The Sentinels & Other Plays

The Sentinels & Other Plays

The Sentinels & Other Plays

The Sentinels & Other Plays

Excerpt

RICHARD PENN SMITH (March 17, 1799--August 12, 1854) was a Philadelphia lawyer, author, and playwright. His activities as a playwright cover a little more than a decade, from 1825 to 1836. In this period he wrote twenty plays, thirteen of which were performed. Smith was a practical playwright who always wrote with a view to stage presentation. A fairly competent craftsman, he had little originality; for thirteen of his plays are based upon either native or foreign inspiration.

Smith leaned most heavily upon contemporary French dramatists. Nine of his twenty plays have French sources. Two are adaptations of the romances of Cooper. One is based upon a story by the Englishman, Theodore Hook, and another is indebted for its sub-plot to Thomas Dekker Honest Whore and William Dunlap Italian Father.

Two of Smith's earliest manuscripts, both dated 1825, are The Pelican, a one-act farce, which was not performed or printed, and The Divorce, a tentative effort at romantic comedy, later successfully rewritten as The Deformed. His first acted play was Quite Correct (1828), a comedy based on a story, Doubts and Fears, by Theodore Hook. This story was in turn founded on a French comedy by Désaugiers and Gentil, L'Hôtel garni; ou, La Leočn singulière, performed at the Théâtre Frančais in 1854.

The year 1829 was the period of Smith's greatest dramatic activity. In this year he wrote six plays, five of which were performed. The first of these was The Eighth of January, a melodrama dealing with the Battle of New Orleans, in which he makes an ingenious adaptation of a French play, Le Maréchal de Luxembourg (1812) by Frédéric and Boirie. This piece was first played on January 8, ostensibly celebrating the anniversary of Jackson's victory at New Orleans in 1815, but in reality applauding Jackson triumph at the polls the preceding November. Seizing upon a successful French melodrama for his plot, by an adroit use of situations and a clever renaming of characters, Smith produced a play that had a premier performance to a thousand-dollar house. But its theme was purely occasional and its popularity quickly declined.

The Disowned; or, The Prodigals was Smith's only play to have its premier performance outside his native city. It was first performed in Baltimore on March 26. This melodrama is based upon a French play, Le Cassier (1826) . . .

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