The Atlantic Book of Modern Plays eBook

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NOTES ON THE DRAMAS AND THE DRAMATISTS

Harold Chapin:  THE PHILOSOPHER OF BUTTERBIGGENS

Harold Chapin, as we learn from Soldier and Dramatist (Lane, 1917), was an American both by ancestry and nativity.  But he lived the greater part of his life in England, and died for England at Loos in April, 1915.  His activity was always associated with the stage.  When he was but seven years old he played the little Marcius to his mother’s Volumnia at the Shakespeare Festival, at Stratford-on-Avon in 1893.  In 1911 he produced Mr. Harold Brighouse’s Lonesome-Like and several of his own short plays at the Glasgow Repertory Theatre.  For several years before the war he was Mr. Granville Barker’s stage manager, and helped him to produce the beautiful Shakespearean plays at the Savoy Theatre in London.

Of Chapin’s own dramas, The New Morality and Art and Opportunity have been given recently in New York and in London, and several of the one-act plays at a memorial performance in London in 1916, in matinee at the Punch and Judy Theatre, and before the Drama League in New York in March and April, 1921.  Of the shorter plays, mentioned in the bibliographies following these notes, It’s the Poor that ’elps the Poor, The Dumb and the Blind, and The Philosopher of Butterbiggens have been given the highest praise by such critics as Mr. William Archer, who wrote, “No English-speaking man of more unquestionable genius has been lost to the world in this world-frenzy.”  These true and honest dramas represent the English Repertory theatres at their best in this brief form, and give promise of the great and permanently interesting “human comedy” which Chapin might have completed had his life not been sacrificed.  In spite of the simplicity and lightness of the little play here given, there is more shrewd philosophy in old David Pirnie, and more real humanity in his family, than is to be found portrayed in many pretentious social dramas and difficult psychological novels.  It is admirable on the stage, as was shown by the Provincetown Players last winter.  In the memorial performance for Harold Chapin in London, the author’s little son appeared in the part of wee Alexander.

“Butterbiggens,” Mrs. Alice Chapin, the dramatist’s mother, replied to an inquiry as to “what Butterbiggens is or are,” “is, are, and always will be a suburb of Glasgow.”

There is little difficulty with the modified Scots dialect in this play if one remembers that ae generally takes the place of such sounds as e in tea, o in so, a in have, and so on, and that a’ means all.  A wean is a small bairn, yinst is once, ava is at all, and thrang is “thick” or intimate.

Distempered means calcimined, or painted in water-dissolved color on the plaster.

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