I finally made it through this play! I've been trying to read it for like four days. A wonderful woman/actress/mentor/friend that I worked with in Alabama, Greta Lambert, mentioned to me about how this was the first show she worked on and how they had the audience engaged by cheering for the hero(s) and booing the villain! This seems like a brilliant way to stage this piece because there are some lines that are such mustache-twirling moments, it's seems almost ridiculous. Almost all of the characters have asides to the audience, and while the characters take their situations very seriously, to us, the events are very funny. So even though what the front of the play says ("A moral domestric drama in five acts") may have been true in 1844 when this was first performed, these days the dramatic action reads almost as a farce!
The moral issue at hand here is, of course, drunkenness. Our "hero" who is the fallen saved, Edward, is set up by the villain Cribbs (he even has a villainous name!) to become addicted to brandy, which sends him into a downward spiral and into ruin. Edward sees the evil that is inside of him and reasons:
Why, surely I have eyes to see, hands to work with, feet to walk, and brain to think, yet the best gifts of Heaven I abuse, lay aside her bounties, and with my own hand, willingly put out the light of reason.He does not want to continue on the path of drunken bar fights and spending every last dime on liquor but he is so addicted that he experiences extreme withdrawal when he does not drink for a short period of time. His brother William is his savior. He figures out what Cribbs has been doing and magically appears in the right place at the right time anytime anyone is in trouble. He's also full of good advice:
Keep your feet warm, and your head cool; your mouth shut and your heart open, and you'll soon have good health, good conscience, and stand well on your pins, marm.He ALSO gets the best insults of the play! After he realizes that Cribbs has been setting up his brother for his own financial gain, William says to Cribbs:
I don't know much of criminology, but I've a great notion of playing Yankee doodle on your organ of rascality.I mean come on. If someone said that to me I'd have to shake their hand. I'm going to try to use that in conversation - organ of rascality - brilliant. Not two lines later William insults Cribbs' very manhood:
You a man? Nature made a blunder. She had a piece of refuse garbage, she intended to form into a hog, made a mistake, gave it your shape, and sent it into the world to be miscalled man.BAM! Game, set, match. Better think twice before you wrong a man whose name means "protector of the realm."
Sunday Play-a-day: Private Eyes by Steven Dietz