This is a sort of summary of what we all said, and no one in particular is responsible for it; and in this it is like public opinion. The Parson, however, whose only experience of the theatre was the endurance of an oratorio once, was very cordial in his denunciation of the stage altogether.
Mandeville. Yet, acting itself is delightful; nothing so entertains us as mimicry, the personation of character. We enjoy it in private. I confess that I am always pleased with the Parson in the character of grumbler. He would be an immense success on the stage. I don’t know but the theatre will have to go back into the hands of the priests, who once controlled it.
The Parson. Scoffer!
Mandeville. I can imagine how enjoyable the stage might be, cleared of all its traditionary nonsense, stilted language, stilted behavior, all the rubbish of false sentiment, false dress, and the manners of times that were both artificial and immoral, and filled with living characters, who speak the thought of to-day, with the wit and culture that are current to-day. I’ve seen private theatricals, where all the performers were persons of cultivation, that....
Our next door. So have I. For something particularly cheerful, commend me to amateur theatricals. I have passed some melancholy hours at them.
Mandeville. That’s because the performers acted the worn stage plays, and attempted to do them in the manner they had seen on the stage. It is not always so.
The fire-tender. I suppose Mandeville would say that acting has got into a mannerism which is well described as stagey, and is supposed to be natural to the stage; just as half the modern poets write in a recognized form of literary manufacture, without the least impulse from within, and not with the purpose of saying anything, but of turning out a piece of literary work. That’s the reason we have so much poetry that impresses one like sets of faultless cabinet-furniture made by machinery.
The Parson. But you need n’t talk of nature or naturalness in acting or in anything. I tell you nature is poor stuff. It can’t go alone. Amateur acting—they get it up at church sociables nowadays—is apt to be as near nature as a school-boy’s declamation. Acting is the Devil’s art.
The mistress. Do you object to such innocent amusement?
Mandeville. What the Parson objects to is, that he isn’t amused.
The Parson. What’s the use of objecting? It’s the fashion of the day to amuse people into the kingdom of heaven.
Herbert. The Parson has got us off the track. My notion about the stage is, that it keeps along pretty evenly with the rest of the world; the stage is usually quite up to the level of the audience. Assumed dress on the stage, since you were speaking of that, makes people no more constrained and self-conscious than it does off the stage.