Mr. Mackaye calls this new play of his "a comedy of human nature with primitive background," and it is the first of a series of plays by means of which the author intends to continue his efforts to interpret American life in isolated mountain environment. Previously he has written of the native New England mountaineer; now his quest leads him to the Appalachians of Kentucky.
A comedy of human nature would seem to require fine character-drawing, and this we have--in the first act. The mystic poet of the soil, Beem Sprattling, seeker after Truth in the subtract, follower of the "Oninvisible and the Onbeheord-of," keen admirer of "this fine pretty world," and frequent tenant of the county jail, is introduced with delightful effect. There are also the native flapper, Goldy, and her dangling swain, Roosh. A pleasing picture of the two old people, Lark Fiddler and Granny Maggot is finely drawn. Gilly Maggot and his scrawny, belligerent, and faithful wife, Mag, furnish excellent character material. Here also the plot makes its appearance--a rather ordinary, but well-executed comedy plot which develops out of Beem's meddling attempts to help Gilly "git shet of the old woman" and indulge his senile passion for Goldy.
Lack of Balance Apparent
A play must have a story, and human nature, in order to be studied, must have situations to react upon; but in the last two acts there seems to be a lack of balance between comic situation and characterization, the latter being, we are given to understand, the main purpose of the Kentucky plays. The people tend to be obscured by the very plot which never fails to keep us laughing. And after the story is done, back we come in a short tag-ending to Beem's poetry of life, as if the author had suddenly remembered what the play was all about.
Dialect Difficult in Print
The dialogue is, of course, all mountain dialect, collected by the author at great pains. This dialect is in Mr. Mackaye's words "a noble illiteracy," a language "more flexible than that of the average university graduate," showing "richness of thought and imagination." It is native speech "undiluted by the Ink of the academic or journalistic." Clearly a language meant to be spoken, not printed, and this makes it very difficult for the reader of the printed version to enter into the spirit of either language or play.
This objection, fortunately does not hold for the theater audience; a good production, in fact, might clear up many of the rough spots which tend to check the readers progress. For this reason it is probably dangerous to base too strong on opinion upon the printed book. The play, will be produced in Boston next week, and many of its aspects will undoubtedly be brought out which would escape one in a casual reading of Mr. Mackayo's phonetic spelling.