry
Ensemble—The Playwright’s Fallacy
in Using Woman Out of her Domain—
How Miss Tanner Acts the Leading Part—
. . .
Mr. Robert Buchanan’s Fascination invites serious examination by its comedy pretentiousness, and it ought to get it.
I do not think the play reflects any great credit upon its author. Assuredly if we measure it by any rational standards it will fall short.
The only objection that can be reasonably made against such measurement is that the play is not worth it.
To this I have but one answer—all public exhibitions demand it.
Mr. Buchanan has made a play as women make a bed quilt or an album. The fibre is not his. We detect in the brightest patches the pelisse of Lady Gay and the dead leaves of Camille.
It is elegant patchwork, indeed, with the stitches showing, and, viewed as a quilt, its colors are somewhat coarse and garish, and its ensemble tawdry.
The tendency to obtrude the adventuress and mix up the habits and amours of the wanton with the graces of innocence—a tendency recently shown in a number of English plays and not avoided even in so clever a book as “Robert Elsmere”—suggests the sources at which our popular writers prefer to study life.
Mrs. Langtry, who, whatever else she may have done, started out with a social air of refinement, ended here by imitating the coarseness of the demi monde. She apparently wanted to show in As In a Looking Glass that she could be momentarily as unsavory as the rest of them.
What fascination there may be in the flaunting airs of a cigarette-smoking, champagne-swilling representative of the demi monde to decent people I can not see. But it is plain enough that the poverty-struck dramatist selects these types simply because they furnish him with the contrasts he needs ready made, and because he believes his weak types of virtue will stand out more clearly if they are yoked in some way to a cheap and nasty bohemianism.
Mr. Buchanan’s play undertakes to do what the reason tells cannot creditably be done. That is, it undertakes to stir up incompatible elements in one bucketful of bathos.
Lady Madge Slashton claims to be a well-bred young person who is in love with the dissolute Lord Islay. She discovers that he has a somewhat unscrupulous mistress in the dashing Rosa Delamere. In order to satisfy herself that his heart is at bottom true to Poll, and in order to win him squarely back by her virtues, her innocence and her refinement, she assumes the disguise of a fast young man about town, follows him to his mistress’ parlor, mingles with the young and old lovers and adventurers, makes love to Rosa Delamere herself, carries on the farce of fast life, swells about, drinks champagne, gambles, bets, makes masculine jokes and insults her own lover, without once having her sex suspected or having her face slapped.
It is a very old device of the stage to excite a certain order of visual interest by putting a well rounded woman into masculine attire. In some of the dramas, like Shakespeare’s, that are written with poetic license, the device is a pretty one. In any attempt to deal with modern life the expedient defeats itself. There is no illusion in it.
Masculinity does not reside in garments. It is physiological, and goes down to the bones. So does femininity, and no women whose sex was well determined ever succeeded for one moment in deceiving the eye by putting on trousers. No tailor’s art can overcome the pelvic peculiarity. No strut of demeanor can make her less knock kneed. No histrionism can enable her to sing bass. No coaching can make her put up her hands from the shoulder.
But every theatric fiction that uses her out of her domain, assumes that she has only to take off her skirts in order to deceive “the very elect.”
The playwright coaxes himself that by taking off her clothes she hides her womanhood. The audience chuckle and understand that she betrays it—that is, she betrays it to everybody but the people in the play, and they, poor fools, listen to her soprano and believe it is baritone; they see her mincing steps and admire the manliness; they see her use her arms as if she were making tea biscuit, and they mistake her for a prize-fighter.
This is what Miss Cora Tanner does when, as Lady Madge, she assumes the disguise of a young rake and stalks, or tries to stalk, into the gilded salon of Rosa Delamere.
Miss Tanner is compelled, in order to carry the point of the play, to exhibit a familiarity with fast life and a knowledge of the habits and customs of the masculine animal that are wholly incompatible with the character, the associations, the tastes, the knowledge and the instincts of the kind of young woman she claims to be. She is represented on the one hand as having masculine presence enough to win from Rosa Delamere, to whom she makes love, and who is unquestionably an expert in masculinity, a special difference. On the other hand she is represented at the same time as such a fresh and sappy young sprig that her own lover advises them to “put him to bed.”
Her mannish demeanor amounts simply to an impertinence that no man would put up with from one of his own sex, and her amorous airs have a lack of virility that would disgust the other sex.
These are organic difficulties that must beset any handsome and well-developed woman who insists upon singing bass with a soprano voice, and there is no earthly reason why we should wink at them in a pretentious modern comedy, except the reason that influences men when they go to see a song and dance “artist.”
One feels continually at such a play as is Fascination that it doesn’t reflect but retracts life. It shuffles the distinctions in social and moral values. Its relations are incongruous. Good taste repels the easy familiarity of Lady Madge with the conditions of life in a woman’s salon whose avocation is that of loving, just as it refused to accept the conduct of Lord Islay when he calls the hostess a liar.
If there are any such social distinctions as good, better, best, Robert Buchanan muddles them.
Lord Islay is the man of the world, whose conduct is not worth portraying. It is too cheap and common to be of special interest. He loves one woman and keeps another as his mistress. This is paraded and palliated. The moral excuse is, they all do it, and this is no excuse in art, however potent it may be in the cafe.
Miss Tanner did not impress me with her quality so much as her quantity, and even that was confined to her corporeal beauty. It struck me that her comedy was blandly good. She beamed into it all like a Harvest moon into a shallow pond, without rippling the surface.
A speech is given her in the first act in imitation of that everlasting Lady Gay Spanker’s horsy tirade. But it utterly failed to have any point, and as for the love, the sincerity and the passion that influenced her in her exploit, she kept them out of sight for the clever tricks and mimicry of her male disguise.
Miss Eleanor Carey was far less conspicuous and far more uneventful in the role of Rosa Delamere. Certainly she animated a very disagreeable character with discretion and without offense. The introduction of a young vicar of the sappiest make up, for no other purpose than to get a laugh at the incongruity of his situations is cheap enough. His low comedy is long drawn out on one string.
I could not help contrasting the tittilating effect of this artificial comedy with the virile effect produced by Frederick Warde on Saturday night in that antique subject, The Gladiator, and creditably reshaped without destroying its old lines or color under the title of Galba. Stately and formal as much of it was, there was, nevertheless, an earnest tragic force to it that caught the popular ear and eye. ...
The New York Mirror (15 September, 1888 - p.2)
FOURTEENTH STREET THEATRE—FASCINATION.
Lady Madge Slashton ....................................
Charles Marlowe ...........................................} Cora Tanner
Duchess of Hurlingham ................................... Mrs. Isabella Waldron
Rosa Delamere .............................................. Eleanor Carey
Arabella Armhurst ......................................... Maggie Deane
Dottie Destrange ........................................... Lucy Escott
Duke of Hurlingham ...................................... Lionel Bland
Lord Islay ..................................................... Edward Bell
The Hon. Sam Slashton ................................ Augustus Cook
Count La Grange .......................................... P. A. Anderson
Captain Vane ................................................ W. F. Blande
Rev. Mr. Colley ............................................ Charles Coote
The above cast comprises the more important characters of the twenty-one employed in the representation of Robert Buchanan’s play Fascination, performed for the first time in this city at the Fourteenth Street Theatre on Monday night. The piece had been experimented with in Brooklyn about one year and a half ago and its reception then induced Col. Sinn to provide the present elaborate metropolitan production in the interests of his handsome wife and bright, particular star, Cora Tanner. The event stimulated curiosity, and the large audience in attendance included many well-known first- nighters.
Fascination is described as a society comedy and is put forth by the author as a satire on the English aristocracy. It is extravagant in theme and occasionally farcical in treatment, wherefore Mr. Buchanan strains the limitations of the word in calling it a comedy, while it possesses not enough dignity and importance to warrant its designation as a satire. Nevertheless, Fascination is frequently amusing and clever in language, and it admirably serves the purpose of placing Miss Tanner conspicuously and agreeably in the centre of a series of somewhat odd and entertaining social pictures.
The story is improbable. Lady Madge Slashton, the heroine, is a sort of Lady Gay Spanker. In the first act, which is the exterior view of a seat on the Thames, she makes her entrance in a boat, victor in a race with one of her admirers, a mild-mannered and amusing young clergyman, who is a cross between the curate in The Private Secretary and the parson in The Jilt. Lady Madge speedily makes known that she is an athletic and daring young person, with a taste for all sorts of healthy and lively sports. She is engaged to Lord Islay, a good-looking guardsman, who in turn, is fascinated, not altogether against his will, by an adventuress named Rosa Delamere. Rosa and some of her friends are picnicking in the vicinity, and Lady Madge discovers the infatuation of her fiancé for this woman. She determines to rescue him from his danger by resort to strategy. She dons male attire, and under the name of Charles Marlowe, without arousing the suspicions of anybody, proceeds to cut Lord Islay out in the fickle affection of Rosa. The latter falls in love with Charles and the plot works itself out according to design. Finally, in the third act, Lord Islay demonstrates to Lady Madge’s complete satisfaction that his heart has always been hers, whatever his words and acts may have denoted to the contrary; Rosa is found out to have been the catspaw of a bogus Italian Count, who is discovered to be a thief, and so the Lord and the Lady are brought to the point where the vista discloses matrimony and felicity forever after.
The idea that a young woman, however athletic and however courageous, could transform herself into a man and deceive people who knew her intimately into believing her to be such, or that a miscellaneous crowd of reputable and disreputable persons could meet on a social level in town and country, is apt to be considered, even by the unsophisticated observer, as highly improbable. Mr. Buchanan’s notions of the habits and the etiquette of polite life in his own country are the coinage of a vivid imagination. Fascination cannot be accepted as a satire upon the British aristocracy, or on anything else, for truth is the very essence of satire and Fascination is not truthful. The dialogue, albeit prolific in insular colloquialism and the patter of fast life and consequently incomprehensible to a good many American ears, is generally bright and brisk. This is the more enjoyable from the fact that the piece has more talk than action. Lady Madge’s fight for Lord Islay is the less deserving of sympathy from the fact that he is not worth the trouble.
Miss Tanner is a handsome woman and an intelligent and experienced actress. For some time past her services have been claimed by melodrama, and that no doubt is the reason why her work in the field of comedy lacks lightness of touch. In the first act she was a hearty, breezy, jolly out of doors girl, and in the second she wore a dress suit, drawled, and lounged like a little man. She was at her best in the comedy scenes, which she acted with vivacity and spirit. A woman never appears altogether to advantage in modern male attire, but Miss Tanner came as near to it as possible. She was frequently applauded.
Charles Coote was quietly and quaintly amusing as the Rev. Mr. Colley. The docility, watery amativeness and colorless amiability which marked the characterization were deliciously enjoyable. Miss Carey gave a sprightly performance of the frail, but not fragile Rosa. Lionel Bland was capital as a merry and baldheaded Duke, who sighs for the fleshpots of Egypt, and makes acquaintance with their contents when his Duchess is not around. Edward Bell made Islay as good looking and weak minded as the part required, and Augustus Cook was unaffectedly honest as Lady Madge’s brother Sam. Mr Anderson, an excellent actor, who is associated most in the popular mind with Italian dialect characters, set on foot the villainly in the story and diligently prosecuted it, with an impressive goatee and ditto accent, as the rascal La Grange. W. F. Blande made a clever “bit” of the reticent and scrupulously inert Captain Vane. The other characters were in capable hands. The piece is handsomely provided in the matter of scenery.