The Project Gutenberg ebook of Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis



Download 4.62 Mb.
Page22/44
Date conversion29.04.2016
Size4.62 Mb.
1   ...   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   ...   44

It's called 'His Mother's Heart,' and it's about a young man in college

who gets in with a lot of free-thinkers and boozers and everything, but

in the end his mother's influence----"
Juanita Haydock broke in with a derisive, "Oh rats, Raymie! Can the

mother's influence! I say let's give something with some class to it.

I bet we could get the rights to 'The Girl from Kankakee,' and that's a

real show. It ran for eleven months in New York!"


"That would be lots of fun, if it wouldn't cost too much," reflected

Vida.
Carol's was the only vote cast against "The Girl from Kankakee."

II

She disliked "The Girl from Kankakee" even more than she had expected.



It narrated the success of a farm-lassie in clearing her brother of a

charge of forgery. She became secretary to a New York millionaire and

social counselor to his wife; and after a well-conceived speech on the

discomfort of having money, she married his son.


There was also a humorous office-boy.
Carol discerned that both Juanita Haydock and Ella Stowbody wanted the

lead. She let Juanita have it. Juanita kissed her and in the exuberant

manner of a new star presented to the executive committee her theory,

"What we want in a play is humor and pep. There's where American

playwrights put it all over these darn old European glooms."
As selected by Carol and confirmed by the committee, the persons of the

play were:


John Grimm, a millionaire . . . . Guy Pollock

His wife. . . . . . . . . Miss Vida Sherwin

His son . . . . . . . . . Dr. Harvey Dillon

His business rival. . . . . . . Raymond T. Wutherspoon

Friend of Mrs. Grimm . . . . . . Miss Ella Stowbody

The girl from Kankakee . . . . . Mrs. Harold C. Haydock

Her brother. . . . . . . . Dr. Terence Gould

Her mother . . . . . . . . Mrs. David Dyer

Stenographer . . . . . . . . Miss Rita Simons

Office-boy . . . . . . . . Miss Myrtle Cass

Maid in the Grimms' home . . . . Mrs. W. P. Kennicott

Direction of Mrs. Kennicott


Among the minor lamentations was Maud Dyer's "Well of course I suppose I

look old enough to be Juanita's mother, even if Juanita is eight months

older than I am, but I don't know as I care to have everybody noticing

it and----"


Carol pleaded, "Oh, my DEAR! You two look exactly the same age. I chose

you because you have such a darling complexion, and you know with powder

and a white wig, anybody looks twice her age, and I want the mother to

be sweet, no matter who else is."


Ella Stowbody, the professional, perceiving that it was because of a

conspiracy of jealousy that she had been given a small part, alternated

between lofty amusement and Christian patience.
Carol hinted that the play would be improved by cutting, but as every

actor except Vida and Guy and herself wailed at the loss of a single

line, she was defeated. She told herself that, after all, a great deal

could be done with direction and settings.


Sam Clark had boastfully written about the dramatic association to his

schoolmate, Percy Bresnahan, president of the Velvet Motor Company

of Boston. Bresnahan sent a check for a hundred dollars; Sam added

twenty-five and brought the fund to Carol, fondly crying, "There!

That'll give you a start for putting the thing across swell!"
She rented the second floor of the city hall for two months. All through

the spring the association thrilled to its own talent in that dismal

room. They cleared out the bunting, ballot-boxes, handbills, legless

chairs. They attacked the stage. It was a simple-minded stage. It was

raised above the floor, and it did have a movable curtain, painted with

the advertisement of a druggist dead these ten years, but otherwise

it might not have been recognized as a stage. There were two

dressing-rooms, one for men, one for women, on either side. The

dressing-room doors were also the stage-entrances, opening from the

house, and many a citizen of Gopher Prairie had for his first glimpse of

romance the bare shoulders of the leading woman.
There were three sets of scenery: a woodland, a Poor Interior, and a

Rich Interior, the last also useful for railway stations, offices, and

as a background for the Swedish Quartette from Chicago. There were three

gradations of lighting: full on, half on, and entirely off.


This was the only theater in Gopher Prairie. It was known as the "op'ra

house." Once, strolling companies had used it for performances of "The

Two Orphans," and "Nellie the Beautiful Cloak Model," and "Othello" with

specialties between acts, but now the motion-pictures had ousted the

gipsy drama.
Carol intended to be furiously modern in constructing the office-set,

the drawing-room for Mr. Grimm, and the Humble Home near Kankakee.

It was the first time that any one in Gopher Prairie had been so

revolutionary as to use enclosed scenes with continuous side-walls. The

rooms in the op'ra house sets had separate wing-pieces for sides, which

simplified dramaturgy, as the villain could always get out of the hero's

way by walking out through the wall.
The inhabitants of the Humble Home were supposed to be amiable and

intelligent. Carol planned for them a simple set with warm color. She

could see the beginning of the play: all dark save the high settles and

the solid wooden table between them, which were to be illuminated by a

ray from offstage. The high light was a polished copper pot filled with

primroses. Less clearly she sketched the Grimm drawing-room as a series

of cool high white arches.
As to how she was to produce these effects she had no notion.
She discovered that, despite the enthusiastic young writers, the

drama was not half so native and close to the soil as motor cars and

telephones. She discovered that simple arts require sophisticated

training. She discovered that to produce one perfect stage-picture would

be as difficult as to turn all of Gopher Prairie into a Georgian garden.
She read all she could find regarding staging, she bought paint and

light wood; she borrowed furniture and drapes unscrupulously; she made

Kennicott turn carpenter. She collided with the problem of lighting.

Against the protest of Kennicott and Vida she mortgaged the association

by sending to Minneapolis for a baby spotlight, a strip light, a dimming

device, and blue and amber bulbs; and with the gloating rapture of

a born painter first turned loose among colors, she spent absorbed

evenings in grouping, dimming-painting with lights.


Only Kennicott, Guy, and Vida helped her. They speculated as to how

flats could be lashed together to form a wall; they hung crocus-yellow

curtains at the windows; they blacked the sheet-iron stove; they put on

aprons and swept. The rest of the association dropped into the theater

every evening, and were literary and superior. They had borrowed

Carol's manuals of play-production and had become extremely stagey in

vocabulary.
Juanita Haydock, Rita Simons, and Raymie Wutherspoon sat on a sawhorse,

watching Carol try to get the right position for a picture on the wall

in the first scene.
"I don't want to hand myself anything but I believe I'll give a swell

performance in this first act," confided Juanita. "I wish Carol wasn't

so bossy though. She doesn't understand clothes. I want to wear, oh,

a dandy dress I have--all scarlet--and I said to her, 'When I enter

wouldn't it knock their eyes out if I just stood there at the door in

this straight scarlet thing?' But she wouldn't let me."


Young Rita agreed, "She's so much taken up with her old details and

carpentering and everything that she can't see the picture as a whole.

Now I thought it would be lovely if we had an office-scene like the one

in 'Little, But Oh My!' Because I SAW that, in Duluth. But she simply

wouldn't listen at all."
Juanita sighed, "I wanted to give one speech like Ethel Barrymore would,

if she was in a play like this. (Harry and I heard her one time in

Minneapolis--we had dandy seats, in the orchestra--I just know I could

imitate her.) Carol didn't pay any attention to my suggestion. I don't

want to criticize but I guess Ethel knows more about acting than Carol

does!"
"Say, do you think Carol has the right dope about using a strip light

behind the fireplace in the second act? I told her I thought we ought to

use a bunch," offered Raymie. "And I suggested it would be lovely if we

used a cyclorama outside the window in the first act, and what do you

think she said? 'Yes, and it would be lovely to have Eleanora Duse play

the lead,' she said, 'and aside from the fact that it's evening in the

first act, you're a great technician,' she said. I must say I think she

was pretty sarcastic. I've been reading up, and I know I could build a

cyclorama, if she didn't want to run everything."


"Yes, and another thing, I think the entrance in the first act ought to

be L. U. E., not L. 3 E.," from Juanita.


"And why does she just use plain white tormenters?"
"What's a tormenter?" blurted Rita Simons.
The savants stared at her ignorance.

III


Carol did not resent their criticisms, she didn't very much resent

their sudden knowledge, so long as they let her make pictures. It was at

rehearsals that the quarrrels broke. No one understood that rehearsals

were as real engagements as bridge-games or sociables at the Episcopal

Church. They gaily came in half an hour late, or they vociferously came

in ten minutes early, and they were so hurt that they whispered about

resigning when Carol protested. They telephoned, "I don't think I'd

better come out; afraid the dampness might start my toothache," or

"Guess can't make it tonight; Dave wants me to sit in on a poker game."
When, after a month of labor, as many as nine-elevenths of the cast were

often present at a rehearsal; when most of them had learned their parts

and some of them spoke like human beings, Carol had a new shock in the

realization that Guy Pollock and herself were very bad actors, and that

Raymie Wutherspoon was a surprisingly good one. For all her visions

she could not control her voice, and she was bored by the fiftieth

repetition of her few lines as maid. Guy pulled his soft mustache,

looked self-conscious, and turned Mr. Grimm into a limp dummy. But

Raymie, as the villain, had no repressions. The tilt of his head was

full of character; his drawl was admirably vicious.


There was an evening when Carol hoped she was going to make a play; a

rehearsal during which Guy stopped looking abashed.


From that evening the play declined.
They were weary. "We know our parts well enough now; what's the use of

getting sick of them?" they complained. They began to skylark; to play

with the sacred lights; to giggle when Carol was trying to make the

sentimental Myrtle Cass into a humorous office-boy; to act everything

but "The Girl from Kankakee." After loafing through his proper part

Dr. Terry Gould had great applause for his burlesque of "Hamlet." Even

Raymie lost his simple faith, and tried to show that he could do a

vaudeville shuffle.


Carol turned on the company. "See here, I want this nonsense to stop.

We've simply got to get down to work."


Juanita Haydock led the mutiny: "Look here, Carol, don't be so bossy.

After all, we're doing this play principally for the fun of it, and if

we have fun out of a lot of monkey-shines, why then----"
"Ye-es," feebly.
"You said one time that folks in G. P. didn't get enough fun out of

life. And now we are having a circus, you want us to stop!"


Carol answered slowly: "I wonder if I can explain what I mean? It's the

difference between looking at the comic page and looking at Manet. I

want fun out of this, of course. Only----I don't think it would be

less fun, but more, to produce as perfect a play as we can." She was

curiously exalted; her voice was strained; she stared not at the company

but at the grotesques scrawled on the backs of wing-pieces by forgotten

stage-hands. "I wonder if you can understand the 'fun' of making a

beautiful thing, the pride and satisfaction of it, and the holiness!"


The company glanced doubtfully at one another. In Gopher Prairie it

is not good form to be holy except at a church, between ten-thirty and

twelve on Sunday.
"But if we want to do it, we've got to work; we must have

self-discipline."


They were at once amused and embarrassed. They did not want to affront

this mad woman. They backed off and tried to rehearse. Carol did not

hear Juanita, in front, protesting to Maud Dyer, "If she calls it fun

and holiness to sweat over her darned old play--well, I don't!"

IV

Carol attended the only professional play which came to Gopher Prairie



that spring. It was a "tent show, presenting snappy new dramas under

canvas." The hard-working actors doubled in brass, and took tickets;

and between acts sang about the moon in June, and sold Dr. Wintergreen's

Surefire Tonic for Ills of the Heart, Lungs, Kidneys, and Bowels. They

presented "Sunbonnet Nell: A Dramatic Comedy of the Ozarks," with J.

Witherbee Boothby wringing the soul by his resonant "Yuh ain't done

right by mah little gal, Mr. City Man, but yer a-goin' to find that back

in these-yere hills there's honest folks and good shots!"


The audience, on planks beneath the patched tent, admired Mr. Boothby's

beard and long rifle; stamped their feet in the dust at the spectacle

of his heroism; shouted when the comedian aped the City Lady's use of a

lorgnon by looking through a doughnut stuck on a fork; wept visibly over

Mr. Boothby's Little Gal Nell, who was also Mr. Boothby's legal wife

Pearl, and when the curtain went down, listened respectfully to Mr.

Boothby's lecture on Dr. Wintergreen's Tonic as a cure for tape-worms,

which he illustrated by horrible pallid objects curled in bottles of

yellowing alcohol.
Carol shook her head. "Juanita is right. I'm a fool. Holiness of the

drama! Bernard Shaw! The only trouble with 'The Girl from Kankakee' is

that it's too subtle for Gopher Prairie!"
She sought faith in spacious banal phrases, taken from books: "the

instinctive nobility of simple souls," "need only the opportunity, to

appreciate fine things," and "sturdy exponents of democracy." But these

optimisms did not sound so loud as the laughter of the audience at the

funny-man's line, "Yes, by heckelum, I'm a smart fella." She wanted to

give up the play, the dramatic association, the town. As she came out

of the tent and walked with Kennicott down the dusty spring street, she

peered at this straggling wooden village and felt that she could not

possibly stay here through all of tomorrow.
It was Miles Bjornstam who gave her strength--he and the fact that every

seat for "The Girl from Kankakee" had been sold.


Bjornstam was "keeping company" with Bea. Every night he was sitting on

the back steps. Once when Carol appeared he grumbled, "Hope you're going

to give this burg one good show. If you don't, reckon nobody ever will."

V

It was the great night; it was the night of the play. The two



dressing-rooms were swirling with actors, panting, twitchy pale. Del

Snafflin the barber, who was as much a professional as Ella, having once

gone on in a mob scene at a stock-company performance in Minneapolis,

was making them up, and showing his scorn for amateurs with, "Stand

still! For the love o' Mike, how do you expect me to get your eyelids

dark if you keep a-wigglin'?" The actors were beseeching, "Hey, Del, put

some red in my nostrils--you put some in Rita's--gee, you didn't hardly

do anything to my face."


They were enormously theatric. They examined Del's makeup box, they

sniffed the scent of grease-paint, every minute they ran out to peep

through the hole in the curtain, they came back to inspect their wigs

and costumes, they read on the whitewashed walls of the dressing-rooms

the pencil inscriptions: "The Flora Flanders Comedy Company," and "This

is a bum theater," and felt that they were companions of these vanished

troupers.
Carol, smart in maid's uniform, coaxed the temporary stage-hands to

finish setting the first act, wailed at Kennicott, the electrician, "Now

for heaven's sake remember the change in cue for the ambers in Act Two,"

slipped out to ask Dave Dyer, the ticket-taker, if he could get some

more chairs, warned the frightened Myrtle Cass to be sure to upset the

waste-basket when John Grimm called, "Here you, Reddy."


Del Snafflin's orchestra of piano, violin, and cornet began to tune up

and every one behind the magic line of the proscenic arch was frightened

into paralysis. Carol wavered to the hole in the curtain. There were so

many people out there, staring so hard----


In the second row she saw Miles Bjornstam, not with Bea but alone.

He really wanted to see the play! It was a good omen. Who could tell?

Perhaps this evening would convert Gopher Prairie to conscious beauty.
She darted into the women's dressing-room, roused Maud Dyer from her

fainting panic, pushed her to the wings, and ordered the curtain up.


It rose doubtfully, it staggered and trembled, but it did get up without

catching--this time. Then she realized that Kennicott had forgotten to

turn off the houselights. Some one out front was giggling.
She galloped round to the left wing, herself pulled the switch, looked

so ferociously at Kennicott that he quaked, and fled back.


Mrs. Dyer was creeping out on the half-darkened stage. The play was

begun.
And with that instant Carol realized that it was a bad play abominably

acted.
Encouraging them with lying smiles, she watched her work go to pieces.

The settings seemed flimsy, the lighting commonplace. She watched

Guy Pollock stammer and twist his mustache when he should have been a

bullying magnate; Vida Sherwin, as Grimm's timid wife, chatter at the

audience as though they were her class in high-school English; Juanita,

in the leading role, defy Mr. Grimm as though she were repeating a list

of things she had to buy at the grocery this morning; Ella Stowbody

remark "I'd like a cup of tea" as though she were reciting "Curfew Shall

Not Ring Tonight"; and Dr. Gould, making love to Rita Simons, squeak,

"My--my--you--are--a--won'erful--girl."


Myrtle Cass, as the office-boy, was so much pleased by the applause of

her relatives, then so much agitated by the remarks of Cy Bogart, in the

back row, in reference to her wearing trousers, that she could hardly

be got off the stage. Only Raymie was so unsociable as to devote himself

entirely to acting.
That she was right in her opinion of the play Carol was certain when

Miles Bjornstam went out after the first act, and did not come back.

VI

Between the second and third acts she called the company together,



and supplicated, "I want to know something, before we have a chance to

separate. Whether we're doing well or badly tonight, it is a beginning.

But will we take it as merely a beginning? How many of you will pledge

yourselves to start in with me, right away, tomorrow, and plan for

another play, to be given in September?"
They stared at her; they nodded at Juanita's protest: "I think

one's enough for a while. It's going elegant tonight, but another

play----Seems to me it'll be time enough to talk about that next fall.

Carol! I hope you don't mean to hint and suggest we're not doing fine

tonight? I'm sure the applause shows the audience think it's just

dandy!"
Then Carol knew how completely she had failed.


As the audience seeped out she heard B. J. Gougerling the banker say to

Howland the grocer, "Well, I think the folks did splendid; just as good

as professionals. But I don't care much for these plays. What I like is

a good movie, with auto accidents and hold-ups, and some git to it, and

not all this talky-talk."
Then Carol knew how certain she was to fail again.
She wearily did not blame them, company nor audience. Herself she blamed

for trying to carve intaglios in good wholesome jack-pine.


"It's the worst defeat of all. I'm beaten. By Main Street. 'I must go

on.' But I can't!"


She was not vastly encouraged by the Gopher Prairie Dauntless:
. . . would be impossible to distinguish among the actors when all gave

such fine account of themselves in difficult roles of this well-known

New York stage play. Guy Pollock as the old millionaire could not have

been bettered for his fine impersonation of the gruff old millionaire;

Mrs. Harry Haydock as the young lady from the West who so easily showed

the New York four-flushers where they got off was a vision of loveliness

and with fine stage presence. Miss Vida Sherwin the ever popular teacher

in our high school pleased as Mrs. Grimm, Dr. Gould was well suited in

the role of young lover--girls you better look out, remember the doc is a

bachelor. The local Four Hundred also report that he is a great hand at

shaking the light fantastic tootsies in the dance. As the stenographer

Rita Simons was pretty as a picture, and Miss Ella Stowbody's long and

intensive study of the drama and kindred arts in Eastern schools was

seen in the fine finish of her part.


. . . to no one is greater credit to be given than to Mrs. Will Kennicott

on whose capable shoulders fell the burden of directing.

"So kindly," Carol mused, "so well meant, so neighborly--and so

confoundedly untrue. Is it really my failure, or theirs?"


She sought to be sensible; she elaborately explained to herself that it

was hysterical to condemn Gopher Prairie because it did not foam over

the drama. Its justification was in its service as a market-town for

farmers. How bravely and generously it did its work, forwarding the

bread of the world, feeding and healing the farmers!
Then, on the corner below her husband's office, she heard a farmer

holding forth:


"Sure. Course I was beaten. The shipper and the grocers here wouldn't

pay us a decent price for our potatoes, even though folks in the cities

were howling for 'em. So we says, well, we'll get a truck and ship 'em

right down to Minneapolis. But the commission merchants there were in

cahoots with the local shipper here; they said they wouldn't pay us

a cent more than he would, not even if they was nearer to the market.

Well, we found we could get higher prices in Chicago, but when we tried

1   ...   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   ...   44


The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page