Acting with a Vengeance by W. Sapte, Jun.
Methinks 'tis a very remarkable "sign
Of the times"—I must own this expression's not mine—
How in these latter days
The theatrical craze
Has obtained such a hold on all grades of society;
And this love of the stage
Is a mark of the age
Which is not in accord with my views of propriety.
'Twas only last week a young lady I know
Invited the world in a body to go
(On a wretched wet day)
To a dull matinée,
When she made her débût in the "Hunchback," as Julia;
A part which to act is
A thing of long practice,
Surely ne'er was conceit more absurd or unrulier.
How can amateur actors commence at the top
Of the Thespian Tree, and avoid coming flop?
It would seem very queer
If a young volunteer
Should begin by commanding the Royal Horse Artillery,
Or if babies should bilk
Their allowance of milk
And insist upon sucking from bottles of Sillery.
So it mostly occurs
That an amateur errs,
And gets chaffed for possessing less skill than audacity,
When he tackles a part
Without learning the art,
And exposes his natural want of capacity—
And what is more painful, his lack of sagacity.
I'm bound to admit
I was rather once bit
By the mania myself in a mild sort of way;
Paid a half-guinea fee
To the Zeus A.D.C.,
And found myself cast for a part in a play.
I think 'twas the Bandit Brothers of Brighton—
Or Eastbourne, or Yarmouth—
Or Hastings, or Barmouth—
I forget for the moment which place was the right 'un—
But I know there's a chief,
Who at last comes to grief,
After numerous blood-curdling adventures and rescues,
Such as frequently writers in modern burlesque use.
Now the part of the chief
Who comes to grief
Was secured by a hot-tempered youth, named O'Keefe;
In spite of the jealousy
Of two other fellows, he
Cast himself as the leader, without hesitation,
And resented remarks with extreme indignation.
So the others were fain
Their rage to contain,
And one e'en accepted the part which was reckoned
To be, on the whole, the one that ranked second.
The local Town Hall was engaged, which would hold
Some three hundred people—the tickets were sold—
The purchasers wishing to help the good charity
We played for; some adding
Donations, and gladding
The treasurer's heart to a state of hilarity.
Were to take place before
The débût on the boards of the Zeus A.D.C.—
For the members were earnest as earnest could be.
Well, the opening one
Was rather good fun,
For we found that the practice of vigorous fighting
'Twixt Bandits and Coastguards was rather exciting;
But later, you know
It got rather slow
For those who were "supers" to constantly go
And lay the same victims perpetually low,
With time after time the identical blow.
But Mr. O'Keefe,
Who played the chief,
Had a time less monotonous, greatly, than ours,
And always kept up the rehearsals for hours.
Still he wasn't quite happy,
And often got snappy,
For Richard McEwen, who'd wanted to play
The part of the chief, and used often to say
He'd have done it himself in a much better way,
Was by no means contented, thus feeling superior
To play "seconds" to Keefe, his decided inferior.
So he did what he could
To annoy the great K.,
In a scandalous way,
All the stage-manager's proper directions,
And refused to accept either hints or corrections.
Now in the third act, the time being night,
The scene on the beach, there's a hand-to-hand fight
'Twixt the Bandit chief
(That's Mr. O'Keefe)
And the coastguard captain, Mr. McEwen,
In which 'tis agreed
That the first shall succeed,
While the latter comes in for no end of a hewing.
But Richard McEwen was strong and quick,
And a very good hand with the single-stick,
And he didn't see why
He should quietly die
By the sword of a man, much less clever at fencing.
So he would give a twist
Of his muscular wrist,
Which disarmed the brave Bandit soon after commencing.
The rage of O'Keefe
For McEwen would do it at ev'ry rehearsal;
The manager vowed
It could not be allowed,
And the company's protests became universal.
That he thought the piece gained
By his showing his skill—how could anyone doubt it?
"There's more credit," said he,
"To the chief than there'd be
If he killed a weak chap who knew nothing about it."
And he went on to say that O'Keefe wasn't fit
For the part of the chief, and could not fence a bit.
O'Keefe in reply,
Gave McEwen the lie,
And vowed he would kick him
Or otherwise "lick" him,
While his eyes flashed like those of a tiger or leopard. He
Induced us to think
That his rival must shrink
From placing himself in such obvious jeopardy.
He did so—and afterwards things all went smoothly,
While O'Keefe played his part in a manner quite Booth-ly,
Or, as somebody said, without meaning to gush,
He'd have put Henry Irving himself to the blush.
As soon as the public performance drew nigh
The local excitement ran awfully high,
For reports had been spread
(By the club, be it said)
That something uncommonly good was expected,
And so on the day
We turned people away
From the doors, where quite early a crowd had collected.
Well, the overture over, the drama began,
But, thanks to our casual property man,
The rise of the curtain
Was somewhat uncertain.
In fact, for five minutes or so the thing stuck—
Which was terrible luck!
And affected the play,
At least, so I should say,
For the opening act went decidedly tamely,
Though O'Keefe and his bandits stuck to it most gamely.
There was not much applause,
Which perhaps was because
Our audience was certainly very genteel,
And thought it was rude folks should show what they feel;
Still, we should have preferred
Some "bravos!" to have heard.
And two or three gentlemen seemingly napping,
We thought might have better employed themselves clapping.
If first act went badly
The second quite dragged;
The actors worked sadly,
All interest flagged.
And though very often we caught people laughing,
The occasions they chose made us think they were chaffing.
Next came act the third, in which the O'Keefe
Was to be very great as the terrible chief,
For in it he killed
His rival, and spilled
The gore of the coastguards all over the coast,
And eloped with a bride,
Who beheld him with pride
Though she could herself of a coronet boast.
As a matter of fact
We hoped that this act
Would redeem in a measure the ones that preceded,
And it opened so well,
And O'Keefe looked so swell,
That at last we obtained the encouragement needed.
And then came the fight.
No one thought, on that night,
That McEwen would dare try his vile tour de force;
And the battle began
On the well-rehearsed plan,
While the supers made ready to bear off his corse.
Whatever induced him to do it? Who knows?
He says 'twas an accident. Well, I suppose,
When a man tells you that,
A denial too flat
Might perhaps lead to arguments, even to blows.
But, be that as it may,
The O'Keefe couldn't slay
His opponent, whose wrist
All at once gave a twist,
And the brave bandit's weapon went flying away!
The supers stood spellbound, as over the stage
Strode the maddened O'Keefe; in a frenzy of rage
He picked up his sword, and then went for his foe
In terrible earnest.
Oh, that was the sternest,
Most truculent fight
Ever fought in the sight
Of innocent people, who shouted "Bravo!"
Little knowing how soon the real blood was to flow.
Thank Heaven, the swords
Were as blunt as two boards!
Otherwise the result would have been simply frightful.
As it was, every whack
Make the deuce of a crack,
While the audience considered it clearly delightful.
With th' applause at its height,
This most bloodthirsty fight,
By a blow from the skilful McEwen was ended.
O'Keefe fell as if dead,
With a gash on his head;
The supers rushed forward, the curtain descended.
Talk about clapping!
And walking-stick rapping!
While even the gentlemen formerly napping,
"Bravoed" themselves hoarse
With the whole of their force,
And made their fat palms quite tender with slapping.
"O'Keefe! and McEwen!" was shouted by all,
Why the deuce don't they come and acknowledge the call?
Then some people said
"That blow on the head—
Was it part of the play?—or"—ah, see, in the hall
A youth—he's a member, as that ribbon shows—
See! to Doctor Pomander he stealthily goes—
To the doctor, who sat
With his coat and his hat
Just under his seat, that he need not delay
If a patient should send to fetch him away;
But who never expected to find in the hall
A patient—and much less a bandit—at all!
Takes the place of the row,
And people talk low
And ask "Shall they go?"
When before the dropped curtain there comes with a bow
The stage-manager suave,
With a countenance grave,
To announce that although there's nought serious the matter,
(Here applause and some chatter)
Still, in the late fight
The wrong man beat the right,
And that therefore the show was at end for the night.
Thus the bandit chief
Came duly to grief,
Though not in the way that the author intended,
And as for his head
Ere he went home to bed,
The doctor had seen that 'twas properly mended.
This, friends, was the end of the drama for me,
And for most, I believe, of the Zeus A.D.C.,
Whose need of success
May indeed have been less
Than that usually obtained by such clubs and societies;
But be that as it may,
I have e'er from that day
Placed amateur acting among th' improprieties.