The following review of the first two performances of the annual miracle play presented last night by members of the Dramatic Club and Radcliffe Idler Club was written for the Crimson by Dr. Taylor Starck, Instructor in German and member of the Faculty. The performances will be repeated tonight at 7.30 o'clock.
The first two performances of the annual miracle play were given last night in the Romanesque Hall of the Germanic Museum by the Dramatic Club assisted by the Radcliffe Idler Club.
The play the "Benediktbeurer Weihnaohtsspiel," a thirteenth century German miracle play, was translated from the medieval Latin and directed by D.F. Robinson '26, who deserves the highest praise for the skill with which he adopted a rather long piece to the conditions imposed by his stage, the reproduction of the Golden Gate of the Frelberg Cathedral. The grouping, the costumes and the lighting were very effective and the acting excellent throughout. The chants were riven from the balcony by members of the Glee Club.
The "Benediktbeurer Weihmachts spiel," though of German origin, was written in Latin about 1200 A.D. and was discovered in a thirteenth century manuscript in the monastery of Benediktbeurer in southern Germany. In several respects it is unique. It has a long introduction, the Prophets' Play; Joseph has no lines to speak and Mary only one or two; the Devil appears to the shepherds in the field; and there is a long epilogue recounting events in Egypt.
The most characteristic portion is the Prophets' Play which was based on a sermon which had been attributed to Saint Augustine since the fifth century. In this sermon St. Augustine represents nine Hebrew prophets and three Gentiles Nebuchadnezzar, Virgil and a Sibyl as reasoning with the Jews in an effort to persuade them that Jesus was the Messiah. In the play Isaiah, Daniel, the Sibyl and Aaron in turn speak their prophecies and then intone a chant.
As a comic interlude Balaam appears belaboring his ass, which balks at the shining angel in his path. The High Priest was also intended as a comic figure. In scorn and derision he listens to the prophecies, laughs raucously at Saint Augustine's chant, and harangues his Jewish followers. He contrasts grotesquely with the sober, dignified Augustus who calmly opposes his biblical arguments to the raging High Priest and his followers.
Unfortunately this interesting prelude had to be cut to a bare outline. Much or all of the humor in the disputes would be lost on a modern audience and the broadly humorous Balaam could for obvious resons not be introduced. Nevertheless, the five characters who remained of the Prophet Play, Isaiah Aaron, the Sibyl, the High Priest and St. Augustine, ably acted as they were, gave a sufficiently vivid impression of this characteristically German portion of the miracle.
Mr. Robinson was compelled also to condense other portions, such as the lines assigned to the Magi in the original, rather prolix astronomical disquisitions on the appearance of the new star. Whenever he did so, however, he succeeded in retaining the spirit of the medieval play. The scene with the raging Herod, well done by Mr. Dickson, he was fortunately able to retain practically intact.
Interesting in this Benediktbeuren play is also the appearance of the Devil in the shepherd scene, where he endeavors through arguments and ridicule to counteract the effect of the Angels's annunciation of the Birth.
The Dramatic Club's production ends with the flight into Egypt and omits the extensive epilogue in the course of which the Babes are slain on the stage, Herod dies in torment, consumed alive by worms, and great prodigies appear in Egypt with the arrival there of the Christ Child.
No higher praise can be given the performance than to say that there were no stars. Each played his role and if his performance did not stand out above the others, it was because it was not intended to.
It is to be hoped that the Dramatic Club may in the succeeding years give us similar good presentations of Spanish and Italian miracle plays.
The cast follows: