In Chapter Sixteen, Drouet is asked if he knows of a woman who can perform in a play for his secret order (of the Elks). He promises to think of this and then forgets entirely until he sees an advertisement for the play. He persuades Carrie with compliments to put herself forward to act in it and she is flattered by such talk. The narrator intrudes to tell the reader that she is a true thespian as she feels without reasoning.
Drouet collects her script for her and he tells Mr Quincel, who is organizing the play, that her name is Carrie Madenda. He picks this name at random as those at the lodge know he is single, so she cannot use the name Mrs Drouet. Carrie is to play Laura, a role of suffering and tears. She acts a scene for Drouet in private and he is impressed by her.
Carrie tells Hurstwood of her forthcoming debut, in Chapter Seventeen, and Hurstwood lies to Drouet that he has been sent tickets by the lodge (so that he will be able to see her perform without raising suspicion).
There is a shift, then, to Carrie’s rehearsal where the exacting director compliments her on her acting. Drouet is somewhat indifferent, though, and this makes her long to see Hurstwood all the more. His interest in her progress increases her affection for him.
Hurstwood helps to advertise the play to his friends and acquaintances in Chapter Eighteen and increases the sale of tickets. Carrie is nervous about the performance on the day, but is infatuated with the backstage atmosphere of the theater. As it fills up, the readers are told of Hurstwood’s popularity and when questioned about his wife, he tells a friend that she could not make it because of illness.
Chapter Nineteen begins with the start of the play. It is clear that Carrie is extremely nervous when she makes her first appearance and Drouet goes backstage to tell her not to worry. She improves as he continues to tell her this. As the play progresses, her success excites both Drouet and Hurstwood and both feel that she is talking to them whilst she is acting. Drouet is so impressed he resolves to marry her and after the play finishes Carrie feels as though she is empowered; that she is looking down at her lover instead of up.
The day after the play, in Chapter Twenty, begins with Hurstwood arguing with his wife about their forthcoming holiday and then moves to Drouet mentioning to Carrie about their marrying. He becomes aware that she has changed. He notices she is less dependent on him, but is still unaware of her feelings for Hurstwood. Both Drouet and Carrie leave the flat separately, but Drouet unexpectedly returns for some bills. He is surprised Carrie has left as she did not mention she was going out, and is taken aback when the chambermaid, with whom he has been flirting, tells him that Hurstwood called for ‘Mrs Drouet’ almost every day whilst he was away. This chapter ends with Drouet determined to find out if Carrie has been deceiving him.
Carrie’s success as an actress dominates these chapters and gives a hint to future events when she later lives in New York. With this first performance, she gains a taste for independence from both Hurstwood and Drouet and is able to attract their full attention and respect. It is telling that Drouet feels compelled to want to marry her when he sees her perform so well, and that he spots her new found independence. The narrative is always quick to point out how genial Drouet is, but both he and Hurstwood are authentically depicted as being further attracted to Carrie when she shows she is seen to be capable of independent thought and action.
Sister Carrie: Chapters 16-20