Lost, then found: Rare J.M. Bar­rie play pub­lished this week

The Sentinel-Record - - ARTS, ETC. - HILLEL ITALIE

NEW YORK — 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 and fel­low man of let­ters E.V. Lu­cas, be­lieved writ­ten dur­ing World War I 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 mir­a­cles?”

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 and ask­ing for quiet.

“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 pop­u­lar nov­el­ist be­fore turn­ing to the­ater in the 1890s, his great­est suc­cess com­ing in 1904 with the pre­miere 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 sep­a­rate play with a sim­i­lar ti­tle, “Re­con­struct­ing the Crime. A Strange Play in Seven Scenes.”

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

“It has some of the same fla­vor of Doyle’s work and some things in com­mon with Vic­to­rian drama,” she said. “And the play seems very pol­ished. It doesn’t seem like some­thing he and Lu­cas just threw to­gether.”

Gulli notes that “The Re­con­struc­tion of the Crime” has a bum­bling tone that might have served for an episode of “Fawlty Tow­ers.” When the Vic­tim be­lieves him­self in mor­tal dan­ger, he phones the front desk in a tone of panic and of­fi­cious­ness John Cleese be­came known for.

“Is this the of­fice? I’m dy­ing. Who is it? Num­ber 53. He’s dy­ing. I’m dy­ing. Num­ber 53 is dy­ing,” the Vic­tim cries. “Is there a doc­tor any­where near? What? One stay­ing in this ho­tel? Thank God! Send him to me at once. And a lawyer. I want a lawyer. There isn’t one? What a rot­ten ho­tel. I want to make my will. I’m dy­ing, I say. Num­ber 53’s dy­ing.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.