A “Sockdologizing Old Mantrap”

Apr 1, 2015

57_49_11In the season finale at Parson’s Nose, the company has cast its varied talents into Tom Taylor’s three-act play, Our American Cousin, written in 1852.

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. (

Parson’s Nose calls the character of Asa Trenchard “a big galumphing rube with a heart of gold.” Apparently way back in the day, Our American Cousin swept America, culminating in the fateful performance at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C. on April 14th, one hundred fifty years ago.

On that fateful evening, OAC writes, “halfway through Act III, Scene 2, the character Asa Trenchard (the titular cousin), played that night by Harry Hawk, utters one of the play’s funniest lines — however little sense it makes out of context:

“ ‘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 raucous laughter that followed this line, John Wilkes Booth, an actor who received his mail at Ford’s Theater but who was not in the cast of Our American Cousin, assassinated Abraham Lincoln. He chose the timing in hopes that the sound of the laughter would mask the sound of his gunshot.

“Before its history was changed by Lincoln’s assassination, the play had already made a cultural impact. The character Lord Dundreary 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 same character’s style of beard – long, bushy sideburns – gave the English language the word ‘dundrearies.’ ”

Parson’s Nose production, which runs through April 19th, stars Tina Carlisi as Florence Trenchard, South Pasadena native James Calvert as Asa Trenchard, and Lance Davis (who adapted this version of Our American Cousin) as Lord Dundreary.


Our American Cousin
Parson’s Nose Theater, 1325 Monterey Rd., South Pasadena
Cost: $5-$25; purchase tickets here
For details, call 1.626.403.7667
Or visit


“She puts me in mind of that beautiful piece of poetry. ‘The
rose is red, the violet’s blue…The rose is red, the
violet’s blue…The rose is red, the violet’s blue, sugar is
sweet, and so is somebody, and so is somebody else’.”
—Lord Dundreary


E.A. Sothern, Laura Keene, and Joseph Jefferson in the original production of Our American Cousin performed at Keene's theater in New York City.

E.A. Sothern, Laura Keene, and Joseph Jefferson in the original production of Our American Cousin performed at Keene’s theater in New York City.


A comedy with a melodramatic structure, much of the show’s humor was originally intended to spring from Asa’s crude and uncouth manners as an American in England. However, the ad-libs of Jefferson’s friend, E. A. Sothern as the foppish and silly Lord Dundreary, soon eclipsed the American cousin.

With expansive sideburns and dandified attire, Sothern transformed Lord Dundreary’s role from a bit part into a top billing character.  Sothern became almost synonymous with the role and was able to perform it in several sequels and spin-offs (


Image, top right: E.A. Sothern as Lord Dundreary in the original New York City production in 1858.



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