The American Play Will Be the Play of the Future Says Charles Klein The Inter Ocean 21 July 1907
CHARLES KLEIN is a dominant figure In our American drama as the author of The Music Master! and "The Lion and the Mouse," the two most successful plays In tlfts country within the last Ihree - years, whether, from American or foreign sources. " J -" ', " . "What" do you think of. our American . drama. Mr. "Klein?" I asked faim the other - day. "What of its future are w to equal ' or to surpass the drama of foreign coun- - tries?" -.':-..-"" - '-' . . "The future or our drama?" said Mr. Klein; i "it Is to be the" American play, by Americans, '. of Americans, for Americans. ... It is the marked tendency toward this achievement that Is the striking feature in our theater of today. It Is something we may both be glad - and proud Of. Tbe drama of this country Is, so to speak,' at present In Its swaddling clothes, because the drama in any nation is the Isst form of art to be Influenced and to develop. Material and physical expansion civilisation. Invention, . poetry, literature, these all come first, and then finally the . drama. We have reached that stage where the play la becoming better and better, and - where it la becoming characteristic of the life and thought and manners ot our owa times. - " . f "I believe In the American play, both la Its present aspect and Its future possibilities." Mr. Klein continued. "It Is evident that this country Is- rapidly becoming the center of the world stage.- Oar life Is full of dramatic material, and there, are already many young dramatists' capable or handling It to great advantage. With lime and experience they will become more potent. It was not many years ago when our managers bought practically . all their plays-In the European markets. There was a decided managerial prejudice against home-made wares, and not, I confess, without reason, for American plays were appallingly crade In conception and treatment, as compared with the technical masterpieces of the English, French,, and German stages. To attempt to compete with the foreign dramatists our own playwrights were forced to copy tne plays from abroad, to copy their style, their settings, to imitate their technique, and to writ .of another and artificial world, with which from experience and knowledge they were not actually familiar. "An imitation being always less virile than an original, our public preferred the Importations, for these, at least, were good plays, technically. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the French and British dramas succeeded because we had no good plays ct our own. That time Is passing. If It Is not already past. In the last five years managers (they must first be convinced before the p ub-lic can benefit) have learned that home plays, based on American ideas and life, can succeed, and succeed in large measure, not only critically, but can also please the managers' god, the box office." "It Is quite true that foreign, plays do score here-even today," said Mr. Klein, "but at least one reason for this is that we have not yet built up a drama 6f our own sufficient to supply the theatrical demand or to replace entirely the foreign output. And it lsalso a fact that a really'good play, with a broad and cosmopolitan appeal, will succeed In any country, but, nnfortunately, plays of this type are not common. We shall always have foreign, made plays succeed here and probably American plays succeed abroad, too, but I firmly believe that ten years from now, for example, a French success in New York will be as rare as a Broadway success now Is in Paris. We sre willing to accept foreign plays only when we have not instead plays of our own. . , . . "It is a' fact that every nation has its own llfcand Ideas, principles, and methods, and these naturally will be exploited consciously or unconsciously by the dramatists of that nation. Countries, as well as persons, have an individuality, a taste, a certain narrowness, ir you will, and even great plays, with a vital story of human emotion, will In derails reflect the nationality of the playwright. Other nations accepting the play because of Its big basic idea may therefore aoeept those details, characteristic of aDOther nation, not because they appreciate them, bat la spite of tbe fact that they do not. The people of tbe land of the play understand both the vitality of the play and Its details. There is a local color ln plays. "The English know we are a nation of hustlers and believers In the strenuous; perhaps they know this to their cost, but thty uo not sympathize with our life .cor adost Carleatare krlrh of Charles Kleta, aether at "The Ho a aad the Hoax." Ha methods for their own. No successful American ' business man, "If occasion demands, will think twice about doing. without his dinner, yet the average Englishman, no matter how busy be may be or how important are the matters In hand, will feel aggrieved ir he cannot cease from troubling scd enjoy his cup of afternoon tea. In fact, b won't do without it business may temporarily go to the dogs. To most or us the English aristocracy, with Its Dukes and Duchesses and' peers. Is a matter of second hand knowledge and of no great consequence. How can a play about people whose prototypes we know only by hearsay appeal to us vitally, and how can an .American play, characteristic of our people, be genuinely Enjoyed and understood on the Strand. . To the Frenchman the eternal Gallic triangle ct the husband, the lover, and the wife Is an everyday affair; "to us it Is essentially repugnant, -- - . - . , "These facta,, only generally and lightly suggested here, lead me to believe that the American people prefer to see a medium American play, which comes home to them, rather than a very good foreign drama, which has no appeal to the national idea. I think our theatera bear me out in this, for when one reflects on successful American plays, very, very few of them approach in technical construction the finished, magnificently "built plays of the best foreign playwrights. But our dramas are American, and that is what Americans want. When tbey can't get American thinsrs, they wilt- accept tbem from abroad, but this, as a rule doesn't last long, tecause Americans get to making the things for themselves better for their owa purposes and desires than can foreigners. To cite a purely material examplo ot what I mean, let me mention the automobile in Its American development. .. ' - : : "The themes of our American plays today-are clean and virile," Mr. Klein continued patriotically, "because we are a young nation. There Is no degeneracy here, aa there is abroad, ror degeneracy does not come with progress and growth, but only after centurlea cf achievement. Degeneracy In a nation always, begins at. the top. among the leisure classes. Here in the United States we scarcely have any leisure classes; tbey are too new at it, v , -:- .... . - "In consequence of our youth there Is, as I have said, a healthy tendency, with aa abandonment' among American playwrights of foreign thought and ideas. Themes for plays great ' characteristic plays are- all around us. America has establiahed her social Independence from Europe, and when the realisation or our national Isolation and security has come an awakening, not only along the lines ot our mechanical, industrial, and art resources, which are our very own, but aa regards the drama as well. - "My enthusiasm for the American play and tta future are not ao much for what It has accomplished, but for what It Is accomplishing In relation to what It can and will do in the future. Technically, we are crude; our faults are the faults of youth. No on la so wise as the college senior, but as we grow older we shall grow in the knowledge of dramatic technique. The American playwright must avoid- his tendency to youthful cock- sureness, for' it is a fact, that the -drama la the mcst difficult art in the-world. No man' can be a full born dramatist"; even the most-vital story, the best material, go for little unless they are cast-In the proper drama-' turglc lines and obey "essentially tbe rulea of an art Into which admission is gained only by ability, great love, experience, and much? pains.- .-...... .'.,.. "The youngdramatist, too. must not forgot' that intellect-is the keynote of an AmerW: -can life." warned Mr. Klein. "This is an intellectual age. ; Everything shows it. Our. arts are ' becoming more Intellectual; our sciences shew the same trend. Telegraphy-is becoming wireless; engineering is be-, coming more effective, because clever handa are busy In devising shorter cuts and simpler methods. 'Business success today means more brain work: than ever before. Literature' betrays the constant application of more Intellect,' as do the other arts.- The. drama must of necessity and by precedent-follow the other arts. ' . - . - - . ; "Qur American drama, now and In the fu-" ture, must be bsred In truth," Mr. Klein concluded. "There can be no disputing that assertion.! Unless a play has embodied in its heart something big aad vital It Is soon lost by the wayside, for without truth no play can gain lasting-success. And. granted that the playwright appreciates this, follows the rules of his art. and realises the wealth of dramatic material in our life, there can be ' bo sane doubt aa to tbe future of the American drama by Americans of Amerlcars for Americana." ROl COOPER MEGRVE. . New York. July li.