Once more the Jewett Company turns from several weeks of comedy to the more exciting fields of melodrama-or in this case something worthy of the more exacting description of"story play", For "Raffles", which is the offering at the Copley this week, is as different from "East Lynne' and other plays of that class as "Othello" is from "Declassee". Written way back in the dark ages (1903), it none the less closely resembles the best of our current "thrillers" where the light comedy touch is not always unfelt beneath the clammy grip of Horror, and of which "the Green Goddess" is a shining example. It is thoroughly English in atmosphere-despite the fact that the collaborator, Mr. Presbury, is an American. Indeed, in view of the fate of sundry other foreign works at the hands of some of our theatrical countrymen, this is in itself no slight tribute. The play produces throughout a vivid impression of British life which thus relates it to the best of contemporary drama-and all this without sacrificing to any extent the thrills which the audience obtains from the battle of wits between Raffles and his pursuers.
It has long been a matter of dispute as to whether the enormity of the crime has a great deal to do with the excitement attending its unraveling. In other words, is the dramatizatin of a murder-except for the added increment of horror-really any more enthralling than-as in the case of "Raffles "-the story of a jewel thief? After seeing "Raffles", the Playgoer is inclined to think not. It is the primal situation of hunted and hunter that counts; whether the penalty be loss of life or merely loss of liberty is a minor matter. Of course in this case the author could hardly ask for a murderer the sympathy which he undoubtedly here gains for the thief, but the Playgoer feels that a wider recognition of this principle underlying all "thrillers" would give us many "nicer" plays with no loss of entertainment.
Indeed no less person than A. J. Raffieg himself, remarks in the course of the play that all criminals betray themselves through fear, and that so long as he does not fear his pursuers, they will never catch him. But though he does not fear, the audience fears mightlly for (not to mention the girl who of course is introduced into the piece in the approved romantic stlye) with all the blind fear of the hunted. And with admirable logic, A. J. is finally betrayed, not through any fear of his but by a "woman acorned". Raffles on the stage is no less lovable a villain than he was in "The Amateur Cracksman", and his impudent assurance in all manner of tight places gains tremendously from that vividness which is the hallmark of the stage. For suspense without horror and comedy of innuendo, the Playgoer advocates "Raffles".
Much of the entertainment which the play affords is due to the high quality of its presentation. There are lines-not a few of them of whose Victorian conventionality one would be painfully aware were it not for the skill of rendering. Mr. Clive's curtain speech, "She sha'n't, she sha'n't, she sha'n't", at the end of Act Two is an excellent example. Without exception however, the cast rendered their parts well. Miss Cleveland was occasionally unconvincing and Mr. Turner's Romeo-like sobbing under the stress of grief was a bit absurd. But these are minor points. If the Jewett Company never dropped below the level of their current production, we should have little cause for complaint.