NEWS, NOTES AND QUERIES
1. PROVINCETOWNERS TO RECREATE PLAYERS' FIRST NIGHT. No reputable list of major dates in the history of American theatre and drama could fail to include the evening of July 15, 1915—the night on which, in the rented house of Hutchins Hapgood on Commercial Street, a dedicated band of writers and amateur actors performed two short plays for their friends and fellow artists. While it was later that the group officially organized and called themselves the Provincetown Players, it is certainly true that, on that July evening, the Players were effectively born. Their first bill comprised two comedies: Constancy, by Neith Boyce (Mrs. Hapgood), and Suppressed Desires, by George Cram Cook and Susan Glaspell (Mrs. Cook). Both plays eschewed the traditions of the commercial drama of the time, and both reflected the enthusiasms and experiences of the group's members Constancy tracing, with scarcely any veil at all, the tempestuous relationship between Mabel Dodge and John Reed while making an important statement about the new role of women in American culture; and Suppressed Desires spoofing the then-fashionable fad of amateur psychoanalysis.
While the Players later repeated both plays elsewhere, the two were never again performed together. Not, that is, until this summer, when Adele Heller, Producing Director of the Provincetown Playhouse, will recreate the original double bill at the Provincetown Art Association on Friday, September 2, with a repeat performance on the following evening. The program's title, "Beginnings," is doubly appropriate, since the event will celebrate both the genesis of the Players and the imminent reemergence of the Playhouse, which has been sadly missed since it was torched by vandals in 1977.
To celebrate and document the Players' "beginnings" more broadly, and to fill out an otherwise short evening of theatre, the performances will include two additional features: a slide show, including many photos from 1915 (from the albums of the original Players' offspring) that have never before been publicly displayed; and readings and reminiscences by several descendants of founders of the group. Among them: Miriam Hapgood DeWitt, daughter of Boyce and Hapgood, who will read from her parents' letters and share anecdotes about Harry Kemp and others; Mrs. DeWitt's sister, Beatrice Faust; Heaton Vorse, whose singing was a highlight of Warren Beatty's film Reds; and Joel O'Brien, son of Joe O'Brien and Mary Heaton Vorse (the owner of Lewis Wharf in 1915), who will read from his mother's book, Time and the Town.
'Tis an event no devotee of American theatre will want to miss—not least because Constancy has had only one performance since that opening night (it returned as part of the third bill during the Players' 1916 summer season at the Wharf) and has never been published. For more information about the September performances, write to the Provincetown Playhouse, Provincetown, MA 02657, or call 617-487-0955. If you can't get to the Provincetownly tip of Cape Cod this summer, there's good news in item 2.
2. "BEGINNINGS" TO BE FEATURED AT O'NEILL CONVENTION IN MARCH. The exciting program described above will be repeated next March as part of the evening performance series during the international conference on "Eugene O'Neill—the Early Years" at Suffolk University in Boston (March 22-25). The specific date should be available for announcement in the next issue of the Newsletter. For speedier information, and for news about other convention events, write or call the editor's office (617-723-4700, ext. 272).
3. O'NEILL'S LETTERS
SOUGHT FOR COLLECTION. At last, a comprehensive volume of O'Neill's
letters is in the works. It will be edited by Professors
Jackson R. Bryer and
Anyone with the desired materials or information should write to Professor Bryer at the Department of English, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20740.
4. 1984 O'NEILL CALENDAR—A CHRISTMAS MUST FOR THE PLAYWRIGHT'S FANS. The Eugene O'Neill Foundation, Tao House has prepared a calendar for 1984 which focuses on the playwright's years at Tao House and includes black and white photographs and excerpts from Eugene and Carlotta Monterey O'Neill's diaries. This first edition of what it is hoped will be an annual event, showing the gate into the Tao House courtyard on its cover, is sure to become a valuable collectors' item, as only a limited number will be printed. So admirers of O'Neill should plan their Christmas gift lists early and send checks (to the Foundation) or inquiries to The Eugene O'Neill Foundation, Tao House, P.O. Box 402, Danville, CA 94526. The price is $10, and the calendar should be available early in July.
5. TV DOCUMENTARY ON O'NEILL IN THE WORKS. Normand Berlin, Travis Bogard, Virginia Floyd and Donald Gallup are serving as advisors for a two-hour documentary on O'Neill currently being prepared by WNET, the Public Broadcasting station in New York City. The program, written by Paul Shyre and produced and directed by Perry Miller Adato, is expected to be ready for airing in January, 1984. Since Adato has done similar programs on such artists as Sandburg, Gertrude Stein and Picasso, and the advisors are all acknowledged leaders in O'Neill scholarship, the program should be well worth watching.
6. PROVINCETOWN BEQUEST CONTINUES FAMILY TRADITION. During Eugene O'Neill's early years in Provincetown, a period when he was generally short of funds, he was one of a good many writers and artists (Harry Kemp was another) who were sheltered and aided by John A. Francis, a realtor who also had a grocery and general store. (In fact, O'Neill lived in an apartment over Francis' store when he first arrived in town.) If Mr. Francis lent someone money, it was said, he would seek out the person the next day—not for repayment, but to make certain the person was not in need again.
Now Cecilia C. Francis (known to her many friends as Celia), a retired lawyer who died last March 2 at the age of eighty, has proven herself a true daughter of her father. Her will establishes a scholarship fund of about $500,000 for students of Provincetown High School, where she had been valedictorian of the eleven-member class of 1921. The bequest, which should provide $50,000 annually for scholarships, will assure higher education for many PHS graduates who would otherwise have been denied it.
Incidentally, O'Neill's son, Shane, was born in a cottage rented from Miss Francis, who reportedly remembered the playwright well and thought he was "charming" when he wasn't drinking! (Special thanks to Louis Sheaffer for providing word on the bequest, which is more fully reported by Jeremiah V. Murphy in the April 14 edition of the Boston Globe, p. 21.)
7. IN MEMORIAM. Sophus Keith Winther, novelist, close friend of Eugene O'Neill, and professor of English at the University of Washington for 41 years, died at his Seattle home on May 10. Born in Denmark, he came to the United States at the age of two, when his family settled in Weeping Water, Nebraska, the setting for his Grimsen Trilogy (1936-38), three novels about his early life there. His book, Eugene O'Neill (1933), was one of the important early studies of the playwright. Louis Sheaffer, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of O'Neill, recalled recently his debt to his fellow author: "As close friends of O'Neill and Carlotta Monterey, Professor Winther and his wife Eline were invaluable sources of information about the playwright. I am lastingly grateful to them for their friendship and trust. Their help added importantly to my biography." Professor Winther was an honorary member of the Eugene O'Neill Society.
8. CALMS OF CAPRICORN IN HUNGARIAN. The editor is informed by Peter Egri, a regular contributor to the Newsletter's pages, that O'Neill's The Calms of Capricorn has been translated into Hungarian by Agnes Gergely and is scheduled for June 1983 publication in the periodical Nagyvilág. Professor Egri's study of the play and its diverse literary and dramatic parentage, which is scheduled for the same issue, will also appear in a future issue of the Newsletter.
9. ICEMAN COMETH NOT. February 28, 1983, was to have marked the opening of a revival of The Iceman Cometh, reuniting the star (Jason Robards) and director (José Quintero) of the historic Circle in the Square production of 1956, and opening in New York after an initial week in Wilmington, Delaware, and a month at the Kennedy Center in Washington, which had agreed to share the costs with Circle in the Square. However, a maze of problems, largely financial--salaries, royalties, and the unavailability of film and television rights--but also involving Mr. Robards' decision to accept another commitment, beset the venture and the plan was cancelled. Herbert Mitgang, who detailed the problems at length in the New York Times ("Why 'Iceman Cometh' Did Not Arrive This Year," March 7, p. C11), noted that they "illuminate the complexities and frustrations of today's theatre--nonprofit as well as commercial. The story of this production that never was is a tale without villains, except perhaps present-day American theater itself, which makes it forbiddingly difficult to stage certain modern classics."
One of the problems that particularly concerned this writer was the choice of a playhouse for the New York run. Because of union concessions to non-profit theatres, had the Circle in the Square been chosen, the expenses necessitated by "19 actors and a half-dozen standbys, plus stage-hands and the overtime costs required by the play's length" would have been considerably reduced. But, because Messrs. Quintero and Robards insisted "that 'Iceman' required a theater with a proscenium," Circle in the Square, a theatre in the round, was rejected. And the question that nags at me is, why? Why couldn't the play be just as effective in the round as behind a proscenium arch? Wouldn't the audience's greater proximity to the assembled pipe dreamers increase its sense of the atmosphere at Harry Hope's saloon? And wouldn't the more widely separated tables, scattered around the Circle's stage, each bathed in its own dim, isolating light, have increased the degree of division among the inmates that their convivial camaraderie cannot belie? Perhaps not. Perhaps the production at Circle in the Square ten years ago, starring James Earl Jones, proved that an Iceman-in-the-round is not effective. I'd like to know, and welcome responses from anyone who has seen or been involved in a production that was not traditionally staged. Of course a New York theatre was but one of the many problems that toppled the 1983 plan, but it would be sad indeed if a new generation were denied the chance to experience a Quintero-Robards Iceman because of (even if only partly because of) a premature rejection of experimentation. --FCW
10. QUINTERO, EAST & WEST. José Quintero has been named artistic director of the Spingold Theater at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he will also serve as Spingold Professor of Theater Arts and head a new graduate program for directors. He will direct Saroyan's The Time of Your Life next fall at the Spingold--the first of a four-play series that he calls "a celebration of American plays"--and will oversee an additional series of four plays by contemporary American playwrights at the university's smaller Laurie Theater. Being in residence at Brandeis only during the fall semester will permit him to continue the development of his new Chaplin-O'Neill Theater in Los Angeles, which was mentioned on p. 55 of the Summer-Fall 1982 issue of the Newsletter. His plan to involve some of his Waltham directing students in the Los Angeles venture will not only span the continent; it will also further his desire "to erase the barriers between educational theater and professional theater, which looms as very frightening and far away." (New York Times, February 18, 1983, p. C2.)
11. O'NEILL AT CONVENTIONS AND CONFERENCES. In addition to the special session on O'Neill at next December's MLA Convention in New York City (see the O'Neill Society section in this issue for details), three other recent or imminent 1983 conferences have included the playwright on their roster of events:
12. RECENT AND FORTHCOMING PRODUCTIONS.
Ah, Wilderness!, dir. John Stix, with Philip Bosco and Dody Goodman in the cast. Roundabout Theatre production at the Haft Theatre, New York City, June 14 - July 24, 1983. For ticket information, tel. 212-242-7800.
Ah, Wilderness! Angus Bowmer Theater, Oregon Shakespearean Festival, Ashland, Oregon. In repertory through October 30, 1983.
Anna Christie, dir. Bob Sickinger. American Folk Theater at the Richard Allen Center, 36 W. 62nd St., New York City, April 5-24, 1983.
Desire Under the Elms. Announced as part of the six-play 1983-84 season of the Roundabout Theatre Company, 333 West 23rd Street, New York City 10011 (tel. 212-924-7160). The cast will include Philip Bosco (see first Ah Wilderness! listing above), and the production will be reviewed in a future issue of the Newsletter.
The Great God Brown, dir. David Wheeler. Laurie/Merrick Theater, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, April 11-15, 1984. To be reviewed in a subsequent issue of the Newsletter.
The Last Harbour--Reflections of the Sea, an original work by Tony Rizzo. St. Mary's College Theatre, Moraga, CA, April 9, 1983. Mr. Rizzo's work, which was first presented with great success at Tao House several years ago, is described as "Mr. O'Neill's interpretation of the men and women that he knew and lived with in his early years as a sailor. Scenes from such plays as Anna Christie, The Hairy Ape, Bound East for Cardiff and The Long Voyage Home have been collected to give a broad view of how the sea affected its children and those left behind. To bring the entire picture together, Mr. O'Neill himself, portrayed by an actor, addresses the audience, giving his thoughts on what has transpired."
Long Day's Journey Into Night, dir. Geraldine Fitzgerald. The all-black production that originated at the Richard Allen Center in New York City (see review in the Spring 1981 issue) appeared at the Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts in Albany for two performances on November 18, 1982.
A Moon for the Misbegotten. Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL. Closed on June 5, 1983. A review will appear in the next issue of the Newsletter.
A Moon for the Misbegotten. Dorset Theater Festival, Dorset Playhouse & Colony House, Dorset, Vermont, July 21-30, 1983. Tel. 802-867-5777.
Strange Interlude. Boston Shakespeare Company, 1983-1984 season. The BSC production, a part of the company's first season under its new artistic director Peter Sellars, will be divided into two parts performed on consecutive evenings. Performance dates will be announced as soon as they are known, and a review will appear in a future issue of the Newsletter. The impatient may call the BSC at 617-267-5630.
13. STEIN TO HEAD COLUMBIA CENTER. Howard Stein has been named chairman of the Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theater Studies at Columbia University. Dr. Stein, formerly associate dean at the Yale School of Drama, chairman of the drama department at the University of Texas at Austin, and dean of the Division of Theater Arts and Film at the State University of New York at Purchase, is working on a volume of criticism on O'Neill for Prentice-Hall.
14. DATA CENTER AT
BROOKLYN COLLEGE. Of interest not just to O'Neillians but to all drama
scholars and theatre professionals is the Theatre Research Data Center
that will soon be initiated at the Theatre Department of Brooklyn
College. Supported by a $160,000 grant from the National Endowment for
the Humanities, the Center will (in the words of an announcement from
the College) "organize the efforts of over 90 international scholars
and institutions in gathering and indexing published materials
concerned with theatrical performances around the world. The annotated
entries will be gathered in a computerized data bank from which will
be generated the American Society for Theatre Research's annual
bibliography. Eventually the data bank will be set up to respond to
outline inquiries of scholars and artists searching for published
materials written on most aspects of theatre production and
performance." The director of the project is Brooklyn College
professor Benito Ortolani.
16. A RESPONSE TO ROBERT BUTLER. Ms. Roche also takes genial issue with Robert Butler's comment, in the Spring 1981 issue of the Newsletter (p. 4), about the ending of The Iceman Cometh. In Butler's words, "the 'weird cacophony' of the people simultaneously singing a bewildering assortment of cheap popular songs is suggestive of the garble of sounds which brings Ionesco's The Chairs to such a terrifying close." Roche's reply: "A better comparison might be made with Ionesco's The Bald Soprano, where the Martins and the Smiths (much like the members of Harry Hope's saloon) each make their own noises at the end, with no one voice predominant, whereas, at the conclusion of The Chairs, the only speaker is the Orator, who mumbles 'Mmm, Mmm, Gueue, Gou, Gu. Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm,' as he glides out like a ghost."
17. THREE MORE O'NEILL PRODUCTIONS THIS SUMMER.
Long Day's Journey Into Night. North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, High Point, NC. In repertory with three other plays, July - Sept. 1, 1983.
A Moon for the Misbegotten, dir. John Morrison. Dorset (VT) Theatre Festival, July 21-30, 1983. (included in item 12's list, but without director's name.)
Mourning Becomes Electra, dir. Jonathan Magril. Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theater, Cambridge, MA, July 20-31, 1983.
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