This year's production of the Princeton Triangle Club, "They Never Come Back," which is coming to Boston on Friday, February 18th, promises to be representative of the development of the club which, since 1891, has presented plays written by undergraduates. The such has a long and interesting history, but it is only since the war that it has recovered in a slump in its standard of productions which took place prior to 1915. "They Never Come Back" has been very well received in many cities a which the club presented it.
Embarking on its fortieth year of dramatic productions, the Princeton University Triangle Club enjoys the unchallenged distinction of attracting more interest and participation than any other single activity connected with that university. Over 600 students of the Orange and Black institution entered the field of competition for the 75 positions included in the current production, "They Never Come Back." But this unparalleled popularity, evinced by desired participation on the part of more than one-third of the student body, and the undisguised pride in its achievement by the entire college, is not the product of sudden success, nor even social predilection on the part of modern undergraduates. Its foundation was firmly built in 1882, to be realized in 1920 by the sure process of evolution and dogged development toward a single goal.
The history of the Triangle Club has been singular. It has, in turn, run the gamut of student derision; professional scorn, distrust and hostility; internal revolutions; and the over-zealousness of student management, eventually to emerge a representative organization, esteemed alike by Faculty, alumni and undergraduates.
The expression of latent dramatic talent in the New Jersey college was first voiced by the Princeton Dramatic Association, founded in 1882, a pioneer in student organizations. But in the early days of this association, undergraduate interest was limited, and the club confined itself to unpretentious plays of the more serious school of the drama, such as "She Stoops to Conquer," and the "Rivals."
First Play by Undergraduates in 1891
As the uniform high quality of these productions gradually established the association in a more important place among the extra-curriculum activities of the college, its sponsors became more ambitious. Hence the year 1891 marked a new departure in policy, when the club presented "The Gentle Savage," a play written by undergraduates. Since this time all dramatic offerings have been turned out by Princeton playwrights, and have possessed a distinctive atmosphere for that reason.
Perhaps the most significant name in the membership of the Triangle Club is that of Booth Tarkington '93. Under his executive guidance, the name of the organization was changed to its present title. This change was calculated to broaden the scope of the club's activity, and in pursuance of his aim for a wider field of undergraduate creation, he wrote and produced "The Honorable Julius Caesar," a travesty on the original set to music.
Present Play Outside Princeton in 1900
For the following seven years, the club occupied itself with a diverting controversy over musical accompaniment, alternating in successive seasons between a professional orchestra and amateur talent, and finally compromising by adopting the Mandolin Club. And then, with internal troubles momentarily silenced, it was natural that the club should seek recognition in foreign fields. The borough of Princeton offered little satisfaction to these embryo, but ambitious, actors. The Faculty interposed a cold and unsympathetic barrier, which was finally broken in 1900 when the club played a single performance in New York.
From this time on, it was merely a question of enlarging on the accepted order. The annual production embraced a more or less standard drama set to jingling tunes. But the sequence was broken in 1908 with the presentation of "When Congress Comes to Princeton," a historical play of considerable merit. This radical departure from the usual regime paved the way for a more varied assortment of musical comedies which reached its apex around 1912.
High Standard Not Maintained.
But the standard was not maintained. The club easily fell into a slump. The inducement of a 2000-mile Christmas trip to the chief cities where loyal alumni trotted forth adulatory debutantes in honor of bum actors, but ball-room luminaries; and the influence of the typical Broadway musical comedy, completed the wreck. The personnel was chosen with an eye for pleasing these feminine sycophants. The performance was lightly considered; the real work of the evening began on the waxed floor after the final curtain had rung down. The play itself was pitifully colorless: an unmitigated burlesque from its slap-stick dialogue to the heavyweight wrestler who, resplendent in pink tights and a blonde wig, tripped coyly around an umbrela, designed as a parasol, and sang about the pattering raindrops, as a member of the pony chorus. The loyal alumni were sorely tried, and equally disgusted, but the house was still packed and applauded faithfully. The War was an undisguised blessing!
Reconstruction began with the opening of college after the Armistice. The management realized that the true purpose of the club was three-fold: to furnish an outlet for undergraduate creative talent in the many phases of production; to represent Princeton ideals and purposes in a wholesome manner; and to prove to a doubting public that pure amateur integrity and ability is worthy of recognition. Although lack of time prevented any production on an elaborate scale, no time was wasted in providing a make-shift vehicle which would give the potential talent then in college much-needed experience. Booth Tarkington's "The Hon. Julius Caesar" was dragged from the archives, dusted, and presented in twentieth century style.
Last season's production, "The Isle of Surprise," an oriental melo-farce with musical accompaniment, marked the zenith of the club's achievement. It was presented 26 times before packed houses throughout the country, and earned the sincere commendation of press and public alike. The piece was purged of every vestige of professionalism: it was an undergraduate product from start to finish, Student efforts in the field of acting, singing, dancing, coaching, playwrighting, composing, orchestration, designing and execution of scenery and costumes, creation of electrical effects, financial management and publicity placed a smooth and meritorious production before more than 60,000 people in New York, Syracuse, Buffalo, Columbus, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Newark, Montclair, Baltimore, Washington, Brooklyn, West Point and Princeton.
This year's production, "They Never Come Back," which will be presented in Boston on February 18th, promises a greater success than its predecessor, according to the latest reports from the New Jersey institution. The obvious merit of the vehicle, which is described as "a modern musical farce comedy set in the atmosphere of Peru, the land of the ancient Incas," has already attracted 600 students to its support. The choice of the personnel from this number should insure a quality seldom equalled in the ranks of college theatricals.