THE PASSING SHOW.
THE CRITIC'S SATURDAY NIGHT.
It was a good thing in its day that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" should be published—especially in the editions which contained the documentary evidence of the "Key"—in order that the world might know what was possible, sentimentally as well as pragmatically, under the regime of slavery.
And now that a whole generation has arisen which has no knowledge of the great civil war or of the subtle causes that combined for its inception, it is again a good thing that the old story should be circulated in its many cheap editions and made vital and palpable in dramatic forms. The young people of to-day cannot take a little journey southward and see with their own eyes the life of the plantation, stand by the block in the slave mart and know for themselves what slave owners and slave traders of different temperaments do with chattel humanity.
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" has held its own at the theatre in almost unbroken popularity, but of recent years it has degenerated into a means for the exhibition of negro specialties, of dogs and donkeys, of mechanical contrivances and trick scenery.
The public therefore should bestow liberally its thanks and patronage upon Messrs. James W. Harkins, Jr. and Edwin Barbour, who have made a new, respectable and well-proportioned version, with which they have begun the Boston Theatre season. Of course all seven of the main incidents cannot be reproduced in the usual time of a performance, and the action has been condensed into the space of a year in place of the four or five allotted to it by Mrs. Stowe. But the principal personages all appear and their dispositions and relative influences are made as clear as if they had much more to say and do. The atmosphere has been skillfully preserved, and the spectator cannot help feeling the reality and truth which govern the various scenes of the home, the field, the cabin, the prayer-meeting and the steamboat.
The authors have refrained from exaggeration, wisely trusting the play itself, set out as closely as possible to Mrs. Stowe's chapters, would have all the necessary power to awaken anger and horror, to touch the gentler feelings, to teach and to persuade. Uncle Tom is no longer a senile simpleton, strong only in dull obstinacy; but he is a hale, vigorous man, a treasure of working ability, who might easily have done many violent things or fought his way to freedom, had not his pious principles restrained him; Topsy does not pervade the play, but stays in her proper place as an incidental experiment; Legree's brutality of nature and life are not forced into demoniac impossibility, nor is Eva distorted into a sickly, puling little prig. The individual personages, in a word, are treated as they should be, as the elements of one broad, picturesque, powerful whole, representing communities, states and conditions, not single people and odd cases.
The acting is excellent for good sense and reserve, throughout, although it does not seem to me that Mr. O'Neil quite catches the type of Marks, making him too deliberately grotesque and absurd. Mr. Barbour's Tom, Mr. Losee's Legree, Mr. Carner's Wilson, Miss Elmore's Topsy, Miss Fitzpatrick's Eva, Miss Endres's Marie St. Clare, and Miss Walters's Chloe are among the best impersonations and all the minor parts are intelligently taken.
The stage is simply set, but its suggestions are all sufficient, and the distant view of the icy Ohio is vastly better than the usual lumbering attempts to show Eliza crossing from hummock to hummock. The costumes are kept well within the limits of the period, the furniture is appropriate, and the small amount of singing is given its full value by the incisiveness of the higher negro voices and the solidity of the lower ones.