Twillbe

Ticket and playbill for "Twillbe"
Ticket and playbill for the performance of Twillbe at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, December 29, 1894
John Sloan Manuscript Collection, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

In the mid-1890s John Sloan and some of his fellow students from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts would gather in the studio of their mentor and friend, Robert Henri. Heather Campbell Coyle, Curator of American Art at the Delaware Art Museum, notes that the studio "accomodated serious discussions of art and literature, but it also provided a venue for parties and burlesque plays." One such burlesque was Twillbe, the "grandest of the productions and the only one performed on campus at the Pennsylvania Academy." The cast included Sloan in the title role, Robert Henri as Svengali, C. S. Williamson as George Domarryher, and Everett Shinn as James McNails Whiskers.

John Sloan as Twillbe
John Sloan as Twillbe, 1894
John Sloan Manuscript Collection, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

Bennard B. Perlman gives a colorful description of the performance in his book, The Immortal Eight:

Sloan was outfitted with enormous false feet [. . .] and donning a comical wig, he sang "Sweet Alice Ben Bolt" in his very best falsetto. Sloan's sister, Marianna, had fashioned him a dress employing a Watteau pleat to mark the front. In all the excitement, Sloan slipped it on backwards, causing him continually to trip over the hem and evoking unexpected audience approval. The mistake in dressing brought about another difficulty. At one point in the play Twillbe was slated to jump onto a table at the sight of a mouse. "This violent action caused my busts to fall out," Sloan blushingly reported. "Henri, who played Svengali, kicked them into the wings with a serene and magnificent gesture I shall never forget." In the grand finale, Henri met a fate befitting the villain when he was bitten to death by New Jersey mosquitoes which swarmed upon him in the form of red balloons manipulated by wires offstage.

The writer of a favorable review of the performance in the Philadelphia Times must not have noticed all of the commotion, however, writing that "the production was marked with an exhibition of rare histrionic talent and elocutionary gifts on the part of the students, and the drama was carried forward with a smoothness and celerity remarkable for a first night's performance. The audience applauded generously."

Script for Twillbe
Script for Twillbe by Charles. S. Williamson, 1894
John Sloan Manuscript Collection, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum
View entire script here