Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ferocious Friendship


A Peculiar Incident in the Life of the Tragedian Macready.

Between Macready and my brother Charles existed a kind of ferocious friendship. Macready, whatever he may have been in private life, had at the theater a simply horrible temper, and he was in the habit of using at rehearsals and even in an undertone when acting the most abusive language — language which my brother sometimes passed by with a smile, but which he occasionally hotly resented. He did not mind Macready constantly addressing him as "beast," but he objected to having his eyes, his limbs and his internal organs coupled with invective terms. Yet, oddly enough, the great tragedian, with whom he was constantly quarreling, had a grim respect and liking for him. He knew him to be a gentleman and a scholar and one who was a competent judge of picturesque effect and an acute dramatic critic.

On one occasion Macready having to play "Othello," and my brother not being included in the cast, the tragedian thus addressed him: "Beast, I want you to go in front tonight and give me afterward a full and candid opinion as to the merits of my acting. Omit nothing. Tell me how I played and how I looked. I have an idea that I shall surpass myself this evening." Now, the great actor used to go through a tremendous amount of realistic effort in the part of Othello, and toward the close of the tragedy would get into such a disorganized physical condition that he was all perspiration and foaming at the mouth and presented a somewhat shocking spectacle.

My brother duly occupied a seat in the front row of the dress circle and narrowly watched the performance from beginning to end. Then he went behind the scenes and repaired to Macready's dressing room. The artist was being disrobed by his dresser and was panting with excitement in an armchair.

"Well, beast, what was it like?"

My brother told him that he had derived the highest gratification from the performance and he had never seen him play Othello more superbly. He was magnificent in his speech to the Venetian senate, the jealousy scenes with Iago were splendid, the murder of Desdemona was superb, and he died inimitably. Macready's face lighted up more and more as my brother answered his many queries.

"'Tis well, beast," he observed at last; "'tis well — very well, and, now, what was my appearance — how did I look, beast?"

My brother cogitated for a moment and then, with perfect candor, replied, "Like a sweep, sir!" — G. A. Sala's "Recollections."

Note: "Sweep," someone who cleans soot from chimneys.

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