Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 13

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half a dozen branch roads leading from the Vera Cruz line to beautiful towns in the country. He took the punched envelope back to Pittsburg as a memento of the cheapest journey he ever took.

 

 

CHAPTER XIII.

 

IN MEXICAN THEATERS.

 

Mexico does not know how a nation mourned for one Virginius like McCullough; has never witnessed Barrett's Cassius and David Garrick, or been thrilled with O'Neill's Monte Cristo; has never looked on Mary Anderson's exquisite form and cold, unsympathetic acting; has missed Margaret Mather's insipid simper and Kate Castleton's fascinating wickedness; is wholly unconscious of Little Lotta's wondrous kick and Minnie Palmer's broadness; has never seen pretty Minnie Maddern's "In Spite of All," and a mother of fifty odd years successfully transformed into a child of nine—Fanchon; is in blissful ignorance of "Pinafore" and "Mikado," and yet she lives and has theaters.

The most fashionable theater in Mexico is the National. President Diaz always attends, and of course the elite follow suit. It is well to say the president always attends, for there is little else to go to. Bull-fights, theaters, and driving are all the pleasures of Mexican life; the president gives no receptions or dinners, and entertains no Thursday or Saturday afternoon callers, so before death entered his family circle he was at the theater almost every night.

No paid advertising is done by theaters in the papers. Once in a while they, with the exception of the National, send around bills of their coming plays, accompanied by two tickets. For this they get a week's advertising; cheap rates, eh? Besides this they have native artists who select the most horrible scene to depict in water colors on cloth and hang at the entrance; these "cartels" are changed necessarily with every play, as billboards are in the States, and some of them are most ludicrous and horrible in the extreme. The Saturday I reached Mexico one of the theaters had on its boards a play, the cartel of which represented the crucifixion. What the play was could not be ascertained. Sunday is the most fashionable theater day. Every person who can possibly collect together enough money goes, from the poor, naked peon to the Spanish millionaire. On Monday all amusement houses are closed and many are only open every other day throughout the entire week; they are not at all particular about fulfilling engagements. A play may be billed for a certain night and on arrival there the servant will politely inform you it is postponed until manana (to-morrow), and all you can do is to go back home and await their pleasure.

The National Theater is a fine building with accommodations for 4,500 persons. The first entrance is a wide open space faced with mammoth pillars. Going up the steps you enter, through a heavily draped doorway, the vestibule or hall. Along the sides are racks where gentlemen and ladies deposit their wraps. The orchestra, or pit —the fashionable quarter in American theaters—is known as the "Lunetas." The seats are straight-backed, leather-covered chairs of ancient shape and most uncomfortable style. They were evidently fashioned more for durability than beauty, being made of very heavy, unpainted wood. Narrow passageways intersect each other, and wooden benches are placed along the seats to serve as foot-rests. Down in front of the stage is the orchestra, flanked at either end by long benches running lengthwise of the stage. Boxes, six stories in height, look out upon the stage, and balconies circle the room. The balconies are divided into compartments holding eight persons. Common, straight chairs, with large mirrors on the door and walls, are the only furnishment. The "Lunetas" command seventy-five cents to $1.50; Palcos (boxes) $2 a chair, and the Galeria (the sixth row of balconies) twenty-five cents.

At 8.30 the orchestra strikes up, people come in and find their places, and about 9 o'clock the curtain goes up and silence reigns; the enthusiasm which is manifested at bull-fights is absent here. Everything is accepted and witnessed with an air of boredom and martyrdom that is quite pathetic. More time is spent gazing around at the audience than at the players. Everybody carries opera-glasses, and makes good use of them.

Without doubt you would like to know how they dress; the men—who always come first, you know—wear handsome suits, displaying immaculate shirt-front and collar that would make Eastern dudes turn green with enyy. Generally the suit is entirely black, yet some wear light pantaloons. High silk opera-hats and a large display of jewelry finish the handsome Spanish man.

The ladies wear full dress, always light in color—pink, blue, pea green, white, etc.—trimmed with flowers, ribbons or handsome laces. The hair is arranged artistically, and the dresses are always cut very low, displaying neck and arms such as only Mexican women possess. Very handsome combs and pins generally grace the hair. Young girls sometimes wear flowers, but it is considered better taste to wear the artificial article, because the real are so cheap, and the former, unsurpassed by nature, command very high prices. A Mexican woman would not be dressed without the expensive fan which she flits before her face with exquisite grace. The prevailing style is a point lace fan, which adds beauty to the face and, at the same time, does not hide it from beholders, for, let it be whispered, Mexican girls are fond of being looked at. A lady considers it the highest compliment she can receive for a man to stare at her for a long time, and the men come quite up to the point of being extremely complimentary.

The prompter's box is fixed in front of the stage, and his voice is not only heard continually above that of the actors, but his candle and hands are always visible, and he often takes time to peep out and take a survey of the audience; but the Mexicans do not notice him any more than the footlights. A bell, which sounds as heavy as a church bell, rings and the curtain falls. Well, it is a sight! The managers farm out the drop-curtain to business men by the square. The enterprising advertiser has painted on a piece of cloth his place of business and curious signs. One shows a man riding a fat pig, and from out the man's mouth comes the word "Carne" (beef). How they make beef out of pork is unknown. Saloons take up the most prominent place. A house bearing the sign "Pulque"' had the side knocked out, displaying a barrel which filled the building from floor to roof. Cupid was astride a barrel, sipping pulque from an immense schooner, forgetting in his enjoyment his usual occupation of softening other people's brains with love's wine. One fat, bald-headed old fellow had gone to sleep with a generous smile on his open countenance, while from a large glass which he held in his hand the drink was running down his coat sleeve. Another fellow, equally fat and equally bald, was gazing at a full champagne glass in drunken adoration. These are a few of the curious inducements for people to patronize certain stores. The signs are only pinned on, and as the curtain comes tumbling down they fly, work and twist in the most comical style.

Naturally the spectators would grow tired gazing at such a thing, so between acts the ladies visit one another, and the men rise in their seats, put on their hats, turn their backs toward the stage, and survey the people, English fashion. They smoke their cigarettes, chat to one another, and discuss the women. The cow- bell rings again, people commence to embrace and kiss, and when the third bell rings, hats are off, cigarettes extinguished, and every one in place in time to see the curtain, after being down for thirty minutes, rise.

Theaters close anywhere between 12.30 and three o'clock. The audience applaud very little, unless some one is murdered artistically. If a few feel like applauding other fine points, they are quickly silenced by the thousands of hisses which issue from all quarters of the house, and a Mexican hiss has no equal in the world. Ladies do not applaud, never look pleased or interested, but sit like so many statues, calmly and stupidly indifferent. After the play every one who can afford it goes to some restaurant for refreshments. Mexicans are not easily pleased with plays; and the only time they enjoy themselves is when they have a "Zarzuela"—a cross between a comic opera and a drama. Then they forget to hiss, and enter into the spirit of the play with as much vim as an American.

Some Mexicans are quite famous as play-writers. When a new piece is ready for the boards a house is rented, and it is presented in fine style, the occasion being a sort of social gathering. Being invited, the other night, to attend one, I concluded to see what it was like. The author had one of his plays translated into English—the name now forgotten—which has met with great success in the States. I thought this would be endurable. As I entered with some ladies an usher in full dress and white kid gloves presented each of us with beautiful bouquets, and offering his arm to the ladies, escorted the party to the box with the air and manner of a prince. Once in the box, he gave us little programmes, went out, and locked the door. Interested, I watched the people as they came in and arranged themselves comfortably. Much amused and even disconcerted we were when we found hundreds of glasses turned our way and held there long and steadily, as they saw we were "greengoes," or foreigners, and with feminine timidity we thanked our lucky stars we had ventured forth without a bonnet—as no woman ever wears a hat to the theater here—so that the difference would not have been more pronounced.

At last the curtain went up, and before the actress, who was sitting on a chair, crying, could issue one blubber, dozens of bouquets were flung at her feet. Not understanding the words the play seemed most absurd. Apparently the girl could not marry her lover because her mother had forbidden it, as another sister loved the same man, and as he did not reciprocate she was dying; the dying sister appeared but once, then in a nightdress, and soon afterward screamed heartily behind the scenes and was pronounced dead by the actors. The men and women cried continuously all the evening, and Americans dubbed the play "The Pocket-Handkerchief." Once, when the lover told his sweetheart he was going out to fight a duel with a dude with a big eyeglass, who had loved the dead girl, she fainted on his breast and he held her there, staggering beneath her weight, while he delivered a fifteen-minute eulogy. As she was about two feet taller and twice as heavy as he, the scene was most comical, particularly when she tried to double up to reach his shoulder, and forgot she had fainted and moved her hands repeatedly. But smothering our American mirth we looked on in sympathy. How it ended I cannot tell, for at 2 o'clock I started for home and the players were then weeping with as much vigor as when the curtain first rose.

The carvings and finishing of the National Theater are superb. It is surpassed by few in the States, but the walls are smeared and dirty—no curtains deck the boxes,

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