A Halloween story
Master of Disguise
Not everyone knew yet about the new theater, but they soon would. The play Lord of Misrule was chosen for its grand opening night on Christmas Eve. I made my way through the snow, hurrying against the cold and bitter wind. Dark as it was, the glow of the gaslit streetlamp revealed the banner above the theater entrance and the name “Daniel Howland” clear to see. He was the star, the reason the crowds would come. Only, the director didn’t seem to realize this, for I saw his own name above Daniel’s in larger letters. The magic touch of Roger Ainsworth never failed to cause its own measure of darkness.
Perhaps, this night, I would see that altered once and for all.
Entering the theater, I was met by the brilliant light of crystal chandeliers and enchanted once again by the gilded ceiling of the vestibule. My feet sank into the royal blue carpet that had only just been set down and which also graced the steps of the grand staircase to my left. On the walls were familiar scenes from productions, most of them Shakespearean. The glittering forest in Midsummer Night’s Dream had been one of the finest of stage settings. I saw the play twice to experience it all again. And there were portraits of Fanny Kemble as Juliet, of Edwin Booth playing Iago. And the portrait of Ellen Terry playing Lady Macbeth in her spectacular jeweled gown, raising her crown above her head, a thrilling performance I had been privileged to witness at the London Lyceum only a year ago, on December 29th, 1888. It had been opening night.
Someone had hung a powerful portrait of Edmund Kean as Richard III. Stories had arisen that he had a madness of his own, and he died young in 1833, but I also remembered reading the words of Coleridge, who wrote, “Seeing him act was like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.” Alas, it was a great regret of mine to have been born too late to watch him perform.