BY Arthur Gelb
FROM The New York Times, July 24, 1963
Model of ‘16 O’Neill Stage Is
Dedicated at Provincetown
A sentimental tribute was voiced here today to the
original Provincetown Playhouse, where the dramas of Eugene O’Neill
received their first; recognition.
Seventy-five townspeople, including octogenarians,
who recall the birth of the theater on the wharf in the summer of 1915,
gathered at the Provincetown Museum for the unveiling of a model of the
Playhouse. The model, which took 10 months to build, will be on
Also at the ceremony were sunburned children who
had never heard of O’Neill or been told, as William Archer, the English
critic, once wrote, that the sand dunes of Cape Cod were “the real
birthplace of the American theater.”
Nevertheless, the youngsters gazed with awe at the
exquisitely rendered model of the converted fishing shack, rickety
platform and pilings that was the stage for O’Neill’s “Bound East for
Cardiff” in 1916.
The children peered eagerly through the model’s
tiny windows to see the stage set for the O’Neill play. And they
listened respectfully as Charles Hapgood, son of Neith Boyce and
Hutchins Hapgood, described his boyhood memories of the theater, which
his parents helped to found.
Owner of Wharf Speaks
The youngsters listened, too, as Mary Heaton Vorse,
now in her eighties, whose wharf and fish house it was, acknowledged the
memorial, which “brings the old wharf always to mind.” The model,
displayed in a roomy glass case, is flanked on three walls by
photographs, old playbills and other memorabilia pertaining to O’Neill
and to those who have kept his plays alive here. The model is 6 feet
long, 32 inches wide and 27 inches from the base of its weathered
pilings to its shingled top. One-half inch represents one foot.
Constructed by Courtney Allen, a North Truro
artist, from old lumber, charred saplings and sawdust, the model is
based largely on his vivid memories of the building. He and some friends
operated it as a coffee house during the early twenties.
The original Playhouse was destroyed by fire and
ice storms by 1924. At low tide a few pilings still jut from Cape Cod
Bay on property that passed from Mrs. Vorse to John Dos Passos and is
now owned by Ben Sonnenberg, the New York
The model was commissioned by the Provincetown
Museum’s director, Melville T. Nichols, and contributed by Catharine
Huntington, who operates the modern Provincetown Playhouse on one of the
few wharves left in town.
Opener Will Be Repeated
The Playhouse opens each summer with an O’Neill
play; this season it was “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” which will be
repeated July 29-Aug. 3.
Also speaking at the ceremony was Mary Bicknell,
who, at the age of 90, recalls helping run one of the two summer
playhouses in Provincetown that filled the gap between the original and
the one that Miss Huntington established in 1940.
Dr. Daniel Hiebert, who attended the birth of
O’Neill’s second son, Shane, recalled his efforts to keep O’Neill sober
long enough to write his first full-length production, “Beyond the
Horizon.” Mr. Hapgood said he could identify the model’s version of the
front-row seat from which he had viewed “Bound East for Cardiff.”
Sipping a glass of sherry and leaning on a cane,
Mrs. Vorse told how her wharf was commandeered as a theater. Each of
the hastily assembled founders contributed a few dollars and ransacked
their homes for scenery.
“We had no
mission,” she said. “We just had plays -- and we had fun. It’s exciting
to know that it turned into history.”