Back in Time: Mountebanks ripped by critic for outdated spy story

The Mountebank Players used to be big men on campus at Union College. On May 5, 1939, they might hav

The Mountebank Players used to be big men on campus at Union College.

On Friday, May 5, 1939, they might have felt a little small after reading a tough newspaper critique. The group opened a new play, “A Private Venture,” before 100 people at the college theater. The piece had been written by Condace H. Stevenson, and the reviewer — who did not include a byline with the work — said there would never be a Broadway premiere.

The writer didn’t think enough people would be interested in a spy story of Irish-English politics during the late 1790s.

“It lacks the 1939 appeal,” the reviewer griped, “and has not the necessary woman of love appeal, suitable action or melodrama, suspense in full enough form; or all-around shocking power of modernism so prevalent in modern productions.”

The three-act production placed English Army Capt. George Etheridge at its center. An injury had ended his military career, and he mopes about the condition for half of the first act. The tale takes another turn when he makes a bet with brother officers and a smooth-talking Irish information gatherer.

Some harsh words

“The Mountebanks, usually aided by good scripts, fall short of their customary record and give their lines with a stiffness heretofore not seen in the campus playhouse,” the reviewer complained. “The college youths still utter their curses as if their mouths were pure to such words and time between lines were so long at times it was thought the author was backstage rewriting the script.”

Whew — hard to please. But the critic did have some positive words in his notebook. Student actors Andrew V. Speziali and Lon Barringer, who played the parts of Etheridge and Sir Horace Challoner, respectively, received good notices.

There were plenty of positive words from another part of Union’s campus that Friday night. The Schubert Club and Troy Vocal Society teamed up for a well-received concert at the college’s Memorial chapel.

The Mountebanks would recover. The troupe, founded in 1912, this spring presented “A Night of the Absurd” featuring Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” and “Footfalls” at the campus Breazzano House.

Categories: Life and Arts

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