This article appeared in Issue 9 (December, 1986) of Precious Nonsense, the newsletter of the Midwestern Gilbert & Sullivan Society. Posted by permission of Sarah Cole, Society Secretary/Archivist. For information on Society membership write to:
The mystery fans in our numbers are probably already familiar with the work of Charlotte MacLeod, a popular and fairly prolific mystery writer. What they may or may not know is that one of her latest books, The Plain Old Man, is set during an amateur production of The Sorcerer. Member Carol Lee Cole read it recently (and enjoyed it, too), and sent the following excerpt from the introduction, in which a (philistine!) spinster tries to explain the plot of the opera to a relative. Once Carol Lee stopped laughing so hard that she could talk again, she said the MGS might enjoy it, too. Here it is, and we hope the Chicago G&S Society will not be victimized with such a description before their Sorcerer.From the book The Plain Old Man, by Charlotte MacLeod
"Anyway, they (the amateurs) are up to their eyeballs with the play, or comic opera as I believe those Gilbert & Sullivan things are properly called. The plot, as far as I can make out, deals with a boy and girl who are foolish enough to become engaged to each other, and their parents (a widow and widower respectively) who wish to be engaged but for some never-explained reason are not.
"There is also a silly young thing who is chasing after the vicar, he being at least twice her age. She has a mother who is listed on the program as a pew opener....
"After the usual tiresome overture, a chorus of village men and maidens (!!!) sing the usual sort of unintelligible nonsense about how happy everybody is today because Aline (the girl) is getting betrothed to Alexis (the boy). Then the pew opener and her daughter come on looking as grumpy as we shall all, no doubt, be feeling by then. The daughter (Constance) tells her mother (Mrs. Partlett) that she is in love with the vicar, who doesn't care for her. Needless to say, the vicar then appears, declaiming that the girls aren't chasing him any more now that he is old and fat instead of young and handsome. The mother tries her hand at matchmaking and fails, naturally, this being only the beginning of the show.
"They go away, no doubt to everyone's relief.... (Alexis) and his father (Sir Marmaduke) come on and are congratulated by the vicar (Dr. Daly) for quite some time. You know how ministers run on. These three go away and on comes Aline with the rest of the girls. She sings a song about marriage having its disadvantages as well as its alleged advantages, as if one had to be told. Then the mother (Lady Sangazure) and prospective father-in-law (Sir Marmaduke) enter and they all sing a lot of gibberish about one thing and another.
"At last the lawyer appears with the bridal contract. Instead of reading out the terms in a sane and sensible manner, the young people go ahead and append their signatures to the unread document, while the chorus stands around loudly applauding this totally rash and senseless act.
"Eventually they all leave the stage except Alexis and Aline. Alexis expounds some ridiculous theory that everybody ought to marry everybody else without distinction of rank. Aline, like a besotted little ninny, agrees with him. He then tells her he has resolved on obtaining a potion which will make all those villagers who have shown a reluctance toward lawful wedlock (though no doubt sufficient forwardness in other directions!) [Remember the source - Ed.] fall in love with one another.
"Aline protests, but of course he doesn't listen--men never do--and they go off to one J. Wellington Wells, a sorcerer (hence, I assume, the name of the production) to get the potion. He subjects them to a lot of mumbojumbo, no doubt as an excuse to jack up the price, then sells them the potion, which he puts into a large teapot Alexis has brought with him. Alexis, mind you, being the son of a baronet (Sir Marmaduke)--can you picture a baronet's son carrying a large teapot, unwrapped, through the streets of London? Perhaps this is meant to add a touch of humor. [Perhaps this description mistake was meant to be one, too - Ed.]
"In any event, they take to pot to a tea party which Sir Marmaduke...is giving to celebrate the betrothal. Too cheap or too broke to buy champagne, I suppose--they always are, aren't they? Alexis, who appears to have no moral principles whatsoever (he being the hero, you will recall) tricks the vicar into making tea in the aforementioned teapot and gets everybody to drink some except himself, Aline, and the sorcerer, who has somehow wrangled an invitation to the affair. At this point, mercifully, we have an intermission.
"(Afterward,) we go back to our seats, if we can find them, and watch everybody wake up and fall in love. First the members of the chorus conduct a sort of mass wooing, then Constance (the pew opener's daughter, as you've most likely forgotten by now) enters arm and arm with the lawyer, moaning that she has suddenly lost her feeling for the vicar (which wasn't getting her anywhere anyway) and fallen madly in love with this plain old man [the actor playing the Notary is murdered in the course of the story, thus the title of the book--Ed.] ...
"Moving on less rapidly than one might wish, Constance bewails her plight at quite at quite unreasonable length with Alexis, Aline, and the chorus all getting into the act. Eventually Alexis and Aline are left alone. Alexis starts nagging at Aline to drink the potion also and thus become his willing slave for life (you will notice that HE never offers to drink it and become HER willing slave!!!)[sic!--Ed.] During the ensuing quarrel, Sir Marmaduke comes along engaged to the pew opener. Lady Sangazure . . . falls in love with Mr. Wells (the sorcerer), who rejects her, he being the only one so far who's shown a lick of sense despite his odd profession.
"Then Aline drinks the potion, not in front of Alexis, which would have been at least plausible, but just in time to meet Dr. Daly (the vicar) who is wandering along playing a flageolet (a penny whistle, in plainer terms) and complaining that everybody is now engaged to somebody and nobody is left to marry him. At that point he comes face-to-face with Aline and they fall in love.
"Well, of course Alexis is furious at being jilted even though he's brought it upon himself, and goes whining off to Mr. Wells to undo the spell. It turns out that the only way this can be done is for either Alexis or Wells to die. If you can make sense of that, you will show greater acumen than I've ever found cause to credit you with. Anyway, Wells gets thumbs-down form the assemblage and disappears through the trapdoor, assuming it's in working order this time.
"At last all the couples switch around the get suitably mated, another comic touch, one assumes, and sing something about strawberry jam and rollicking buns. All this is supposed to add up to a highly diverting evening. I shall take my knitting with me. Yrs. aff., Mabel."
For the interested, (MacLeod, Charlotte, The Plain Old Man. New York: Doubleday, 1985) can easily be obtained from your public library, and has recently been issued in paperback for $2.95, at bookstores everywhere. As advertisers are wont to say this time of year, "the perfect gift."
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