Manager / Director:
Harvey Bradley Dodworth
Play With Music
3 January 2013
“Original Music by W.C. Levy, author of Punchinello.”
“Niblo’s Garden – Arrah-na-Pogue.
New dramas, like new books and new men, obtain notoriety and excite curiosity, if they do not always secure success, by their fame being heralded in advance of their appearance. The drama ‘Arrah-na-Pogue,’ by Dion Boucicault, which was produced, for the first time in America, at Niblo’s theatre last night, was introduced to us with all the advantages of foreign criticism the most favorable and success the most unprecedented which perhaps any drama of modern times has enjoyed. Its production in London called out unqualified praise from the critics there, and we have now an opportunity of pronouncing upon the validity of their judgment. Let us premise by saying that the task of constructing a drama which appears to depend materially for its success upon sensational effects, and yet in which the story is so well told that these illusive accessories may be dispensed with, and still leave the plot and incidents invested with an absorbing interest, is no easy one. This task, we think, has been mainly accomplished in the present instance. No doubt the effective scenery, the constant recurrence of incidents which touch the sympathies and captivate the heart of the audience, are calculated to carry this piece through with a flattering éclat; but, apart from all these outside influences, which often prevail in works of inferior merit, there is a force in this drama which, although it is undoubtedly immensely increased by the auxiliaries of stage effects, is not wholly dependent upon them. The title of the play is strange to many ears. The custom of fosterage, which is common in many countries of Europe, is regarded in Ireland alone, perhaps, as sacred. The children who are nursed at the same breast, though not related by blood, are esteemed almost as much as brothers and sisters, as if one mother bore them; and the love which foster children cherish for each other is often as enduring and faithful, whatever be the difference in rank, as if they were the offspring of the same parents. The heroine of this play, Arrah Meelish, is the foster sister of one of the principal characters, Beamish MacCoul [sic], a leader in the Irish rebellion of 1798, in which so many of the dominant spirits of Ireland became martyrs, and which will be always memorable for the savage cruelty with which the government persecuted all who participated in it, from the peer to the peasant. The foster brother of Arrah was cast into prison as a rebel, and his friends conceived a plan to rescue him; but how to convey their plans to the captive was a difficulty which was only overcome by his foster sister volunteering to visit him in prison, carrying in her mouth a piece of paper containing the plans for escape, which, upon kissing him, she passed from her mouth to his. Hence the name attached to her of ‘Arrah-na-Pogue’ – the latter word in the Irish language meaning a kiss. This incident, however, forms no part of the present drama, except that it is related there. So much for the origin of the name. The story can be told in brief. It is composed of one of the many episodes of which the period in which it was laid was fruitful. Its leading characters are an Irish refugee seeking a dangerous shelter in his own country previous to his flight to France; a county Wicklow car driver, known as ‘Shaun the Post,’ in whom are combined all the characteristics of the Irish peasant – love, courage and devotion to a friend, even unto death; Arrah Meelish, the fond and faithful betrothed maiden, willing to risk her life, or, what is still dearer, her reputation, to save her foster brother, Beamish McCoul, who is hunted down by the soldiery and the spies of the government. Shaun the Post is her accepted lover, yet even to him she does not reveal the fact that her foster brother is concealed in her cottage. The fugitive is betrothed to Miss Fanny Power, a young lady under the guardianship of Colonel Bagenal O’Grady, who is a suitor for her hand. The concealment of Beamish in the cottage of Arrah excites the jealousy of Miss Power, and she consents to become the wife of her guardian. Feeny, a British spy and a ‘process server,’ names abhorred in Ireland, is an unsuccessful suitor of Arrah, and consequently a bitter hater of Shaun, whom through vengeance he accuses of robbing him of a sum of money which he illegally collected from the confiscated estates of Beamish McCoul, and which the latter made him disgorge by the persuasive eloquence of half a dozen ugly looking weapons in the hands of as many brave followers. A portion of the money thus recovered from the scoundrel Feeny, Beamish places in the hands of Arrah, his foster sister, which Feeny, by an adroit scheme, gets possession of, and charges his rival, Shaun, with having stolen. Shaun, rather than expose the fact that Beamish is in the country, and concealed in Arrah’s cottage, declares that he has stolen the money, and accepts his fate, in order to save the fugitive chieftain and preserve the name of his betrothed bride from suspicion. If the rebel hero did not at once give himself up to the authorities, to save the life of his faithful follower and obtain a pardon for his offences, and if Miss Power were not relieved of her suspicions, and at the same time her engagement to her guardian, and if Shaun were not pardoned and reunited to his faithful Arrah, the story would have an unhappy ending, which stories told upon the stage, except through the medium of tragedy, in order to be popular, never ought to have. But all these things do happen, and the termination of the piece is quite pleasant, even the incident – which is perhaps the pleasantest of all – the tragic end of the rascal Feeny, who is pitched over a precipice by Shaun while he is endeavoring to obstruct the latter’s escape from the tower in which he was confined, before Shaun heard the good news of his pardon. This plot is worked out, of course, with numerous incidents, more or less striking, not necessary to be detailed here. The judgment with which they have been introduced by the author and developed by the actors can best be appreciated by seeing the play, and we do not desire to spoil the enjoyment of our readers by anticipating effects and excellences which would only deteriorate by description.
The drama is represented in three acts, of which the first is decidedly the best – the finale being especially effective and natural, indeed, the best scene in the piece. The first scenes of the second act have more strength, more fine points, and admit of better acting than the closing scene in the court room, which is too long, and becomes wearisome, apart altogether from its dissimilarity to anything of the kind ever witnessed in real life. The third act is, we think, the weakest of all, probably because the incidents depend so much upon machinery for the scenic effects, and neither ropes nor pulleys worked well last night. The scenery of the tower and sea, and the general effect of the escape of Shaun by climbing up the face of the tower will be very good, when everything works well in the carpenter’s gallery. The scenery throughout is exceedingly fine; the valley, lake and round tower of Glendalough being a faithful picture of that landscape. The groupings, too, in the tableaux were skillfully managed. The costumes might be improved a little, inasmuch as Irish peasants do not wear amber-colored dressing gowns, nor was a Wicklow carman ever seen in a cloak so like that of a pilgrim, or the gray domino of a masquerader, as Mr. Glenney wore in the first act. The cast was very acceptable. Mr. Glenney’s Shaun was well sustained. His voice is good and his acting not exaggerated. But there may have been some who had seen the Colleen Bawn who might ask themselves why it was necessary to import an actor for this part. Miss Orton in some scenes was excellent as Arrah, although at times her utterances were indistinct. However, her pathos in those passages where the tenderness of the Irish peasant girl’s nature displays itself in the hour of trial for those she loves – as in the prison scene – could hardly be excelled. The success of Arrah-na-Pogue, we think, may be regarded, on the whole, as established; but it requires some paring down and a good deal more rapidity in the representation. Its reception last night was most enthusiastic, by a house crowded to its utmost capacity. It will be repeated for many nights to come. The expense of bringing out the play must have been very heavy; but the management will no doubt be remunerated by a continuance of full houses.”