An ob­scure work by ‘Peter Pan’ au­thor

The Strand pub­lishes rare J.M. Bar­rie play

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - HIL­LEL ITALIE

As mys­ter­ies go, “The Re­con­struc­tion of the Crime” is es­pe­cially light, a stage farce billed as one “Sen­sa­tional Scene” in which a man iden­ti­fied only as “The Vic­tim” asks the au­di­ence to help find the cul­prit.

J.M. Bar­rie, the co-cre­ator, was known for play­ing to the crowd.

Pub­lished last week in The Strand Mag­a­zine, a quar­terly that has un­earthed ob­scure works by John Stein­beck, F. Scott Fitzger­ald and many oth­ers, “The Re­con­struc­tion of the Crime” is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Bar­rie and his friend E.V. Lu­cas, be­lieved writ­ten dur­ing the First World War and rarely seen since. The man­u­script is part of the Harry Ran­som Cen­ter ar­chive at the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin.

“It’s very much a sub­tle and sly com­edy and that’s what Bar­rie re­ally ex­celled at,” Strand man­ag­ing edi­tor An­drew Gulli told The Associated Press. “Also, there is au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion which echoes back to ‘Peter Pan.’” Who can for­get that Peter asks the au­di­ence if they be­lieve in fairies?

The play’s set­ting is a ho­tel room and the char­ac­ters be­sides the Vic­tim are “an asth­matic hus­band, a de­voted wife and a doc­tor.” The “weapon” is a mus­tard plas­ter, given to a man, the Vic­tim, who doesn’t need it. “The Re­con­struc­tion of the Crime” be­gins with the Vic­tim pok­ing his head through the cur­tains.

“Please don’t ap­plaud,” he says. “Of course I like it; we all like it. But not just now. This is much too se­ri­ous. The fact is I want to take you into my con­fi­dence: to ask your as­sis­tance. A hor­ri­ble crime has been com­mit­ted. An out­rage al­most be­yond de­scrip­tion has been per­pe­trated upon an in­of­fen­sive gen­tle­man stay­ing in a coun­try ho­tel, and the guilty per­son has to be found.”

The Scot­tish-born Bar­rie was a jour­nal­ist and nov­el­ist be­fore turn­ing to the­atre in the 1890s, his great­est suc­cess com­ing in 1904 with the pre­mière in Lon­don of “Peter Pan.” He wrote or co-wrote dozens of books and plays and had a fond­ness for spoofs, par­o­dy­ing the works of Hen­rik Ib­sen in “Ib­sen’s Ghost” and Shake­speare’s “The Tam­ing of the Shrew” in “The Ladies’ Shake­speare.” Be­sides “The Re­con­struc­tion of the Crime,” he wrote a play with a sim­i­lar ti­tle, “Re­con­struct­ing the Crime. A Strange Play in Seven Scenes.”

Anne Al­ton, a pro­fes­sor of English at Cen­tral Michi­gan Univer­sity who has worked on a schol­arly edi­tion of “Peter Pan,” said Bar­rie was friendly with “Sher­lock Holmes” cre­ator Arthur Co­nan Doyle and that “Re­con­struc­tion of the Crime” reads like a send-up of his work.

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