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Return engagements,--and we need only to recall "No, No Nanette" of blessed memory,--are unhappily in most instances disappointing to audience and cast alike. "Seventh Heaven", as "clean and wholesome" as the day it left Boston last October, returned to the Hollis St. Theatre last Monday night and proved the rule as the first exception in many moons. To be sure there was no Mayor Curley present to rise from his box and denounce the moral turpitude of the drama, as on the memorable opening night of its first Boston appearance, nor did the final grand flourish at the end of the third act evoke the applause deemed necessary for speeches from a cast, tired by sincere and workmanlike efforts to please. But a large handful of the faithful voiced its solid appreciation for a finished performance of a really fine comedy as the curtain fell on the final miracle of a benevolent "bon Dieu." Even if "le bon Dieu" did turn out to be a "Deus ex machina," no one could deny that the task of bringing the first act situation to a happy conclusion was a miracle of omniscience.
The remarkable success achieved by Austin Strong in this play may be equally attributed to the poignant mixture of humor and a little patnos in his characters of the Parisian underworld, and to a highly trained and sympathetic group of players. The part, circumstances, and events form an adequate, if not a completely convincing framework, and for the first two acts at least the action is dynamic. The problem, if one exists at all, is a bewildering combination of theology, various kinds of complexes including the inferiority type, and the power of suggestion. If taken seriously it is ineffectual, but the fine touch of comedy withstands even the assaults of the dread term, atheism.
The story is briefly the progress of saints and sinners from the sewers and gutters up into light and happiness on the seventh floor of a Paris lodging house, via "the hose", the war, and faith in God, in man, and the "idea". The war is a far cry, but what else could effect half so nicely a marriage in the sight of heaven alone, and a reunion four years later with a blinded, but indomitable husband in Poilu blue?
Miss Anne Forrest, who plays Diane is as pathetic a golden haired girl who "hadn't been good" as ever walked the streets of Montmartre in an American play. For two fall acts she is tyrannized by the depraved sister, the ghastliest apparation that ever sipped absinthe for breakfast. Miss Grace Mencken, as the sister Nana, succeeded in raising the gooseflesh of horror on one member of the audience, at least, for the first time since the Phantom of the Opera was unmasked. As Chico, a handsome, Apache-like figure, turned atheist after burning candles and praying without avail to St. Antoine for a job as street washer, a golden-haired wife and enough money to make "le grand four" in a Parisian taxicab, Mr. Louis D' Arclay is the dominating and driving force of action. His remarkable facility of facial and bodily expression, are the embodiment of all American traditions for the Apache underworld of Paris. Mr. John W. Ransome as Boul, short for boulevard, nearly lost himself in enthusiasm for his part and shouted his way to fame. As a lightfingered taxi man he harbors much too warm a heart, and the humor for a really humorous part. As Pere Chevillan, a jovial kill or cure purveyor of religion who has laughed with, as well as at the world for so long that the donkey joke won't focus, Mr. W. H. Post also gives a splendid performance.
"Seventh Heaven" wears well, and as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, how much sweeter, well what's in a name anyway.
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