PHOENIX IN PROVINCETOWN
The Provincetown Playhouse on the Wharf survived the ashes of a fire that gutted its theater on March 25, 1977, and rose again last summer with a four-play season that included Long Day's Journey Into Night. The choice of an O'Neill play was certainly appropriate, since it was the Provincetown Players' production of Bound East for Cardiff on July 28, 1916 (with the playwright himself in the one-line role of Second Mate) that secured Provincetown's place in American theatrical history.
After the tragic fire on March 25, Elliot Norton recalled some of the theater's history in the Boston Herald American (April 24, 1977, p. A31): "That original theater had no formal name. The Provincetown Playhouse on the Wharf was erected years later, dedicated to summer entertainment for visitors, with a strong push by the producers to keep alive O'Neill's plays. There has been more than one management down through the years, some devotees who have hung on year after year against almost unconquerable odds, trying to produce good drama, well played, in a building that seats no more than 100.
"Catherine Huntington of Boston has been involved longest and has had much to do with keeping O'Neill's name alive by producing his plays. There was a time in the thirties and forties when his reputation was at a low ebb. But all during that period, Miss Huntington and her associates kept producing the O'Neill dramas, including the rare ones, in Provincetown. In 31 years, they presented 41 of his plays.
"Fifty years after Bound East for Cardiff and its author were introduced at the original playhouse half a mile away on Commercial Street, they reproduced it in a Eugene O'Neill Festival that also offered Ah, Wilderness!, Moon of the Carribees, A Touch of the Poet, Long Day's Journey Into Night, A Moon for the Misbegotten and Beyond the Horizon. That's an astonishing list for a tiny playhouse on Cape Cod, but Catherine Huntington, with her associates Virginia Thomas and Edward Thommen, managed it.
"Two years ago, Miss Huntington and her friends sold the theater; which was taken over by Lester and Adele Heller of Washington, D.C., who, like their predecessors, are devotees of good drama. They made plans to keep it going and despite some unfortunate hazards were doing pretty well until [March 25], when some local vandals broke into the empty buildings and set them ablaze.
"It looked for a while as if this was the end of the Playhouse on the Wharf and all it stands for. But the people of the old town rallied round to give the Hellers the use of the Town Hall as a theater, with some school-house space for building scenery. So there will be a Provincetown Playhouse as there has been down through the years. That is reason to rejoice."
And the rejoicing can continue, because the Playhouse's 1977 summer season was a success, and a new theatre has already been planned for construction on the same site as the original Provincetown Playhouse.
However, since not only the theater but all of its theatrical equipment was destroyed on March 25, the financial burden has been considerable and the Provincetown, like many another artistic ensemble, is struggling to survive. Persons wishing to make tax-deductible contributions to its sup-port should make checks payable to Provincetown Playhouse on the Wharf, Inc., and send them to Provincetown Playhouse, Gosnold Street, Province-town, MA 02657.
© Copyright 1999-2007 eOneill.com