Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 325 – Scenery for Edwin Milton Royle’s “Mexico”

Part 325: Scenery for Edwin Milton Royle’s “Mexico”

In 1895, Thomas G. Moses wrote, “We also did a fine production of ‘Mexico.” He painted the scenery on the frames of the Schiller Theatre and commented that a few years later it was re-named “Captain Impudence.”

Advertisement for “Captain Impudence,” 1897. The Times, (Philladelphia) 12 Sept 1897, page 14
Edwin Milton Royle in the production “Captain Impudence.” Fort Wayne News 9 Oct 1897, page 3

Edwin Milton Royle was both the playwright and the leading role for the production. Gustave Frohman inaugurated his management of the Schiller Theare presenting this new romantic drama (Inter Ocean, 1 September 1895, page 37). One review commented that “Mexico” was “a melodrama of the Walter Sanford School mounted like a London Lyceum production” (Chicago Tribune, 3 September 1895, page 12).

Edwin Milton Royle
Selena Fetter Royle

The production previewed in Cleveland, Ohio during August 1895. This provided time for the company to make the necessary changes to the staging and scenery before officially opening at the Schiller Theatre in Chicago. The Akron Beacon Journal reported “Thomas Moses, the famous scene painter of the Schiller Theater, Chicago, is working a large force of assistants day and night in order to deliver the scenery on time” (28 February 1895, page 4). Cleveland newspapers praised Moses’ settings for the production, reporting “Special and very beautiful scenery by Thomas G. Moses, of Chicago, was painted for the production” The scenes of the play were all set in Mexico, at Montery, Buena Vista, Saltillo, and Chapultepec, during the Mexican-American War (The Pittsburgh Press, 27 August 1895, page 5).

Illustration of a scene from “Mexico” published in the Chicago Tribune (1 Sept 1895, page 36).

The plot took place during the occupation by the American army from 1846-1848. It featured Royale and his wife Selena Fetter Royle in a convoluted loved story between Captain Willard Shield and Jovita Talamanca. The dramatic intrigue was accentuated with spectacular scenic effects in exciting war scenes. In almost every review, however, the scenery was highlighted as an incentive to see the production. The Chicago Tribune’s review reported, “The scenery is the best part of the production at present. The first act is laid in the plaza at Montery, just before daybreak; the second and third in the courtyard of the Mission Dolores – a really beautiful scene; and the last in the Mexican fortifications at Chapultepec. Thomas G. Moses deserves credit for this very excellent work.”

Moses’ scenic art was praised for he beautiful compositions and historical accuracy. The St. Paul Globe reported, “Thomas G. Moses, the Chicago artist, prepared the scenery for the production, and his models were drawn from special photographs and sketches secured in the City of Mexico and forwarded to him by Hon. Thomas T. Crittenden, consul general of the United States, who is a personal friend of Mr. Royle, and who took great interest in the production of his play. The valley of Mexico is said by travelers to be one of the most beautiful in the world, and with its vista of towering mountain peaks, naturally forms a rare setting for a story of love and war” (St. Paul Globe, 29 Sept. 1895, page 4).

Painting by Carl Nebel “Battle of Buena”

After Chicago, the production toured to the Metropolitan Opera House in St. Paul, Minnesota. The St. Paul Daily Globe commended Royle “for selecting such a fertile field and prolific period for his story…The period of the Mexican war is just far enough removed to obliterate all prejudices, while its deeds of bravery and brilliancy still illuminate the records of our martial achievements.” (St. Paul Daily Globe, 29 Sept. 1895, page 8). Royle played the hero, an American officer who falls in love with the heroine, a Mexican girl who has been detained as a prisoner within the American lines. Bannerman’s Military Museum in New York furnished a numberous artifacts from the Mexican-American War for use on the stage, such as swords, pistols and battle flags. That meant they were using real guns.

The St. Paul Globe article reported “The scenery for the production is especially magnificent, and was painted by Thomas G. Moses, the well-known Chicago artist, from accurate sketches taken in Mexico for the purpose. There is a storm scene in the play, introducing some startling and novel effects that arouse the enthusiasm of the audience” (2 September 1895, page 4).

By 1897, “Metropolitan Magazine” would comment on the name change, “Edwin Milton Royle’s play, formerly known under the title “Mexico,” but rechristened “Captain Impudence,” has been produced in New York with good results, at the American Theatre. The scene is laid in ‘Mexico’ and the incidents are military as well as highly dramatic” (March 1897, Vol. V, No. 2, page 170).

As I was looking for images from the production, I stumbled across another pyro-spectacle produced by Pain – The Mexican War’s “Siege of Vera Cruz” on Manhattan Beach. How appropriate to follow yesterday’s post. It really was all about the visual spectacle!

Poster for the “Siege of Vera Cruz” by the Pain Pyro-Spectacle Company for Manhattan Beach.

To be continued…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *