Monday, March 1, 2010

The Old Trouper - Archy and Mehitabel

The Old Trouper by Don Marquis is a masterpiece of characterization and embodies the spirit of the "Crushed Tragedian" down to the namedropping and melodramatic gesture.

Marquis (1878-1937) created the characters Archy and Mehitabel -- the latter a stray cat, the former a cockroach who typed by jumping on each key which is why there are no capitals or punctuation marks in the poems). Marquis supposedly found the typed pages on his desk the next day and published them.


i ran onto mehitabel again
last evening
she is inhabiting
a decayed trunk
which lies in an alley
in greenwich village
in company with the
most villainous tom cat
i have ever seen
but there is nothing
wrong about the association
archy she told me
it is merely a plutonic
and the thing can be
believed for the tom
looks like one of pluto s demons
it is a theatre trunk
archy mehitabel told me
and tom is an old theatre cat
he has given his life
to the theatre
he claims that richard
mansfield once
kicked him out of the way
and then cried because
he had done it and
petted him
and at another time
he says in a case
of emergency
he played a bloodhound
in a production of
uncle tom s cabin
the stage is not what it
used to be tom says
he puts his front paw
on his breast and says
they don t have it any more
they don t have it here
the old troupers are gone
there s nobody can troupe
any more
they are all amateurs nowadays
they haven t got it
there are only
five or six of us oldtime
troupers left
this generation does not know
what stage presence is
personality is what they lack
where would they get
the training my old friends
got in the stock companies
i knew mr booth very well
says tom
and a law should be passed
preventing anybody else
from ever playing
in any play he ever
played in
there was a trouper for you
i used to sit on his knee
and purr when i was
a kitten he used to tell me
how much he valued my opinion
finish is what they lack
and they haven t got it
and again he laid his paw
on his breast
i remember mr daly very
well too
i was with mr daly s company
for several years
there was art for you
there was team work
there was direction
they knew the theatre
and they all had it
for two years mr daly
would not ring up the curtain
unless i was in the
prompter s box
they are amateurs nowadays
rank amateurs all of them
for two seasons i played
the dog in joseph
jefferson s rip van winkle
it is true i never came
on the stage
but he knew i was just off
and it helped him
i would like to see
one of your modern
theatre cats
act a dog so well
that it would convince
a trouper like jo jefferson
but they haven t got it
they haven t got it
jo jefferson had it he had it
i come of a long line
of theatre cats
my grandfather was with forrest
he had it he was a real trouper
my grandfather said
he had a voice
that used to shake
the ferryboats
on the north river
once he lost his beard
and my grandfather
dropped from the
fly gallery and landed
under his chin
and played his beard
for the rest of the act
you don t see any theatre
cats that could do that
they haven t got it they
haven t got it
once i played the owl
in modjeska s production
of macbeth
i sat above the castle gate
in the murder scene
and made my yellow
eyes shine through the dusk
like an owl s eyes
modjeska was a real
trouper she knew how to pick
her support i would like
to see any of these modern
theatre cats play the owl s eyes
to modjeska s lady macbeth
but they haven t got it nowadays
they haven t got it
mehitabel he says
both our professions
are being ruined
by amateurs


Tom's Friends

Richard Mansfield
Anglo-American actor and producer, known for the beauty of his Shakespearean performances, his work in Gilbert & Sullivan, and his production of and starring role in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Resented by colleagues for his arrogance, short temper and duplicity.

Edwin Booth
Considered by critics and theatre historians the greatest actor of his time, according to some, of all times. Son of famed actor Junius Brutus Booth, he surpassed his father and inaugurated a more naturalistic and introspective acting style. He founded Booth's Theatre in Manhattan and became famous for his roles as Hamlet, Cardinal Richelieu and Iago.

Augustin Daly
Playwright and theatrical manager. His play Under the Gaslight featured a character tied to railroad tracks and saved in the nick of time by his sweetheart, starting a melodramatic trope we all now recognize. He ran a stock company, the "company of stars", and was famous for his attention to detail and paternalistic handling of his actors.

Joseph Jefferson
The most famous actor of the post-Civil War stage, he played the title role in Rip van Winkle for almost forty years. He also played the lead in Our American Cousin, the last play President Lincoln attended. Rip van Winkle's dog Wolf was a ghostly presence, never appearing on stage but frequently mentioned as a loyal and faithful friend.

Edwin Forrest
American actor of Shakespearean and popular roles, seen as a native challenger to British classical actors MacReady and Kean. He played Othello, Lear and MacBeth, but his Romantic heroes, such as Spartacus and Metamora, depended as much on his physical training and muscular presence as on classical artistry.

Helena Modjeska
Polish-born actress, known for her Shakespearean interpretations. Lady Macbeth was considered one of her finest roles, but audiences also knew her as Camille and as the star and producer of the first U.S. staging of Ibsen's A Doll's House.

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