About the Production

by Porschia Rolle, Erica Small, and Frankie Thomas

Blanchette, a three-act French play by Eugène Brieux, was first staged at Paris’s Théâtre Libre on February 2nd, 1892. Its first English production, translated by J.T. Grein and M.L. Churchill, was a one-night-only performance on December 9th, 1898 at Albert Hall’s West Theatre, staged by the London Independent Theatre Society (Athenaeum 703-4). It was revived in 1901 at the Court Theatre, the translation now credited to Miss Martia Leonard and J.T. Grein, with a significantly revised third act (Athenaeum 704).

Eugène Brieux (1858-1932) was a French playwright whose plays critiqued society and carried strong social messages (Britannica). Born in Paris to a working-class family, Brieux rose to international prominence through his affiliation with the Théâtre Libre, a Parisian independent theater that popularized naturalist drama in France (Clark 157, Britannica). Besides Blanchette, his plays included La Couvée (1893), Les Trois Filles de M. Dupont (1896), La Robe rouge (1900), and most notoriously Les Avariés (1901), which was censored in France for its discussion of syphilis (Britannica). George Bernard Shaw declared Brieux “incomparably the greatest writer France has produced since Molière” (Britannica).

In the 1898 London Independent Theatre Society production, the role of Blanchette was played by Miss Martia Leonard, who is also credited as the translator for the 1901 production; critics assumed that she had likewise translated the 1898 production under the pen name “M.L. Churchill” (Athenaeum 704). (“M.L. Churchill” is additionally credited as the translator for a 1900 French play called The Troubadour, which also starred Miss Martia Leonard [New York Times 7].) In the 1901 revival, Blanchette was played by Miss Agnes Miller, whose performance, according to The Athenaeum’s drama critic, “revealed powers of pathos previously unsuspected” (704). The revival cast also included Mr. A.E. George (as Blanchette’s father), who had appeared earlier that year in the Incorporated Stage Society’s Pillars of Society; and Mrs. Theodore Wright (as Blanchette’s mother), who originated the role of Mrs. Alving in the London Independent Theatre Society’s 1891 production of Ibsen’s Ghosts (Athenaeum 704, Franc 176, Styan 26).

The detailed stage directions of Blanchette call for a single set, a realistic interior of a small tavern in rural France, to be used for all three acts; and plain, modest costumes for all the characters, specifying that Blanchette herself must be “dressed very simply” in the first act and “poorly dressed” in the third.

The 1898 London Independent Theatre Society production seemingly attracted scant critical attention, but the 1901 revival was more widely reviewed. The critical consensus in 1901 was that the new, revised ending was inferior to the original: the Théâtre Libre and London Independent Theatre Society versions ended with Blanchette becoming a prostitute, while the Court Theatre revival had a happy ending in which Blanchette married a fellow peasant and was welcomed back into her family (Athenaeum 704). William Archer called the new ending “banal,” while The Athenaeum complained that it was “subversive of the teaching of the story” and undermined “the satire on the education of girls above the sphere they are destined to occupy, which is the cleverest portion of the work” (Archer 53, Athenaeum 704). Regardless, critics appreciated the play’s social message, and Archer pronounced it superior in this respect to all of contemporary English drama: “Our dramatists have apparently no eyes for anything but a more or less conventional upper-middle-class, drawing-room society….Which of them, for example, has intelligently grasped such a problem as that which M. Brieux here handles? I cannot think of any single English play in the least analogous to Blanchette” (Archer 54).

Despite the critical backlash to the sanitized ending of the revival, this revision is the only version of Blanchette available in printed form, even in French.

 

Works Cited

“Drama: The Week.” The Athenaeum 1 June 1901: 703-704. Print.

“ ‘The Heather Field’: Another ‘Independent’ Performance at Carnegie Lyceum.” The New York

Times 20 April 1900: 7. Print.

“Eugène Brieux: French Dramatist.” Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p., n.d. Accessed 8 November

  1. Web.

Archer, William. Study and Stage: A Year-book of Criticism. London: Grant Richards, 1899.

Print.

Brieux, Eugène. Blanchette, comédie en trois actes. Paris: Stock, 1900. Print.

Brieux, Eugène. Blanchette, and The Escape: Two Plays. Trans. Frederick Eisemann.

Boston: J.W. Luce, 1913. Print.

Clark, Barrett H. The Continental Drama of Today. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1914.

Franc, Miriam Alice. Ibsen in England. Boston: Four Seas Company, 1919. Print.

Styan, J.L. Modern Drama in Theory and Practice: Volume 1, Realism and Naturalism.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Print.

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