- Steele MacKaye's four-act melodrama, which opened on 4 February 1880 for a remarkable 486 performances at the Madison Square Theatre, became the longest-running nonMusicAL play of its time. Its innovations included the omission of an obvious villain and unusually subtle characterizations. Hazel Kirke is disowned by her father, a morally rigid Scotsman named Dunstan Kirke, when she decides to marry Arthur Carrington instead of the man he has selected for her. Hazel's troubles are compounded when Arthur's mother, Emily, considers her beneath their social status since Arthur is also Lord Travers. When Emily convinces Hazel that the marriage to Arthur is illegal, the despondent Hazel attempts suicide by drowning, but has a change of heart and calls for help. Her father, Dunstan, who is now blind, is unable to assist Hazel, but Arthur arrives in time to save her.The success of Hazel Kirke, hinting at the rise of the independent woman, was so significant that five road companies played while the original continued on Broadway. Among the first plays to spawn tours (14 were on the road by 1882), it also provided a star-making role for Effie Ellsler, the original Hazel, who established her own company and continued to play Hazel until 1905. Other actresses scored successes with the role, including Georgia Cay-van, Annie Russell, and Phoebe Davis. Since Lottie Blair Parker had acted in a Hazel Kirke company, it is perhaps not surprising that her own hit play Way Down East (1898) bore some resemblances to the earlier work.
The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. James Fisher.
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