Friday, June 5, 2009

AND IT RAINED

Okay, deep breath, everyone. It's another one of those works by you know who...

AND IT RAINED (1934) comes from the inestimable Estelle Merrymon Clark, so be prepared. Music for this venture comes from Adele Bohling Lee (edited by Estelle's husband, Palmer John Clark), but when approaching something by the Clarks, the music is about the last thing you think about. These shows are all about Estelle's rambunctious plots, and truly AND IT RAINED is no exception.

We start with a storm, a real whopper that left "Lightning flashing/Tall trees crashing/Rent by unseen hands!", as the opening chorus sings while everyone dries out on the lawn of the not-quite-ready-for-business Wise Hotel "somewhere out West". People have arrived on the local train, the last one to make it before the storm hit — including the cabaret performer Mademoiselle Caráy, her small dog Mitzi, and her tap dancing chorus... although Mlle. Caráy's accent has a way of sliding in and out in a rather suspicious way. Because Mr. Wise's wife doesnt approve of "actors", he tells them that the troupe will have to assume the roles of teacher and students.

They're no sooner sorted out than we see Dennis Black and his sister Maizie. Dennis is furious Maizie is there, because apparently she risked life and limb to get across a bridge that connects the hotel with the mainland... and, thanks to the storm, the bridge no longer exists. For some reason, Dennis insists that they not even acknowledge that they're brother and sister, because he was on board the very same train and overheard a girl and her father talking in a not-very-nice way about his father, and he wants to know who she is and why these two have it in for Dad.

Now, you're probably wondering what this has to do with him and Maizie deciding not to act like brother and sister. Not much. We go on.

The chorus rushes back on, demanding service, and we now get to meet the overbearing and linguistically-challenged Mrs. Wise:

Please have patience, you are more than welcome to my hostility. Now that the storm is over and the humidity cleared up, the bridge will soon be assimilated, and I shall be glad to speed the parting guest.

Yep, virtually every line the woman has contains a malapropism. And some are true groaners. The rest are even worse. At any rate, while she's becalming the assembled guests, John Rich, his daughter Maibelle, and his son Curly arrive. John and Maibelle are the two that Dennis overheard last night on the train, so he immediately sidles up to them and introduces himself as Dennis White.

His real last name is Black, remember? Yuk-yuk-yuk.

John says he's there to meet a man named Steele Black, an old boyhood friend (This is Dennis' father, remember). Maizie, who's been eavesdropping over by the ornamental peonies, interrupts:

Black? Oh isnt that funny? Your name is White, his name is Black, black and white make gray and that is my name. Grey, Maizie Grey.

What a colourful family. She then continues on, telling John that she knows Steele Black:

I know all about him. He has the fiercest temper you ever saw: cant keep a bit of help on the place, and he uses a gun like a bandit. Why, his only son wouldnt stay at home, and his only daughter ran away one dark and stormy night, and he hasnt heard from her since. Oh, he's terrible, Mr. Rich. I wouldnt waste my time on him if I were you.

Mlle. Caráy (whom John seems to know as Mary Carey from back in the day) and her troupe rush in and perform an "allegory". It seems to have something to do with a king and features a slave dance, and then some war is over, and everyone dances a victory dance, after which they leave and the play proper continues.

Now you're probably asking, Okay, just what the Hades was that? That, dear reader, is just another of Estelle's surreally inconsequential little scenes, usually indicative of nothing whatsoever. It's just her way of making sure everyone gets plenty of face time onstage, even if it has zero to do with the plot. While she doesnt layer them on quite as heavily as she did in LAZY TOWN, Estelle made sure that AND IT RAINED has its own bloated share.

Back in the play, Dennis tries to find out why Maibelle has it in for his father, but she wants to keep her peace about it: after all, she's just met Dennis, which is hardly enough time for a young lady's future ex-beau to know all her secrets. Still, he perseveres, and we find out that this has to do with a looking glass, an heirloom given Maibelle by her great-great-great grandmother (longevity apparently runs rampant in the Rich family). Steele had at one time borrowed it and never returned it, the cad. But no matter, Dennis and Maibelle have found each other as a result, and for our immediate purposes, that's all that matters, because it gives them an opportunity to sing a little love song and then clear out just as Curly and Maizie come on with Mr. Wise and cajole him into loaning them his car so they can go see what's going on with the bridge. He agrees (ah, such a different time), but tells them that his wife can never know. He goes to get the keys. Curly and Maizie dance a tango (dont ask, just remember who wrote this).

They sorta kinda make it to the still-down bridge in time to see Maizie's father coming across the river in a flying machine. A glider? A small aeroplane? An early helicopter? Estelle, that woman of mystery, never says for certain. Steele and John have a slightly awkward reunion, Dennis's issues with his last name are revealed, Maibelle becomes absolutely furious with Dennis for his little colour switch, Curly is arrested and thrown into jail for speeding (at 25 mph!), Mlle. Caráy's dog has gone missing, and... no, I think that's everything — as the curtain falls on Act One.

Act Two is later that night. There's a big festive dinner to celebrate Opening Day, even though the menu is limited to beans and cod fish balls. The tap dancers perform an "air de ballet". Maibelle is still mad at Dennis, and he tries to calm her down by telling her the story of the Moonflower, an old legend that seems to work just fine for the purpose of cuing up a Native-style dance. Curly, who seems to have escaped from jail, appears with the boys' glee club, and everyone performs an "eccentric dance" before he decides to make himself scarce...

... and so it goes, on and on and on. Inside the next few pages, previously wimpy Curly stands up to his father so he can help rebuild the bridge and returns not ten lines later with a broken arm; Mlle. Caráy is revealed to have been fond of both John Rich and Steele Black when they were all younger; and the fathers decide they've done enough meddling in the lives of their children and from now on are going to sit on the sidelines while Dennis and Maibelle do some serious courtin'. Mrs. Wise is tricked into believing that her keys (and her car) never left the property, and Maizie and Curly... well, you know: usual operetta ending, with everyone getting paired off somehow.

Oh, the mirror? Mentioned in passing at the very end. We wrap up this little work still not knowing what the big fuss was about with the mirror, but given how Estelle writes her plays, that probably shouldnt be surprising. Still, AND IT RAINED, with its ten — count 'em, ten! — story lines that interweave around and through each other, is relatively sanguine for Ms. Clark: if she doesnt quite get around to finishing them all neat and tidy, well, she just ran out of time, probably.

Lyrically, it's down there with her usual efforts:

Oh little Mary Carey
She went away one day
She went to France
To learn to dance
And speak the French they say
But no amount of coaching
Could change the brogue of Mary
She's still the same little Irish girl
And her name is Mary Carey.

I honestly cannot explain why the Clarks got so much work published, save that possibly it was because the scripts were so big that they guaranteed everyone in class a pretty decent part. Or more likely the publishers were more interested in Palmer's musical skills as composer and editor than they were in Estelle as an author. It must have been a package deal, from what I can figure, because her work is arguably some of the overdone out there, with so many plots running at the same time that the audience had to have taken notes just to keep everyone's storylines straight. Her model seems to have been the mechanical farces of writers like Feydeau, except she's not manic enough. And she never quite figured out that Feydeau works because he treats the utterly implausible as completely acceptable: Estelle, on the other hand, has to underscore it all with page after page of let's-shove-it-in-at-the-last-minute exposition to explain everything in the smallest detail... even if it means forgetting about the thing that started it all — like, in this case, the mirror.

The cover art, by the way, is a stunning piece of post-Deco, pre-Moderne-era styling. Shamefully, it's uncredited.

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