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Our American Cousin is a play in three acts by Tom Taylor. The play is a farcical comedy whose plot is based on the introduction of an awkward, boorish American to his aristocratic English relatives. It premiered at Laura Keene's Theatre in New York City on October 15, 1858. The play concerns the adventures of an American, Asa Trenchard, first played by Joseph Jefferson, who goes to England to claim the family estate.

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Most famous performance

The play's most famous performance came seven years later, at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1865. Halfway through Act III, Scene 2, the character Asa Trenchard (the title role), played that night by Harry Hawk, utters a line considered one of the play's funniest:

"Don't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap..."

During the laughter that followed this line, John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor who was not in that night's cast of Our American Cousin, fatally shot President Abraham Lincoln. Familiar with the play, he chose this moment in the hope that the sound of the audience's laughter would mask the sound of his gunshot. He then leapt from Lincoln's box to the stage and made his escape through the back of the theater to a horse he had left waiting in the alley.

Cultural impact

Edward Sothern as Lord Dundreary, sporting "Dundrearies"

Before its history was changed by Lincoln's assassination, the play had already made a cultural impact. The character Lord Dundreary, a dimwitted aristocrat, became popular for the absurd riddles he propounded. "Dundrearyisms," twisted aphorisms in the style of Lord Dundreary (e.g. "birds of a feather gather no moss"), also enjoyed a brief vogue. The scene in which Dundreary read a letter from his even stupider brother became especially famous. The actor Edward Askew Sothern, who created the Dundreary role, expanded the scene considerably in performance. A number of spin-off works were also created, including a play about the brother. The same character's style of beard — long, bushy sideburns — gave the English language the word "dundrearies."

See also

External links








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