To say that a comedy is always very near to being a tragedy is to make a paradox, and taking the words with their ordinary meaning it is to say a foolish thing. To say with some hesitation that in a good comedy there are always places where the author, by slight shift of emphasis, might make the play a tragedy is to hint at the truth of what the Romanticists with their mixture of the comic and the tragic had some perception. "The Great Lover," with all its fun in the impresario's office, all its petty quarrels, all its occasional flatness, is such a comedy and to be such a comedy is to be a notable thing.
I say that in the hands of another the "Great Lover" might have been a tragedy. Consider the story: Jean Paurel, a famous opera singer, after a life of flirtation finds that Ethel Warren, a young American soprano, brings back to him the intensity and beauty of emotion that he had only felt once before--when he knew a Italian girl by name Bianca Sonino. Now I have considerable difficulty in explaining the character of Miss Warren. What she feels I acknowledge I do not know. What she does is a matter of enough simplicity. She encourages Paurel to think that she loves him, she allows him to spend months training her for the stage, and all the while she violently loves a young tenor who proves to be the son of Bianca, Paurel's first love.
After a scene with her tenor (who, by the way, speaks with that puzzling and irritating rush and hurry so common to our stage) she even becomes engaged to Paurel. Now Paurel, who is 46, quarrels with an excessively vulgar woman and suddenly breaks his voice. The amazing Miss Warren, entering determined to break the engagement, learns of the ending of his career and through pity decides to fulfill her promise. She proceeds to do this so ineffectually that, aided by the absurd appearance of the now-elderly Bianca, it is clearly borne upon Paurel that his love is really selfish. Whereupon with a truly unselfish effort he makes his first sacrifice and sends her away. The curtain falls as he turns for consolation to trivial women. You see the bare plot. Fancy it in the hands of a poet, in the hands of a satirist, in the hands of Al Jolson. It could be treated by any one of them. As it happens it seems to have been done by Jolson and the poet in collaboration; the poet having the upper hand.
Concerning Mr. Ditrichstein and his acting there can be only praise. With Mr. Arliss he has learned that the one quality never apparent on the American stage and therefore the most effective quality of all, is restraint, restraint in gesture and in voice. The cast shouts; Mr. Ditrichstein speaks quietly and is listened to. The cast hurl themselves about; Mr. Ditrichstein walks and gets there. The public will continue to go to see him act for where there is so little dignity in actual life there is a need to see it on the stage. For we still love the great things we have lost.
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