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no. 315

Saturday 27 September 2003

revived at the Empire Theatre, New York, 25 April 1910

a scene from Caste, Empire, New York, 1910

left to right, G.P. Huntley, Elsie Ferguson, Marie Tempest and Edwin Arden
in the revival of Caste, Empire Theatre, New York, 25 April 1910

(photo: unknown, New York, 1910)

Caste, the much revived three act comedy by T.W. Robertson, was first produced at the Prince of Wales's Theatre, London, on 6 April 1867, with Squire Bancroft as Captain Hawtree, George Honey as Eccles, John Hare as Sam Gerridge, Marie Wilton as Polly Eccles, and Lydia Foote as Esther Eccles. The first New York production of Caste took place at the Broadway Theatre, on 5 August 1867. The revival at the Empire Theatre, New York, 25 April 1910, was under the management of Charles Frohman. The cast was as follows:

The Hon. George D'Alroy Edwin Arden
Captain Hawtree Julian Royce
Eccles G.P. Huntley
Samuel Gerridge Graham Browne
Dixon Edgar Franklin
The Marquise de St. Maure Maud Milton
Polly Eccles Marie Tempest
Esther Eccles Elsie Ferguson

'The first production of Tom Robertson's comedy is traced back to 1867; the latest took place last week at the Empire [New York), and everybody voted Mr. Frohman a trump for providing his patrons with an unqualified treat.
'In spite of one of the most violet rain-storms of the year the house was crowded, and everything went to show that the audience to many of whom the piece was a novelty was so responsive to its humor as audiences of twenty-five or thirty years ago.
'A play of modern life that has outstripped two-score years can hardly be up to the fashion of to-day, any more than a bonnet of the vintage of the Civil War period. The little domestic story of the modernized Prince Charming, who in the person of the Hon. George D'Alroy throws caste to the wind and makes the daughter of a hopeless old inebriate and labor agitator his wife, is indeed little more than an infusion of weak tea to a sophisticated public which knows its Ibsen and Pinero.
'But that is not the point. Caste contains a character which, next to Falstaff, is probably the most humorous character in English comedy Eccles, the tragically-comic old drunkard, philosopher, denunciator of the aristocracy and upholder of the cause of labor.
'To be sure, there is Rip Van Winkle; but Rip has almost passed into mythology and does not touch us nearly with the poignancy as that of Eccles. There is this in common between the notably comedy triumvirate that whereas Falstaff is devoted to his sack and Rip his schnapps, so Eccles is willing to make a sincere try of drinking himself to death on gin within a year on the 2 a week which Captain Hawtree offers him.
'The performance was remarkable for the uniform excellence of the playing. Mr. Huntley is an admirable Eccles. Known to us only through his impersonations of more or less exaggerated London swells and a peculiar swagger which he attributes to them, he surprised his audience by the happy manner in which he denoted the characteristics of the role in which John Hare in England and John Dillon and others in this country have scored distinct triumphs. He gives the little cough of the man afflicted with the dry throat of the confirmed tippler and the deliberate mimetic movements of the type. His business of stuffing his pipe and lighting it consumed three or four minutes of silent pantomime, during which the audience hardly stirred.
'Miss Tempest was the embodiment of magnetic vivacity as the lively Polly, and enriched the role with some unique touches of interesting business, as where she gives her picturesque display of the parading horse guards. But with the same felicity was denoted by her the more serious phrases of Polly's temperament in the scenes with her sister, when Esther's imperious mother-in-law, the Marquise, humiliates her so cruelly in the second and third acts.
'Elsie Ferguson was sympathetic and interesting as Esther, and gave the light and heavy shadings of the character with nice discrimination. If she would only overcome a certain awkwardness of gait and learn to acquire a light and elegant stage walk! Edwin Arden played George D'Alroy in an excellent manner, and Graham Browne who last December did so well as the son in Israel gave the kind-hearted gasfitter, Samuel Gerridge, in all the phases of his humorous half-tones. Two of the best performances were the Captain Hawtree of Julian Royce and the Marquise of Maud Milton. Both were interpreted with the rarest display of appropriate color and shading.'
(The New York Dramatic Mirror, New York, Saturday, 7 May 1910, p.8a)

'Empire. This theatre closed Saturday night [4 June 1910]. The all-star cast in Caste has disbanded. During the last week G.P. Huntley, the Eccles of the production, was suffering from a mild case of typhoid fever. His role in the production was successfully assumed by Percival Aylmer.'
(The New York Dramatic Mirror, New York, Saturday, 11 June 1910, p.6b)

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Elsie Ferguson

Elsie Ferguson (1883-1961), American actress

(photo: Mishkin, New York, probably 1910)

'It is a well poised, well set, well filled head that Elsie Ferguson's shoulders carry. Moreover, it is one that gives no promise of becoming enlarged or inflated.
'Shed had come off the stage at the final curtain of Caste, in which she was the Esther Eccles, and gay Fritzi Scheff and her grave husband had come back and paid their compliments and departed. Miss Ferguson was slipping out of the black frock of Esther's premature widowhood into a smart Spring gown of girlish blue, and replaced the widow's bonnet with a blue turban. She and her husband [Fred Hoey] were nearly ready for their after-theatre bolt to their home at West End, N.J., when I asked her how a first year as a star looked in retrospect. Miss Ferguson answered with that thoughtful air that is part of her:
'"It seems very different than it would have done if we had carried out our plans and I had been a leading woman for three years before beginning to star. I have wondered whether that shouldn't have been better as far as self-discipline is concerned. If one is the leading woman in an organization her opinion is considered, and she has some weight. But if she is a star it has so much more. The attitude of every on, manager and public, is so different that I have wondered whether it wouldn't some time turn one's head. So I have disciplined myself about it. I have said, over and over again, 'You are no different in any respect than you were before,' to myself. And I shall keep on saying it."'
(The New York Dramatic Mirror, New York, Saturday, 14 May 1910, p.4a)

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John Culme, 2003