Dion Boucicault

Definition

Theater

  • (Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot; 1822 - 90) Irish playwright,actor, and director. He wrote some 200 plays, becoming one of thegreat names of the 19th-century theater on both sides of the Atlanticand a favourite of Queen Victoria. She wrote in her diary,"Mr Boucicault, who is very handsome and has a fine voice, actedvery impressively. I can never forget his livid face and fixed look."She later commissioned a watercolour of him for Windsor Castle.

    Born in Dublin, Boucicault began acting and writing as LeeMorton; his London Assurance, which opened in 1841 at CoventGarden, became one of the century's most popular comedies. He laterprovided Charles Kean with a great success with his adaptation ofThe Corsican Brothers (1852). Boucicault then eloped to NewYork with Kean's ward, becoming a US citizen in 1873.

    In America he made his name with The Poor of New York(retitled wherever it played, so that in e.g. London it became ThePoor of London). He became the first writer seriously to dramatizethe lives of US Blacks with The Octoroon (1859). The productionincluded the spectacular burning of a Mississippi riverboat - an example of what Boucicault termed 'sensation drama'. His otherworks included plays with Irish settings including The ColleenBawn (1860), based on the murder of an Irish girl by a Britishofficer, and The Shaughraun (1875), the most popular Irishplay of the century.

    Boucicault was an innovator who pioneered the matinee performance,the box set, and fireproof scenery. Despite his own plagiarism,he lobbied Congress for new copyright protection, which becamelaw in 1856. He was an indefatigable worker who suggested his tombstoneshould read: "His first holiday".

    Boucicault's second wife was the Scottish-born actress AgnesKelly Robertson (1833 - 1916). After eloping with Boucicaultto America, she starred in most of his plays, winning particular acclaimas Jeanie Deans in The Trial of Effie Deans (1863), a dramatizationof Scott's The Heart of Midlothian. In 1888 her husband, whosemany affairs she had ignored, claimed they had never been legallywed. He then married Louise Thorndyke, an actress 44 years his junior,in what was probably a bigamous union. Agnes continued to act, makingher final appearance in London in 1896 in a revival of Boucicault'sThe Colleen Bawn.

    Dot Boucicault (Darley George Boucicault; 1859 - 1929),the elder son of Dion Boucicault and Agnes Robertson, acted inhis father's company before becoming the actor-manager of the Dukeof York's Theatre, London (1901 - 15). He was especially acclaimedfor his role as Sir William Gower in Pinero's Trelawney of the'Wells'. His wife was the actress Irene Vanbrugh.

    Dot's sister Nina Boucicault (1867 - 1950) likewise beganher career in her father's company, playing Eily O'Connor in The ColleenBawn in 1885. Her second role was as Kitty Verdun in the originalproduction of Brandon Thomas's Charley's Aunt. In 1904 she became thefirst Peter Pan in Barrie's famous play for children.

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