Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/310

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The Drama, 1860-1918

The fact is, American drama has always been so completely shadowing the newspaper on one hand or catering to Broadway on the other that any example of imaginative freshness with fanciful idea would appeal instantly to a sated public. It is on such psychology that Eleanor Gates's The Poor Little Rich Girl (Hudson Theatre, 21 January, 1913) succeeded—a literary feat in fantastic story-telling which possessed Barriësque qualities without Barrie s craftsmanship as a writer for the theatre. Is it fair to say that it was one of those happy accidents which so often happen in the theatre? For Miss Gates, in her next piece, We Are Seven (Maxine Elliott Theatre, 24 December, 1913), convinced the critics that she was happier as a story teller than as a playwright. Her position in the theatre has yet to be won.

From the theatre direct, however, there has come a play which succeeded because of its universal dramatic and picturesque appeal and which, were the repertory idea again to become a fashion, should place it prominently in a list of permanent American products—George Hazelton and J. H. Benrimo's The Yellow Jacket (4 November, 1912), an imaginative creation of real worth, far exceeding anything that Hazelton had ever done before, and defying imitation by Benrimo, who built The Willow Tree (Cohan and Harris Theatre, 6 March, 1917) upon it. It convinces the most unhopeful critic that what the American theatre needs is not so much material as an intellectual, a spiritual unity about it which will encourage such writers as Hazelton, Austin Strong, whose The Toymaker of Nüremburg (1907) was simple and poetic, Edward Childs Carpenter, whose TheCinderella Man (17 January, 1916) was wholesome, and whose The Pipes of Pan (6 November, 1917) impressed one with its literary quality, to create rather than to build with an eye on what the manager conceives the public wants.

For it is this lack of guiding principle, this aloofness of dramatic effort, this isolation of the craft, which is quite as wrong as is the idea of a commercial theatre governing the art product. It is surprising, in view of these limitations, how excellently the American dramatist has progressed. We cannot, at present, put by the side of the school of British playwrights who grew in unity against the Censor, who grew in intellectual