CQOD Special Archive
by Robert MacColl Adams
“Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only...”
Something’s going to have to be done about Old Frayne. He’s always been meddlesome—someone
nicknamed him “Cyrano”?—but of course much is overlooked in a man who stands at the
very top of his profession. Even I—with only one textbook, one volume of essays, and a biography
of Catherine Parr to my credit—am indulged in one or two little foibles. But Frayne’s latest
outburst is the “living end,” as Roger Junior says. Mere eccentricity we can tolerate, even
enjoy. But Frayne’s insistence on interfering in other people’s lives is becoming positively
The star item of the midwinter drama festival is
Frayne’s latest adaptation of some classic work for the contemporary stage. He picked
Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” this time. Cecil Plumley, our “artist in
residence,” played Carton, and his wife did Mme. Defarge. The first act was, I thought, excellent.
The audience—certainly as discriminating as one could hope for, so far from the citadels of
culture—was very enthusiastic. I saw Eakins applauding quite unrestrainedly. There is no more
judicious critic among us.
Frayne came out before the curtain and took a few bows.
Then he held up his hand, and as soon as he could be heard (the student were really almost unruly) he said
that, while he appreciated our applause, he felt that the whole first act was marred by a certain staginess,
a remoteness and artificiality which we had grown used to in the theater, but which was quite inartistic
and unnecessary. The footlights, divided the actors from their non-participating audience so that all sense
of immediacy was lost. This he could tolerate in the first act, he went on, but for the rest of the play
we, the audience, must truly assist at the performance, as the Gallic idiom has it.
After all, he said, with that air of reasonableness
he always assumes when he is at his most outrageous! In this drama of the French Revolution, the mob of
Paris plays the central role. The slender resources of the Drama Department, at best, could only suggest
the titanic struggle between the State and the revolutionary mob.
And so, he concluded, the ushers would pass to each
of us instructions for playing an active part in the remainder of the play. Some would be Aristocrats,
some soldiers, and some servants, but most of us would be lower-class Parisians. We would have twenty-one
minutes to study our parts, and then the play would resume. To add to the immediacy and vividness of the
experience, he said (he was shouting into the microphone by now), and to prepare us emotionally for our
parts, the members of the mob would have their costumes disarranged by members of the production staff
so as to suggest extreme poverty.
He went on for a while longer, but the crowd around
the box office was so noisy that I couldn’t make out any of the rest of it. I was determined to
have my money back; but I dropped my glasses and some oaf trod on them before I could rescue them. And
when Edna lost the heel off her right slipper, I thought we’d best leave with what dignity we could
While we were struggling
into a taxi, I heard a volley of shots and a scream. I don’t know who screamed, but devoutly trust
that it was Frayne. Confound the old busybody, who ever heard of the audience participating in a play?
Why, what is a drama without spectators?
published in HIS Magazine, January, 1968, v. 28, n. 4, back cover
Used with permission, HIS 1968, © InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA