AFTER the sporadic attempts at such dramatic productions as the Menaechmi of Plautus by the University Dramatic Club in the late 1880's and early 1890's, the Comedy Club was organized, about 1896, by Norman Hackett and others.
The new club usually chose its plays from the least expensive successes of the day, though the emphasis was placed on social rather than strictly dramatic ends. It became a closed corporation, entrance to which was gained more often by dramatic friendships than dramatic ability. There were some talented members, however, and annual performances given during J-Hop weekends were considered one of the dramatic as well as social events of the year. The presentation of such plays as The Private Secretary, APage 1870Night Off, All the Comforts of Home, and A Scrap of Paper was of that period.
The deficiencies of the club were apparent enough not only to members of the faculty but to students as well. In 1907 Professor Louis A. Strauss rewrote the club's constitution, stipulating that henceforth members were to be chosen for their dramatic ability by competitive tryouts to which any student on the campus was invited. Moreover, a student on the campus could not take part in a public performance if his academic standing was not satisfactory.
As a result of this reorganization the new club earnestly tried to choose plays of literary merit conditioned, naturally, by the limitations of its members as well as by the popular texts of the day. This standard was responsible for the presentation of George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer rewritten from the original by Professor Strauss. Its curtain was raised in the "new" Whitney Theater and had the distinction of being the first campus production to play there. In 1909 James Barrie's The Admirable Crichton was given. After Barrie's play came Gogol's The Inspector, marking its second performance in the United States. This unprecedented high standard of production continued until the war, with The Title Mart by Winston Churchill (1911), The Magistrate by Pinero (1912), Money by Bulwer Lytton (1913), The Scarecrow by Percy Mackaye (1914), Pomander Walk by Stuart Lewis Parker (1915), and James Barrie's The Professor's Love Story (1916). Then the United States entered the war and the Comedy Club tried to give the campus something in a lighter vein. Even though its membership and resources were greatly diminished, it succeeded in putting on Jerome K. Jerome's Miss Hobbs and Mason's Green Stockings.
The end of the war gave the club increased vitality and with it came a period of excellent production under the direction and advice of Professors J. Raleigh Nelson and Herbert A. Kenyon. In 1920 Professor Nelson staged Alice Sit-by-the-Fire. The next year brought Graham Moffat's quaint Scotch comedy, Bunty Pulls the Strings. Shaw's Pygmalion in 1922 was followed by A. A. Milne's Mr. Pim Passes By (1923) and Walter Hackett's Captain Applejack.
Comedy Club's principal interest had again become a dramatic rather than a social one. Biweekly meetings were held for the study of new plays and the presentation of at least one act of them. At this time the club staged its plays at the Mimes Theater rather than at the Whitney. This increased activity brought A. A. Milne's Red Feathers, Shaw's The Admirable Bashville, James Barrie's A Well Remembered Voice (1925), Shaw's You Never Can Tell, Megrue's Tea for Three, Shaw's Great Catherine (1926), T. F. Fallon's The Last Warning, and Sutton Vane's Outward Bound. The year 1928 saw performances of Meet the Wife by Lynn Starling, Dulcy by George Kaufman and Marc Connelly, and The Constant Wife by Somerset Maugham, and 1929 The Jest by Sem Benelli and Diplomacy by Sardou.
In the spring of 1929 Comedy Club had the distinction of inaugurating the newly opened Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. The play was Clemence Dane's Granite. This was followed by numerous other presentations in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, such as Molnar's Olympia (1930), John Lewis Brumm's The Strait Jacket, and the old French farce Pierre Patelin (1931). Anthony and Anna, Meet the Wife, and the good old melodrama Streets of New York were the program for 1932, followed by Meet the Prince, Murray Hill, and Three Times the Hour by Valentine Davies, a former Comedy Club president.
In its last few years Comedy Club had Page 1871gradually become overshadowed by Play Production. In 1934 Vincent Wall's Late Love, and The Last of Mrs. Cheney and the Playboy of the Western World were produced with much artistic but little financial success. In 1935 Raymond Van Sickle's Why Minnie Boggs! made expenses but not enough to pay off bills that had been accumulating. Comedy Club had no alternative. It was compelled to turn out its floodlights and drop its curtain. Comedy Club is now a thing of the past, but it made dramatic history on the campus of the University of Michigan.
Many names connected with Comedy Club have become famous: Phyllis Povah, Robert Henderson, Warren Parker, Norman Hackett, Phyllis Loughton, Valentine Davies, Amy Loomis, Richard Kendrick, Allan Hanley, the stagehand who became Governor Comstock, and many others. The good work of the Comedy Club was spurred on by such men as Professors Louis A. Strauss, J. Raleigh Nelson, Herbert A. Kenyon, and Oscar J. Campbell. It was not unrecognized work either, for Alla Nazimova, Arthur Wing Pinero, Raymond Van Sickle, and the late Sir Ben Greet are among those who have expressed their praise for the work of the club. It was a gallant and a gay history.