Brigadier Gerard (play 1906 with Kyrle Bellew)
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Brigadier Gerard is an American play in 4 acts written by Arthur Conan Doyle performed at the Illinois Theatre (Chicago, IL, USA) performed from 1 to 13 october 1906, starring Kyrle Bellew as Brigadier Gerard.
- Captain Gerard : Kyrle Bellew
- Emperor Napoleon : A. G. Poulton
- Talleyrand : Henry Harmon
- General de Caulaincourt : Hayward Ginn
- Colonel Guérin : Guy Nichols
- Major Bron : Franck Connor
- Major Olivier : Menifee Johnston
- Captain Sabattier : Sidney C. Mather
- Captain Pelletan : Thomas W. Davis
- Lieutenant Legros : George Lestocq
- Sergeant Boncle : Del De Louis
- Trooper Oudin : David Owen
- Monsieur D'Albert : Ciryl Young
- Monsieur Bassompierre : Paul Scardon
- Pierre : Guy Nichols
- Trumpeter Papilette : Paul Scardon
- Agnes : Elsie Ferguson
- Comtesse de Roquelaure : Ida Conquest
- By W. L. Hubbard (The Chicago Tribune, 2 october 1906, p. 81)
There is a scene in "Brigadier Gerard" which Kyrle Bellew presented at the Illinois last evening for the first time, which contains one of the neatest bits of comedy as regards both dialogue an situation that has been seen on the local stage in a long time. The scene is in the study of Napoleon. The emperor is nearing the decline of his greatness, his friends are deserting him, the allied forces of all Europe are entering Paris, and he has been for two days sitting waiting for the coming of one Capt. Gerard, a dashing Hussar, whom he had sent to Paris to secure for him certain papers and moneys which are all valuable to his future.
Gerard comes wearing the cloak of Napoleon's arch enemy, Talleyrand. The papers are concealed in this cloak, but Gerard does not know it and reports that he has failed in his mission. The emperor, furious, dismisses him in disgrace and is resuming the contemplation of army plans when D'Albert, the emissary of Talleyrand, is announced Napoleon admits him, and hears to his astonishment that the man has come with word from Talleyrand to the effect that the latter congratulates his imperial master on the recovery of the papers and expresses his regrets that he himself was not able to be the messenger who returned them.
Then ensues a series of questions and answers that form one of the cleverest pieces of dialogue heard here in a long time. Napoleon pretends that he knows all about the papers and their return and D'Albert assumes that the emperor has full knowledge on the subject. But Napoleon knows nothing, and D'Albert's answers give him no clew as to the real whereabouts of the precious documents.
The answers are perfectly natural and simple, but only at the climax of the scene do they contain the information desired. The listener across the footlights is held tense sad yet delighted by the amusing conversation, and, his pleasure is increased by the consciousness that it is no one less than the mighty Napoleon himself who is being thin puzzled, and yet who is working so skillfully to find out what D'Albert knows. The audience last night rose to the charming scene with keenest appreciation, and thus placed approval upon the most brilliant scene in a brilliant play.
For "Brigadier Gerard" is brilliant. It is the best romantic comedy that has been written since "Prisoner of Zenda," and it suffers in nowise by comparison with that best of latter day romantic plays. Gerard himself is a central figure that wins instant liking. He is a hussar who has been through countless battles in Spain, is absolutely devoid of fear, is a swordsman who has but two equals is all the French army, is a fellow handsome as a picture, and as gallant as he is brave. He loves to tell of his adventures and daring achievements when given the least excuse for so doing, but he is instant In his resentment of any fun making at his expense or any reflection cast upon his prowess or his honor. His love for the emperor is unbounded and the emperor on various occasions has honored him by giving him particular and difficult missions to perform.
And yet, with it all, Gerard is something of a blunderer. He is not quick witted when a battle of wits is on, but fortune favors him in the most unexpected fashion and even in his worst blunderings she helps him to succeed. And succeed he does in all he undertakes. His is an interesting, and a likable, and a fascinating personality, and a better central figure for a tale of romance could not be desired Conan Doyle has drawn him with exceptional effectiveness and has placed him in a series of captivatingly romantic and interesting situations.
Gerard comes to join the Hussars of Conflans, his own company of Camberont having been wiped almost entirely out of existence. The soldiers who receive him into the new company are piqued at his arrival, and, hearing of his having told wild tales of his adventures, they lead him on by flattering him and they tickle his vanity until he becomes their laughing stock. He resents their laughter and challenges eight of them to most him in duel. Gen. Caulaincourt, one of Napoleon's faithfuls, appears and sends Gerard on the mission of recovering the papers the emperor desires. He is to visit the countess de Roquelaure in Paris, show her an amethyst ring that is given him, and receive from her the papers. Absolute secrecy as to his mission is to be observed. Gerard has loved the countess for two years and goes gladly.
Talleyrand's spies have tracked the countess, however and before Gerard sees her they secure possession of the papers. Gerard goes to Talleyrand, tries to match wits with that sly diplomat and is worsted, but by the aid of the countess he turns the tables on the arch plotter and escapes, wearing the cloak in which the papers are kept concealed. Then comes the meeting with Napoleons. the disgrace of Gerard, the brilliant scene between the emperor and D'Albert, and the pardoning of Gerard and his promotion to brigadier by the emperor and his winning of the hand of the countess.
It Is a play compactly made, brilliant fa dialogue, and with eve, scene rightly in place and leading to a climax that is of distinct effectiveness — a romantic play to watch which is like reading a well written story, that so holds you that to begin it is not to lay it aside until it is finished. You may know the story is improbable, but it is so cleverly told and is so interesting that you are fascinated and delightfully entertained.
Mr. Bellew has found a rôle which fits him down to the ground. He is a romantic actor par excellence, there is no one who is more perfect master of spoken English than he or who can speak a line with more telling effect. He makes Gerard a man handsome enough to satisfy the eye of fancy in every particular, his grace of movement and ease of manner lend his portrayal all the gallantry and elegance supposed to belong to the character, and his fine discrimination in the employing of dramatic light and shade prevents his performance from becoming in anywise monotonous.
There is only one feature of the play which impressed last evening as desirable to change. The love making to the countess is both the second and the third acts was so excessive and bordered so closely upon the farcical that it seemed out of key with the rest of the performance. It did not fit into the situation and it had the inartistic effect of making the final love protestations in the last act call forth laughter. It would seem that the author has erred here, and Mr. Bellew did not cover the error, for he played the scenes for all the laughter there was in them. This is a shortcoming that is easily remedied, however. And it is the only one in a performance of exceptional charm and completeness — one of the best things Kyrle Bellew has done.
The cast is excellent throughout The Napoleon of Mr. Poulton is superior to any of the numerous impersonations of that great man that have been seen here. The resemblance to the emperor is sufficiently close to be satisfactory and there is in the speech and manner the spirit which general conception associates with him. The scene with D'Albert is especially well played. Miss Conquest makes a charming countess, lending her not only personal beauty but distinction in manner and speech. Her acting the second act is particularly satisfying in its expression of nerve tenseness, rear, and anxiety concealed beneath the veneer of courtly manners. Miss Ferguson contributes a praise meriting bit as the maid Agnes. The Talleyrand of Mr. Harmon is a finely artistic piece of character portraiture, being clear cut, exact, and finished, the D'Albert of Mr. Young calls for only commendation and the various Hussars and other military men are in excellently capable hands. The settings and costumes are in best of taste and complete in every particular, and the performance moved with great smoothness.
W. L. HUBBARD.