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Volume I Number 2
Fall 1989
Vera Mowry Roberts Walter J. Meserve
CUNY Graduate School
Managing Editor
Edwin Wilson
Editorial Assistant
Joel Berkowitz
CAST A Copyright 1989
The Journal of American Drama and Theatre (ISSN 1044-
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Editorial Board
Stephen Archer
U ni versi ty of Missouri
Ruby Cohn
University of California,
Linda Jenkins
Northwestern University
Bruce A. McConachie
College of William and Mary
Margaret Wilkerson
University of California,
Don B. Wilmeth
Brown University
From the Editors
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Vera Mowry Roberts Walter J. Meserve
Table of Contents
Volume I Fall 1989 Number 2
Ruby Cohn Explosive Cocktails:
Albee, Eliot, Wooster ........................... 5
Richard Wattenberg "Old West"/New "West":
The New Frontier in
Sherwood's The Petrified
Forest (1934) and
Saroyan's The Time
of Your Life (1939) ............................. 17
Don B. Wilmeth Tentative Checklist of
Indian Pia ys .......................................... 34
Margaret Knapp "Presented with Appreciation":
Minnie Maddern Fiske as
Producer and Director ..................... 55
Peter A. Davis "Copy Play Wrote at Boston
1732" and the Extension of
Theatrical Satire in
Colonial America ............................... 73
Contributors .............................................................................................. 88
Manuscripts should be prepared in conformity with The
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envelope. Please allow three to four months for a
response. Our distinguished Editorial Board will constitue
the jury of selection. Address editorial inquiries and
manuscript submissions to the Editors, Journal of American
Drama and Theatre, Ph.D. Program in Theatre, Graduate
School, CUNY, 33 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036.
Ruby Cohn
My title spins off T.S. Eliot's third complete play,
written in his sixtieth year, between May 1948 and August
1949. The Cocktail Party is the second of Eliot's plays
with a contemporary English setting, and like its
predecessor, The Family Reunion, it moves through
dialogue couched in an educated English idiom that is
rhymed in verse lines of three main stresses but varying
length. Despite the verse line, however, Eliot is
abstemious of lyricism in The Cocktail Party.
For all of his plays in contemporary settings, Eliot
grafts a modern theater genre upon an ancient Greek
dramatic structure, to intimate a path to Christian salva-
tion. The Cocktail Party is a comedy of manners that fol -
lows the contours of Euripides' Alcestis, although that
source was unremarked until Eliot himself pointed it out:
" . . . no one of my acquaintances (and no dramatic critics)
recognized the source of my story in the Alcestis of
Euripides ... . But those who were at first disturbed by
the eccentric behavior of my unknown guest, and his
apparently intemperate habits and tendency to burst into
song, have found some consolation after I have called
their attention to the behaviour of Heracles in Euripides'
play." (On Poetry and Poets, 85) Eliot offers no further
notes on his debt to Alcestis, but critics have seized upon
his hint. Unlike The Eumenides of Aeschylus, which
seeded Eliot's Family Reunion, Euripides' Alcestis was
played after tragedy at the Dionysian Festival; like the
satyr play, also played fourth, it thrives on farce and
comic promise. So Eliot's Cocktail Party is explicitly
labelled "a comedy," and it arouses laughter from domestic
bickering, party persiflage, as well as the un boisterous
roistering of i ts Heracles-analogue, the physician/ priest /
psychiatrist Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly. Of this bravura
role Katharine Worth has written perceptively: "Reilly sip-
ping gin and water is a Coward character poised for a
leap into a Pinter scene." (Worth, 63)
The central event of Euripides' Alcestis (although
not of the Mueller-Wilson version) is Heracles' restoration
of the dead Alcestis to her intermittently grieving hus-
band, Admetos. Eliot's analogies of Heracles-Reilly,
Admetos-Edward (the rueful husband), Alcestis-Lavinia
(the departed wife) today seem obvious. Further, Eliot
replaces the comic parents of Admetos with a pair of
comic, seemingly frivolous guardians, Alex and Julia. In
composing The Cocktail Party, however, Eliot moves out-
side of Alcestis for his saintly Celia, whose very name
means heaven. Or perhaps, as Denis Donoghue suggests,
Eliot split Alcestis in to Ed ward's wife Lavinia, who
returns from Dedham (a dead hamlet), and his mistress
Celia, who is dead by the end of the play. (Donoghue,
When The Cocktail Party opened on August 22, 1949,
for a week's run at the Edinburgh Festival, reviews were
numerous and generally favorable. This journalistic
notoriety insured the comedy's transfer to London's West
End. The logistics of theatre were such, however, that
The Cocktail Party opened in New York before London,
with A lee Guiness--n ot yet knighted--as Sir Henry
Harcourt-Reilly and Irene Worth as Celia Coplestone. The
Cocktail Party proved to be Eliot's most resounding com-
mercial success, playing over 200 performances in New
York, over 100 in London, and reaching an estimated
audience of three and a half million, when it was
televised by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1952.
The New Statesman printed a happy limerick:
Author, author, take your bow,
Cocktail Party is O.K. now,
Still it's a riddle how
Lowbrow and middlebrow
Mix with the highbrow at this highbrow wow!
Another aspect of that riddle is how a play that is con-
servative in form--a three-act comedy of manners--and
content--anglocentric orthodoxy--inspired more radical
At mid-century, The Cocktail Party looked like a har-
binger of new English theater. It smoothed the path for
the rough stage verse of Christopher Fry, and it gal-
vanized the verse playwright Ronald Duncan to help
found the English Stage Company, whose descendants are
still vigorously struggling along at London's Royal Court
Theatre. More durably, it teased myterious depths from a
glittering surface, pointing the way to such English
playwrights as Harold Pinter, David Mercer, Tom Stop-
pard, David Storey.
It did not point the way to Samuel Beckett, who
shares a surname with Eliot's first martyr-hero. In the
very month that Eliot went to Stockholm (December, 1948)
to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, an obscure Irish-
man Samuel Beckett was completing a play in French--En
attendant Godot. Spurning the traditional dramatic devices
to which Eliot gave such careful attention--plot, character,
conflict, climax, and resolution--Godot nevertheless con-
tains some curious parallels with Eliot's comedy. Beckett
and Eliot both perform .anagrams with the name of God,
in one case Godot, and in the other Peter Quilpe's movie
czar Bela Szogody, and both playwrights sprinkle their
dialogue with Christian expletives that have lost their spe-
cifically Christian resonance. Beckett and Eliot strive
differently to strip their dialogue of literary resonance,
and yet both allow characters to quote from Shelley--once
only. Both playwrights draw upon the vocabulary of
theatre, and neither pia ywrigh t can resist teasing the
audience. Eliot opens his comedy with Alex's taunt to
Julia: "You've missed the point completely," as a good part
of his audience will miss Eliot's religious point. And Bec-
kett's Vladimir complains: "I've been better entertained,"
voicing the opinion of a good part of his audience.
Eliot calls his play a Comedy, and Beckett calls his
English Godot a Tragicomedy, but such genre designations
demand definition, which neither playwright offers.
What both plays do offer is a series of striking sym-
metries: The Cocktail Party begins and ends in a cocktail
party; it contrasts two kinds of characters--the three
Guardians and the four mortals who must work out their
salvation with diligence. Most importantly, Eliot's comedy
contrasts two kinds of reality--the everyday surface and
the transcendent; to each level of reality Eliot assigns its
proper kind of love--the domestic and the religious. Since
both kinds are fulfilled, the play has a doubly comic
ending, the one a family reunion within society and the
other a Christian triumph skirting tragedy.
The symmetries of Godot are even more insistent--
two remarkably similar acts, two couples, Godot's Boy and
his offstage brother, the recurrent image of the two
thieves crucified with Christ, a bowler hat topping the
human figures and shoes grounding them. There are fre-
quent verbal pairs, especially in Lucky's manic
monologue. In neither play are these symmetries fortui-
tous, since they knit the ravelled residue of our culture.
For Eliot this is explicit; divine order irrigates cocktail
parties. For Beckett the rigorous rhythms of performance
contradict the surface confusion. Especially in the light
of later theatre, both plays today seem cathartic in their
Eliot and Beckett both have recourse to verbal
repetition, and although the verb "to wait" is less frequent
in The Cocktail Party than in Waiting for Godot, the hapless
host Edward sighs in Act I: "I suppose there is nothing to
do but wait." In both plays the audience wait in vain for
a traditional resolution. More than for any preceding
drama, reviewers puzzled about the meaning of these two
Similarities underline the basic theatre difference
between the two mid-century dramas--that of presentation.
In the crucial scene of The Cocktail Party, Sir Henry
Harcourt-Reilly assures Celia that " . . . there is something
to be done," and Eliot's whole play implicitly rejects the
opening announcement of Godot: "Nothing to be done." In
theatre terms, however, Eliot's "something" is spoken
rather than done; the characters interview one another
rather than interact. Finally, husband and wife, Edward
and a pregnant Lavinia, converse affectionately, whereas
Celia's martyrdom is laconically reported by Alex, then
amplified by Sir Henry. Beckett's "nothing," in contrast,
is done on stage in a condensed catalogue of Western
performance--mime, juggling, pratfall, dance, song,
declamation, smutty story, braggart soldier, comic slave,
interlocutor and endman, tragic fall, and fragmentary
games. It is through the immediacy of performance that
Waiting for Godot displaced The Cocktail Party as the talis-
man of Western theater in the second half of the
twentieth century.
Eliot's comedy nevertheless proved as pregnant as
his Lavinia, bearing two remarkably dissimilar offspring
on this side of the Atlantic. Fifteen years after The Cock-
tail Party, in 1964, Tiny Alice opened on Broadway.
Edward Albee had written the play with John Gielgud in
mind, and the sixty-year-old veteran accepted the role of
Brother Julian before he read the script that puzzled
almost everyone. The director, Alan Schneider, has
recorded their consternation: " . . . each with an entirely
different perception of the play." (Schneider, 346) Dur-
ing the arduous rehearsals Irene Worth, playing Miss
Alice, "alternately comforted and poked fun at [Gielgud's]
anxieties, telling him about her experiences with T.S.
Eliot's Cocktail Party and Family Reunion." (Schneider,
348) Unfortunately, Schneider does not record these
experiences; did the role of Celia Coplestone help Worth
enact Miss Alice?
Schneider is sensitive to reviews of Tiny Alice which
"stressed the play's fund amen tal inscrutability [that]
tended to frighten off potential audiences." (Schneider,
350) Like The Cocktail Party, Tiny Alice provoked
reviewers into a search for the meaning, and a few of
them sought elucidation in possible sources. One of the
most acerbic source-hunters was Robert Brustein in The
New Republic: "The central idea of the play--which treats
religious ritual as a form of stagecraft and play-acting--
comes from Jean Genet's The Balcony; its initial device--
which involves a wealthy woman handing over a fortune
in return for the sacrifice of a man's life--comes from
Duerrenmatt's The Visit; its symbolism--revolving around
myterious castles, the union of sacred and profane, and
the agony of modern Christ figures-- is largely taken from
Strindberg's A Dream Play; and its basic tone--a
metaphysical rumble arising out of libations, litanies, and
ceremonies created by a shadowy hieratic trio--is directly
stolen from T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party." (Brustein, 307-
08) After a quarter century, the verbal buildup of "comes
from," "is largely taken from; to "is directly stolen from"
(my italics) sounds unduly harsh. What Albee's Tiny Alice
shares with these (possible) sources is a questing
protagonist who is traumatised into a new perceptiveness,
and alone of the playwrights named, Albee is a master of
the language of trauma.
Brustein does not accuse Albee of pillaging
Euripides, since vestiges of Alcestis vanish from Tiny
Alice. No demi-god comes rollicking in, and no one
returns from the dead. Eliot's comedy of manners
acidifies into Albee's corrosive tragicomedy of bad man-
ners. Disingenuously, Albee himself assigned Tiny Alice to
another genre: " .. .it's both a metaphysical mystery and, at
the same time, a conventional 'Dial M for Murder'-type
mystery." (New York Times, 27 December J 964) In the
conventional mystery, however, the audience rarely wit-
nesses murder, which is precisely what happens in Tiny
Alice. Onstage Albee's protagonist Julian is shot by Law-
yer, who parallels Eliot's Reilly in his ability to control
More accurate is Albee's designation of Tiny Alice as
"a metaphysical mystery"; even as The Cocktail Pary, whose
protagonist is also a martyr. Christopher Bigsby, who sees
the shadow of Eliot behind much of Albee's drama, has
noted that Celia and Julian are faced with the same
dilemma: reconciliation with human limitation or a mysti-
cal way to transcendence. (Bigsby, 285) Their dilemma
springs, however, from different illusions. Celia confesses
to Sir Henry: " ... the world I live in seems all a delusion!"
whereas Julian confesses to Miss Alice that in the asylum:
"I assumed the piling of delusion upon delusion," and he
therefore returns to the ordinary world as a lay brother.
Reilly sends Celia to an off -stage sanatorium; Julian in
the asylum is part of Albee's exposition. Retreat, neces-
sary to both characters, is also retreat from the prying
eyes of the audience.
By the end of Eliot's play Celia chooses her martyr-
dom, but at the end of Albee's play Julian has his martyr-
dom thrust upon him. Celia is crucified because she
refuses to abandon plague-ridden African natives, but
Julian refuses to accept Alice as God and is therefore shot
and left to die alone--on his wedding-day. In spite of
Celia's death, Eliot's Cocktail Party is a comedy because a
martyr's death assumes salvation and redemption; Reilly
calls her life "triumphant." In spite of Albee's corruscat-
ing wit, Tiny Alice finally strives toward tragedy in
Julian's dying soliloquy.
In both Eliot's play and AI bee's a trio of special
guardians hold strange sway over the destiny of the
protagonists--in The Cocktail Party Sir Henry, Julia, and
Alex; in Tiny Alice Miss Alice, Bu tier, and Lawyer.
Although there is no cocktail party in Albee's play--his
preceding drama Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf having
been a playlong cocktail party--Tiny Alice does share a
champagne toast with El i ot's comedy. Toward the
beginning of The Cocktail Party Edward and Celia,
una ware of the mysterious power of the Guardi ans,
nevertheless toast them with flat champagne. At the end
of Act II it is the Guardians themselves who pronounce
what Sir Henry calls a libation. In the few lyrical lines
that Eliot permits himself, the Guardians toast home and
hearth, and then the unnamed "traveller" who is Celia.
Toward the end of Tiny Alice all five of Albee's charac-
ters raise champagne-glasses i n "the ceremony of Alice,'"
but Julian alone proves unaware of the mystery of that
ceremony, which becomes his victimization. Theatrically,
Albee's ceremony echoes Eliot's libation, both celebrating
a religious mystery. Yet Albee's celebration is ironic,
since it leads neither to salvation nor redemption.
Albee's mystery is to some extent a rebuttal of
Eliot's as his Virginia Woolf is to some extent of O'Neill's
Iceman Cometh. Whereas the latter supports illusion,
Albee demolishes it in the light of dawn. Similarly,
whereas Eliot builds his comedy toward Christian martyr-
dom, Albee subverts such martyrdom as illusion. Eliot's
Guardian Alex reports the crucifixion of Celia, linking
her to Christ. AI bee's Guardians urge Julian to accept
Alice, which means truth, and not its surrogate where
Miss Alice should be spelled m-i-s. When Julian refuses,
Lawyer shoots him, and after Julian's soliloquy, with its
echoes of Psalm 13: "[He] dies, head bows, body relaxes
some, arms stay wide in the crucifixion." Thus, Julian too
is linked to Christ, which for Albee is a man-made god.
Julian, having incarcerated himself in an asylum and sub-
sequently become a lay brother in reaction against those
who humanize their God, finally does just that. In
Albee's own words: "Julian's death is a final betrayal of
why he became a lay brother to begin with." (Kolin, 189)
That betrayal, amplified in one of the longest
speeches on the American stage, irritated reviewers of the
original 1964 production of Tiny Alice, who in turn
irritated Albee. Now that mutual recriminations have
long died away, we can see that Tiny Alice is at once
Albee's last play to voice his preoccupation with illusion,
and his threshold play to brood about loss. Structurally
conservative, with reiterated exposition, climactic
curtains, and insistent resolution, the play nevertheless is
rhythmically adventurous. Visually, the intensity grows
as the model of the manor is juxtaposed against the stage
setting, but language remains Albee's main dramatic
talent. The Cardinal and Lawyer duel in the verbal
thrust-and-parry familiar from earlier Albee plays. Butler
and Lawyer mock their own ready wit. Miss Alice is at
first a caricature old woman and then a caricature erotic
dream. It is Julian whom Albee endows with the widest
rhythmic range--lyrical monologues, abrupt question,
exclamations of wonder, and many sentence fragments.
Highly articulate--perhaps Albee's most articulate
character--Julian twists and is twisted by language. (In
the original production Gielgud's dulcet voice muted the
verbal fragmentation, which rasped through Paul Shenar's
San Francisco performance.) Although Eliot the poet has
a wide rhythmic range, the language of The Cocktail Party
is a bland slippery surface, whereas that of Julian in Tiny
Alice provoked the perplexity of the audience.
Similar in mystery, The Cocktail Party and Tiny Alice
are also similar theatrically, with due attention to plot,
character, conflict, resolution. Quite comfortable in their
upper middle-class settings, with hints of aristocracy, the
two plays make token gestures toward a larger world--
benighted Africans and their insurrections, good works of
the church.
Dramatic conventions and a comfortable situation of
theatre in the larger world are both punctured in Nayatt
School of 1978. A collective creation of the Wooster
Group, this theater piece has garnered no prizes. The
group itself has been threatened with a suit by Arthur
Miller, on the one hand, and it has been castigated for
racism, on the other. The Wooster Group disturbs.
Founded in 1975, The Wooster Group is dedicated to
the dynamics of performance. Rooted in the New York
avant-garde, the company has absorbed Turner's frame
analysis, Foucault's demystification of power, and Der-
ridean deconstruction of privileged texts. (Savran, pas
sim) The Wooster Group differs from avant-garde neigh-
bors such as Richard Foreman and Robert Wilson in the
candor of its autobiographical elements, which it mediates
into a performance that is also a critique of our culture--a
critique that indicts The Wooster Group itelf as part of
that culture.
The Group's first collective creation was a montage
of found objects and dance movements in a specific space;
needing a title, the main actor Spalding Gray chose a
seaside Rhode Island town, where he had spent happy
boyhood summers. Thus, . nostalgic hoy was the unlikely
impetus to The Rhode Island Trilogy, which gradually grew
to a trilogy after the group toured Mother Courage in
India. Upon their return, they thea tricalized Spalding
Gray's obsession with his mother's 1967 suicide. Gray
associated Eliot's character of Celia with his mother: "For
me, she was a fantasy of what my mother might have
been had she had the intellectual distance to articulate
her nervous breakdown. I had wanted to include the
scene between Celia Coplestone and Sir Henry Harcourt
Reilly, the psychiatrist, in Rumstick Road, but it never
found its place and so was carried over into Nayatt
School." (Gray, TDR, 41-2) Nayatt School sustains images
of the first two plays of The Rhode Island Trilogy, but
what concerns me here is its evolution into a deconstruc-
tion of Eliot's comedy. (Since then, several Wooster Group
productions have pivoted on specific texts.)
The Cocktail Party closes on the cure of its
spiritually sick characters, but Nayatt School offers no
cures. In some hour and a half of playing time we are
subjected to a chaotic mix of comedy-horror, medical
examinations, children run wild, and scenes from Eliot's
Cocktail Party. The text of Nayatt School has not been
published, but comments suggest that its scenes
proliferated into an avalanche. The dynamics of perform-
ance were at once familiar and bewildering, hypnotic and
alienating. Plot was replaced by swift scenes framed by
Eliot's two cocktail parties. Coherent characters were pre-
sent only as ghosts of Eliot's play. Played without inter-
mission, the six-part division escaped me in the theater.
Although I summarize them in this linear account, I wish
to stress the hectic quality of actual performance.
The Wooster Group redesigns its space for each pre-
sentation, and the audience for Nayatt School is seated
high up in tiered rows, so that we look down on two
planes of playing space, as in some mammoth classrooms.
Approximately level with the first row of the audience is
a long table from which the seated actors face us, as for a
panel discussion. Some six feet below them is the main
playing space that contains a similar table and, familiar
from Rums tick Road, a roofless room and a red dome.
Confusing perspectives disorient us, as the critic James
Bierman notes: "The total effect of all the spaces together
approximates that of some of the most perplexing Cezanne
paintings, in which there are several perspectives in one
picture." (Bierman, 22)
The performance begins on the upper level. At the
center of the main actors, Spalding Gray addresses the
audience in an informal and ingratiating monologue. He
confides his experience of playing Alex in The Cocktail
Party. At times he seems to mock Eliot's comedy, at times
to admire it, as he summarizes the play's plot, illustrating
with snatches of a record of the New York production
starring Alec Guiness. Most importantly, Gray plays,
replays, and comments on Sir Henry's speech to Edward,
in which the theological psychiatrist diagnoses "alienation"
from the point of view of the subject as the center of
reality. (This was the first of Gray's associational
monologues, which afterwards became his performance
In Part II of Nayatt School Spalding Gray is both the
actor of the physician Harcourt-Reilly and the teacher of
an actress suddenly saddled with the role of Celia--in the
original production Joan Jonas, a well-known performance
artist. At first, reading from scripts, Gray instructs her
(and himself) in imitation of the Guiness-Worth recording,
but he grows impatient with her hesitations, raises his
voice, and she responds in kind. By the end of Part II
they have thrown their scripts a way and are shrieking
Eliot's lines at one another, stripped of lexical meaning in
a raw battle for power.
Part III is a montage of power scenes played
between the same two actors--woman patient examined by
male doctor, woman patient operated on by male dentist,
and, very difficult to describe, both actors devoured by a
monstrous chicken heart. In Part IV Gray at the upper
table plays several records (including Bach and jazz),
interspersed with chatter about The Cocktail Party.
Part V returns to the lower playing area, where
Gray, resuming the role of Reilly, manipulates glasses for
a party. Ron Vawter plays Edward, and Libby Howes
silently serves in bit parts as the nurse and the maid.
Eliot's remaining four roles are played by 10.-year old
children in adult wigs and castoff costumes of earlier
Wooster Group productions. While cocktail glasses
proliferate, the adults manipulate the children like dolls,
including indoctrination with Eliot's text, which they
shout without comprehension. The adults try to control
the increasingly wild children, and when that fails, the
adult Edward shoots the child Peter dead. One by one,
the other children are killed and removed.
For Part VI the three adult actors return to the
upper level, where frenzy is pandemic. They break, cut,
and burn the records--a visual pun on demolishing the
record. The actors simulate masturbation with the record-
players as they tear off their own clothes. After a black-
out, the three actors return to the lower level. Vawter
and Howes, a nude man and woman, are abruptly calm
and shy as in primal innocence; they cross the playing
space, climb the far wall, and make their way out across a
high and dangerous ledge. In the roofless room of Rum-
stick Road a fully clothed Spalding Gray ignores the
audience as he listens to a Bach Partita, which he associ-
ates with his mother.
David Savran has made a large claim for Nayatt
School: "In deconstructing The Cocktail Party, Nayatt School
questions the center--the speaking subject, empathic per-
former, infallible phys i cian, dentist, scientist and
psychiatrist--to expose the circulation of power . ... Nayatt
School demonstrates that the chain of authority which
passes by fiat from God to his many ministers is a chain
of brutality." (Savran, 13 1, 132) In this reading Navratt
School subverts the religious message of The Cocktail Party.
In performance, however, chaotic attack is more
powerful than questioning subversion. At some level, I
suppose I always ask: "What does it mean?" But the
impact of performance was an unusual--perhaps unique--
emotional complex. Alienated by my position high above
the action, I nevertheless felt assaulted by the violence on
stage, in which doctors were the main villains. Having
seen Rumstick Road, I was also flooded with compassion
for Gray's dead mother, present through enacted residual
ghosts, but I could not equate this bedeviled woman with
Eliot's Celia on her arrogant missionary journey. Finally,
the Edenic man and woman, followed by Gray wi th his
Bach, affected me like a skew catharsis.
The theater careers of Eliot and Albee run parallel.
The one began at a religious festival, and the other off
Broadway, but both enjoyed the vault to Broadway and
the West End. The Wooster Group, in contrast, originated
in revolt and survives in danger. Yet the decorous com-
edy of The Cocktail Party, and even more its phil osophi c
assumptions, inspired that confusing and confuting crea-
tion Nayatt School, which educates only after long
University of California, Davis
Sources Cited
Albee, Edward. Tiny Alice. New York, 1965.
Bierman, James. "Three Places in Rhode Island."
The Drama Review. March, 1979.
Bigsby, C.W.E., Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century
American Drama, Vol. II Cambridge, 1984.
Brustein, Robert. Seasons of Discontent. New York, 1967.
Donoghue, Denis. The Third Voice. Princeton, 1959.
Eliot, T.S. The Cocktail Party. Edited by Nevill Coghill.
London, 197 4.
Eliot, T.S. On Poetry and Poets. London, 1957.
Gray, Spalding. "About Three Places in Rhode Island,"
The Drama Review. March, 1979.
Kolin, Philip C. Conversations with Edward Albee. Jack-
son, 1988.
Sa vran, David. Breaking the Rules: The Wooster Group.
New York, 1986.
Schneider, Alan. Entrances. New York, 1986.
Worth, Katharine. Revolutions in English Drama. London,
March 8-11, 1990
University of Wisconsin-Madison
As part of a national conference devoted to the study and
celebration of Alan Schneider's multifaceted career as a
theatre director, educator and administrator, we invite
papers from all theatre persons. Topics may include any
subject related to Alan's work, or to work in which he
took an interest, and involve a wide range of meth-
odologies and perspectives. At least some of the selected
participants will be paid for their contributions to the
conference, which will include productions, workshops,
exhibits, etc., and is open to the public. Abstracts of 250-
300 words are due November 15, 1989. For more informa-
tion, write to:
The Alan Schneider Conference
Department of Theatre and Drama
821 University Ave.
University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI 53706
(608) 263-2329
Funded by the Anonymous Fund Committee of the
University of Wisconsin-Madison.)
Richard Wattenberg
While movie Westerns provided needed escape for
Depression audiences,
the American theatre of the 1930s
rarely touched on frontier western themes. During a
period of economic decline, social instability, and interna-
tional tension, audiences demanded a theatre that dealt
directly with their problems. The socially relevant,
realistic dramas of Clifford Odets, Lillian Hellman, and
John Stein beck are perhaps most characteristic of the
period. When frontier western motifs entered the drama,
they did so as wistful reminders of an era gone by. This
was the case in well-received plays like Robert Sherwood's
The Petrified Forest (1934) and William Saroyan's The Time
of Your Life (1939). In these two plays, both of which are
set in the "new" West of the 1930s, the spirit of the "Old
West" hovers over the action. Utilizing characters and
situations that occasionally recall the "old frontier," Sher-
wood and Saroyan attempt to come to terms with the
frontierless modern West.
In exploring western themes, neither Sherwood in
The Petrified Forest nor Saroyan in The Time of Your Life
escaped the sense of crisis which pervaded the drama of
the troubled thirties. The concern that both playwrights
felt as a result of the Depression and the growing threat
of war colored their perceptions of the West; nevertheless,
neither Sherwood nor Saroyan sought a radical remedy
for the decade's problems. In their plays both advocated
a moderation that was acceptable to middle-of -the-road
Broadway audiences. Rather than urge social revolution,
Sherwood, in The Petrified Forest, and Saroyan, in The
Time of Your Life, sought to redefine and reaffirm tradi-
tional American values.
This reaffirmation, which was made in spite of--
and, perhaps, because of --the anxiety that Sherwood and
Saroyan shared concerning the changed nature of the
West, is in the spirit of the "frontier thesis" made popular
at the turn-of -the-century by the historian Frederick
Jackson Turner. Turner had claimed that the frontier
was a major source of American democratic values. Both
Sherwood and Saroyan lamented the passing of the "Old
West" but still emphasized the connecti on between that
frontier and American democratic ideals. While neither
playwright seems to have been aware of a debt to Turner,
both The Petrified Forest and The Time of Your Life
express a vision which derives from a Turner-like per-
spective but modifies that perspective to meet the needs
of Depression era audiences.
Analysis of the western experience did not begin
with Turner, but his 1893 essay, "The Significance of the
Frontier in American History," marked a milestone in
western frontier scholarship.
Noting that the Superinten-
dent of the Census had reported in 1890 that a frontier
line no longer existed in the West, Turner sought to draw
conclusions about a stage of American history which had
just ended. While well-received in the early twentieth
century, his thesis has since become the source of debate
among historians. Even so, Turner's "frontier thesis" has
taken on dimensions close to myth in its power to inter-
pret American history f or non-historians. Having
profoundly affected the American consciousness of the
West, this thesis is useful as a means of explicating the
ideological context within which Sherwood and Saroyan
At the heart of Turner's thesis was his belief that
"the existence of an area of free land, its continuous
recession and the advance of American settlement
westward, explain American development" (Turner I 986a,
1). Turner claimed that the "American-ness" of American
democracy was attributable to the existence of this "area
of free land" which provided discontented easterners with
a "gate of escape to the free conditions of the frontier."
"In a word," Turner wrote, "free lands meant free
opportunities" (Turner 1986b, 259-60). Luring Easterners
or European immigrants west, the free lands became the
anvil on which the American democratic character
received its distinctive form.
Western free lands thus provided a frontier which
Turner described as "the outer edge of the wave--the
meeting point between savagery and civilization . ... the
line of most rapid and effective Americanization" {Turner
1986a, 3-4). He viewed this "Americanization" as a com-
plex interaction of civilization and savagery, of eastern
pioneer and western environment. Turner claimed that:
" .. . at the frontier the environment is at first too strong
for the man. He must accept the conditions which it
furnishes, or perish, and so he fits himself into the Indian
clearings and follows the Indian trails" (Turner l986a, 4).
Having adapted to the frontier, the self -reliant pioneer
soon begins to overpower and tame the wilderness, but,
even after the wilderness is settled, "the region still
partakes of the frontier characteristics." Turner claimed
that "little by little [the pioneer] transforms the wilder-
ness, but the outcome is not the old Europe . . . . The fact
is, that here is a new product that is American" (Turner
1986a, 4). The civilized easterner transforms the savage
West and vice versa. The result is a distinctly American
democracy nourished by a distinctly American character.
A Turner-like perception of the interaction of
western savagery and eastern civilization appears in turn-
of-the-century, American drama. American plays like
David Belasco's The Girl of the Golden West (1905) and Wil-
liam Vaughn Moody's The Great Divide (1906) echo
Turner's belief that western free lands favorably affected
the development of the American character. In Moody's
play, for instance, the New Englander, Ruth, moves to
Arizona where she is confronted with an untamed
environment personified by the westerner, Stephen Ghent.
Ghent forcefully abducts Ruth in the first act but is
eventually transformed by his love for her. Ruth flees
East, Ghent pursues her, and at the play's end he wins her
love. Yielding to him, Ruth accepts the "joy ... and self-
ishness" (Moody 1966, 755),
the freedom, of the West. In
thus tracing the interaction of the "civilized" Ruth and
the "savage" Stephen, Moody employs traditional--if now
out-dated--gender types to convey a vision similar to
Turner's. The play's resolution is underscored by
reference to Ruth and Stephen's son who will grow up in
the West blessed by his exposure to frontier virtues. This
son embodies the healthy American character born of the
"marriage" of western "savagery" and eastern "civilizat ion."
The optimistic interpretation of the western experi-
ence that underlay The Great Divide was questioned in the
1930s. The closing of the frontier, which had prompted
Turner to develop his thesis, took on much more ominous
dimensions in that Depression decade. A background of
general social and economic hardship, "Dust Bowl" condi-
tions on the Great Plains, and growing labor tensions in
the Far West made the lack of "a gate of escape" for the
disenchanted most significant. Indeed, historians in the
1930s began to question the validity of applying the
"saf ety-va 1 ve" hypothesis,
and social thinkers like
Edmund Wilson (Wilson 1958), as well as playwrights like
John Steinbeck, pres en ted the West as a closed environ-
ment which no longer bred democratic individualism but,
on the contrary, drove its trapped residents to despair.
In 0 f Mice and Men (1937), Stein beck captured the
sense of futility born in a "frontierless" environment, but
his concern was primarily with life in the "new West."
Challenging the value of unqualified individualism, Stein-
beck repudiated the "ghosts" of the Old West . On the
other hand, Sherwood in The Petrified Forest and Saroyan
in The Time of Your Life sought to convey a continued
faith in frontier individualism even though both were
aware that the original frontier was gone. In order to
ground that faith, both Sherwood and Saroyan sought new
frontiers. Discarding the geographic or environmental
approach espoused by Turner and William Vaughn Moody,
both sought an equivalent for "free lands" in frontierless,
Depression-era America. Ironically, both playwrights
moved in a direction that Turner himself had suggested.
Although enthusiastic about the impact of the fron-
tier experience on the American character, Turner was
aware that, with the closing of the old frontier, new fron-
tiers would have to be found. In "The West and American
Ideals" (1914), he not only confessed concern a bout
America's future in a post-frontier era but expressed hope
that Americans would discover the "wealth of unexploited
resources in the realm of the spirit" that included "arts
and letters, science and better social creation, loyalty and
political service to the commonweal" (Turner 1986c, 309).
Geographic frontiers that imposed upon the individual
who explored them would then be redefined as spiritual
frontiers that lured the individual toward self-
exploration. In thus transposing the old "frontier" to a
spiritual realm, Turner suggested a response parallelling
the one that would be offered in Sherwood's The
Petrified Forest and Saroyan's The Time of Your Life.
An Easterner by birth, Robert Sherwood spent most
of his life far from what was left of the wild West. The
Petrified Forest was a result of the playwright's discovery
of the West while making a six-week trip to Reno in 1934.
According to his biographer, John Mason Brown, Sher-
wood, who made the trip in order to acquire a divorce
from his first wife, was taken with the "natural" and
"uninhibited" (Brown 1965, 314) aspects of life in Reno.
Here, he found "the spirit of the vaunted Old West. The
echoes of the Gold Rush and the footprints of the Forty-
Niners were all around him. These stimulated and excited
him" (Brown 1965, 315). In short, Sherwood found that
the heartiness of life more than offset the unpleasant
reason for his visit. During the first four weeks of his
stay, a reinvigorated Sherwood wrote The Petrified Forest.
The Petrified Forest is set in the Black Mesa Bar-B-Q,
a "gas station and lunch room at a lonely crossroads in the
eastern Arizona desert" (Sherwood 1962, 4). In this road-
side lunch room, owned and managed by members of the
Maple family, there is little evidence of the Old Western
spirit that had enthralled Sherwood in Reno. On the con-
trary, here the "old frontier" has been tamed and vul-
garized. The little portion of untouched western
landscape that can, at first, be seen through the lunch
room windows disappears into the sunset during the first
act. The free lands which nurtured American democracy
are vanishing just as the desert panorama disappears into
the night. Indeed, the presence of the Black Mesa Bar-B-
Q against the fading background of desert beauty suggests
that a banal "new West" has replaced the heroic Old West.
The American pioneering spirit is dying but not
forgotten--at least not by Gramp Maple, the nominal
owner of the Black Mesa Bar-B-Q. Gramp, a ghost from
the frontier past, recalls the days when unfriendly
Indians and wild bandits like Billy the Kid roamed the
Southwest. While he romanticizes the past, he is sharp in
his condemnation of the modern West:
The trouble with this country is, it's got settled.
It's camped down in the bed of a dried-up river,
and whenever anybody says, "Let's get the hell out
of here," all the rest start to holler, "If we move a
step the lnjuns'll get us." (Sherwood 1962, 13)
Ironically, Gramp himself is a good example of what he
censures. Well past his prime, he is content to idle away
his time gossiping with the patrons of the Black Mesa.
His son, Jason, is an even better example of the small-
mindedness typical of the new West presented in this play.
A dedicated member of the American Legion even though
he never really saw military action, Jason dreams of
leaving the Arizona desert to move further west. He
hungers, however, not for a western frontier but for "an
Auto Camp on Redondo Boulevard in one of the best dis-
tricts of Los Angeles," where he might "put in a Bar-B-Q
service and in a couple of years ... have something ... . "
(Sherwood 1962, 11-12).
Jason lacks the true pioneering spirit, but so do most
of the play's characters. Unchallenged by open frontiers,
they have become too "settled," too secure, too insulated.
Moreover, the cast list, including cross-country travellers
as well as "locals," is diverse enough to indicate that
ineffectuality is a national disease. Among the play's
characters are the New England intellectual Alan Squier;
the convict Duke Mantee, recently escaped from an
Oklahoma City jail, and his multi-racial gang; the wealthy
Chisholms of Ohio with their black chauffeur; and native
Arizonans like Gramp, Gramp's son, and Gramp's
granddaughter--a group representing a range of social
classes, races, regions and ages wide enough to suggest a
cross section of the nation's population.
During the course of the play, which revolves
around the intrusion of Duke Mantee and his criminal
gang into the Black Mesa Bar-B-Q, none of the characters
takes any positive action. When the Duke's gang arrives
at the Black Mesa, the employees and patrons fail to
prevent themselves from becoming helpless hostages. The
Duke and his gang, who have come to the Black Mesa to
rendezvous with his moll, fail in this--in fact, not only
does the Duke's girl not arrive, but Mantee eventually
learns that she has betrayed him. Although the author-
ities Wl to capture the Duke at the play's end, the
implication is that Mantee and his gang will fail in their
escape to Mexico. Indeed, the play's plot revolves less
around action than futility.
Sherwood emphasizes the intellectual and moral
impotence of his characters as a group by focussing the
plot on two major characters, Alan Squier and Duke
Mantee, who together embody the alienation and
incompleteness which is at the heart of this impotence.
The eastern Alan Squier, a novelist who has let his crea-
tive potential waste away, is hitch-hiking across country
hoping "to find something that's worth living for--and
dying for" (Sherwood 1962, 25). A directionless wanderer,
Squier sees himself. as a member of "a vanishing race ..
. one of the intellectuals . . . brains without purpose. Noise
without sound. Shape without substance" (Sherwood 1962,
29). On the other hand, the escaped convict, Duke
Mantee, appears as action without thought or, to reverse
Squier's self -definition, Mantee is purpose without brains,
sound without noise, and substance without shape. The
Duke is, however, a genuine American. As Gramp claims,
"He ain't a gangster! He's a real old-time desperado.
Gangsters is foreigners. He's an American!" (Sherwood
1962, 40) Man tee represents the American character's
violent side--a remnant from life in the "savage" Old West.
But unlike Turner, who claimed that Western savagery
had a positive impact on American democracy, Sherwood
seems to suggest that in frontierless, twentieth-century
America the savage aspect of American individualism has
become violently self -destructive.
Man tee's self-destructiveness binds him closely to
Squier. Sherwood emphasizes the connection between
these two characters by describing them both as "con-
demned" (Sherwood 1962, 16 & 3 7). Indeed, they are com-
plementary but equally incomplete types. Similarly
doomed, neither Squier, embodying a decaying "civiliza-
tion," nor Mantee, a thoughtless "savagery," can help the
other. In a frontierless, Depression-era America, the pro-
ductive interaction of "civilization" and "savagery" ceases
to occur. In fact, Squier and Mantee are the counterparts
to Moody's "civilized" Ruth and "savage" Stephen in The
Great Divide, but in the later play a simple "marriage" of
eastern civilization and western savagery is impossible. A
harmonious marriage of male/savagery and female/civili-
zation gives way in Sherwood's play to an unresolvable
duality of males. If Moody suggested that the American
character was a product of a marriage of eastern civiliza-
tion and Western savagery, Sherwood suggests that the
fragmentation of that American character is inevitable in
an era lacking the "gate of escape" provided by an open
Sherwood thus had doubts about the future of
American democracy. A pointless gunfight between the
posse and the retreating Mantee gang at the end may sig-
nify a final cataclysmic collapse of traditional American
institutions. Sherwood was, however, by nature an
optimist. While he himself claimed that The Petrified
Forest could be seen as a "negative, inconclusive sort of
play," (Sherwood 1970, 13 8 ), the pia y is not without a
positive statement. Sherwood poses the possibility of a
new American frontier and a vindication of American
individualism. Like Turner, Sherwood finds this new
frontier in "the realm of the spirit," but he understood
"the realm of the spirit" primarily in terms of "arts and
letters." Not that Sherwood was an aesthete; on the con-
trary, his sense of "arts and letters" was firmly grounded
in the life of this world, as exemplified in this play by
his use of Gabby Maple to represent the new frontier.
Gabby, Jason's vigorous young daughter by a French
wife, dreams of escaping the desert and moving to Paris
to devote herself entirely to art and pleasure. Associating
American-ness with the small-mindedness of those around
her, she wants to free herself from anything American.
After examining Gabby's water color paintings, which are
"of comparatively small size but of virulent color" (Sher-
wood 1962, 26), Squier reassures her that her vitality, her
sense of "sparkling all over," and her will to "do something
that's absolutely crazy--and marvelous," "must be one hun-
dred per cent American." (Sherwood 1962, 28) Her
uncorrupted creative spirit is closely related to the Old
Western pioneering spirit. Indeed, she embodies coarseness
and culture, savagery and civilization, in a blend that is
reminiscent of Turner's understanding of American
Within the allegorical context of this play, Gabby
represents the possible revitalization of the American
spirit. As Squier says, "she's the future. She's the renewal
of vitality--and courage--and aspiration--all the strength
that has gone out of [Gramp]. Hell. .. she's essential to me,
and the whole damned country, and the whole miserable
world" (Sherwood 1962, 58). Believing that she must not
squander the creative spirit that he has let decay in him-
self, Squier wants Gabby to go to Paris. Not that Paris is
important, for Squier has previously scoffed at con-
temporary France. Nor is Squier interested in making a
new convert for what Malcolm Cowley called the "religion
of art" (Cowley 1969, 140-7)--Squier himself exemplifies
the bankruptcy of the "art-for-art's-sake" attitude. What
is important, however, is that Gabby have the opportunity
to learn and grow. Consequently, to provide her money
for the trip, Squier takes desperate action: he signs his
life insurance policy over to Gabby and makes Mantee
promise to kill him before leaving the Black Mesa.
Mantee hesitates but obliges Squier. Thus, these two "con-
demned" men act together--if only self -destructively--to
guarantee Gabby's future and, metaphorically speaking,
the future of America.
Gabby heralds a transposition of the frontier similar
to that described by Turner when he wrote about the
importance of the "unexploited resources i n the realm of
the spirit.'' The Old West is gone. The "new West" is, as
Gramp claims, "camped down in the bed of a dried-up
river." Still as Sherwood suggests, the frontier can be
revived--not as a physical fact but as an inner spiritual
reality. In providing Gabby with the possibility of
developing her inner creative resources, Sherwood suggests
a "new frontier" where art and life, civilization and
savagery, are again harmonized. The fruitful artist--as
opposed to a barren artist like Squier--becomes the
twen tieth-cen tu ry version of the nineteenth-century
pioneer. In Gabby, Sherwood affirms traditional frontier
values in spite of the socio-economic metamorphosis of
the West. He translates Turner's frontier faith into terms
that might have meaning for a settled nation.
In his plays of the late thirties, the eastern Sher-
wood neither pursued questions related to the Old West
nor continued to view art as the major objectification of
spiritual growth. In Idiot's Delight (1936) and Abe Lincoln
in Illinois (1938), he became progressively more concerned
with the moral dimension of political action. While Sher-
wood's interest in the West was short-lived, the westerner
William Saroyan had a larger commitment to that region.
In The Time of Your Life, Saroyan dealt with some of the
same issues treated by Sherwood in The Petrified Forest.
A native Californian, Saroyan investigated the relation of
new West to Old West, of new frontiers to old frontiers.
In fact, Saroyan goes even further than Sherwood in his
development of these ideas. He delves deeper into "the
realm of the spirit"--confronting its roots within human
Like Sherwood, Saroyan sets his play in a "dive,"
Nick's Pacific Street Saloon, Restaurant, and Entertain-
ment Palace.
Nick's bar is not viewed against a wild
Western landscape; nothing of the beauty and purity of
the untouched West remains in this play. Outside the
doors to Nick's saloon is the new West--the urban world of
modern San Francisco, a world that has "No. foundation.
All the way down the line" (Saroyan 1959, 388). Sur-
rounded by poverty, labor strife, prostitution, crime, and
war, Nick's saloon is the last home of the old pioneer
spirit. Here, for instance, one finds Willie the pinball
machine player, who Saroyan describes as "the last of the
American pioneers, with nothing more to fight but the
machine, with no other reward than lights going on and
off, and six nickels for one" (Saroyan 1959, 389). Also
patronizing Nick's place is an old man called "Kit Car-
son." This ghost from the Old West, looking like his his-
torical namesake, functions here as Gramp did in The
Petrified Forest--as a reminder of the old frontier western
way of life.
Nick's saloon not only provides an asylum for these
last pioneers; it continues to function as a "gate of escape
to the free conditi ons of the frontier ." The frontier to
which Nick's saloon offers ingress is, however, different
from that of the western territories. Here, the "gate" does
not lead the "pioneer" to distant, unexplored lands but
rather inward to the "realm of the spirit." Visitors to
Nick's saloon leave the outside world to confront their
own buried dreams. Whether they challenge pinball
machines, seek love, discuss politics, or try out new comic
routines, vi sitors to Nick's saloon take journeys of self-
exploration; they experiment with life's possibil ities. The
seediness of Nick's bar reinforces the democratic nature
of this "realm"; it i s open to all people with all kinds of
dreams. The Society Lady, hungering for adventure,
drags her husband into Nick's saloon, and the middle-class
Mary L., seeking to escape a stifling married life, allows
herself a brief flirtation with a stranger here. Others like
the prostitute Kitty and her boyfriend Tom, dig deeper--
uncovering a shared desire for a real home. Given the
settlement of the West, this "last frontier"
is also the "new
Like Sherwood in The Petrified Forest, Saroyan sug-
gests that art materializes inner spiritual exploration and
growth. It is not surprising that a majority of the "resi-
dents" of Nick's saloon are artists or have artistic
proclivities: Wesley, a starving young black man, i s a
pianist; Harry--a dancer and comedian; the old Arab--a
harmonica player; and the Newsboy is a tenor. Kitty, the
prostitute, fantasizes that she is a vaudeville actress.
Even Kit Carson is in the artistic tradition of the teller of
tales. In his wild stories, he too transforms statistical
truth into a higher, more intense reality. In short, each of
these characters seeks escape in an art that will give the
harsh world meaning.
Saroyan thus suggests that art can absorb the need
for escape that once was fulfilled on the Western frontier.
He offers "art" as a possible outlet from the frustration of
dreary, meaningless lives may be possible. In "An Intro-
duction to his Plays" which prefaces the 1941 acting edi-
tion of The Time of Your Life, Saroyan wrote:
The source of the grief of man is the monotony of
peaceful living. The source of his despair is his
lack of resourcefulness and imagination. The
source of his frustration is the pain he suffers in
the attempt and failure to escape boredom. True
escape for man can be provided only by art. To
taste life in its full flavor he has not the experi-
ence or equipment or style. To accept only as
much as he has the equipment to enjoy he has not
the discipline or courage. And therefore he evades
his defeat, he is eager to enter into any project
which provides a substitute somehow or
for the fullness his dream needed .. . . (Saroyan
1941, xiv-xv)
Such substitutes are the wars and pointless violence which
belong to the world ouside Nick's saloon. They are
readily accessible outlets for the disenchanted who fifty
years earlier would have looked to the West for escape.
As an alternative to war, Saroyan offers the magical
world of Nick's saloon.
In the strangely fantastic atmosphere of this seedy
bar, men and women of different ethnic backgrounds,
races, and social classes live harmoniously. American
democracy is vindicated. Just as Turner had claimed that
the democracy of the complicated industrial East was
purified by contact with the primitive environment of the
West, Saroyan seems to suggest that the corrupt democracy
of the "outside" urban world can be purified in Nick's
saloon, "the gate of escape" to the "realm of the spirit." In
Nick's bar, Saroyan writes, "the human body and spirit,"
the savage and civilized elements of character, emerge
"from the world-imposed state . . . to the more natural state
of casualness and grace" (Saroyan, 1959, 410). Here, the
American character regains the harmony of civilization
and savagery that Turner had attributed to experience on
the original frontier.
This ideal state of affairs is not easily maintained.
While many of the play's characters find refuge from the
outside world in Nick's saloon, the peace of this asylum is
periodically disturbed by intrusions from the outside. In
fact the action of this play revolves around the tension
between the world of Nick's saloon and the outside
world--a tension clearly exemplified by the contrasting
natures of two of the play's pivotal characters: Joe and
Blick. On the one hand, the independently wealthy Joe,
who has been one of Nick's regulars for some time, func-
tions mainly to help the other characters in Nick's fulfill
their potential. He is less a participant in the play's
action than a facilitator. It is he who helps Mary L.
escape a stifling marriage by offering her a harmless
flirtation, and it is he who pries under Kitty's brash
facade in order to help her realize her desire for a home.
Described by Saroyan as "always calm, always qui et,
always thinking, always eager, always bored, always supe-
rior" (Saroyan 1959, 387), Joe embodies civilized reflec-
tion. Whether he investigates toys, gum, guns, maps of
Europe, or other people's dreams, he searches for truth. A
man of thought, Joe is, however, not a man of physical
action. In fact, he is--mysteriously, almost unable to walk
and depends on his friend Tom, "a great big man" with "a
childlike expression" (Saroyan 1959, 390) to run his
errands and supply him with objects for his study.
On the other hand, Blick--a sadistically violent mem-
ber of the vice squad--exemplifies action without thought.
Representing the brutal, disruptive forces outside Nick's
saloon, Blick enjoys abusing Nick's clientele. In an ironic
reversal, Blick--a product of modern urban civilization--
embodies modern "savagery." Like Duke Mantee but
without the Duke's sympathetic traits, Blick epitomizes a
"savagery" that, lacking a suitable outlet or "frontier,"
turns destructive. Embodying the threatening "savagery"
of the outside world, he is the true counterweight to Joe,
the "civilized" thinker in retreat from that world. More-
over, the contrast between Joe and Blick is as central to
this play as that between Squier and Mantee is in The
Petrified Forest. Saroyan implies that the gulf separating
Joe, from Blick represents the increasing polarization of
thought and action, civilization and savagery, in modern
urban America.
Saroyan, however, like Sherwood, does not abandon
hope. Asserting the magic of Nick's bar against the out-
side world, he suggests-- perhaps naively--that sadistic
savagery can be redirected towards a new frontier. Blick
embodies a dangerous aspect of human consciousness, and
his fate exemplifies the way that--with the geographical
frontiers now closed--Saroyan, like Sherwood, turns
inward. With the West settled, the early twentieth-century
notion of environmental process--advocated by Turner
and Moody--is replaced by a concern with internal,
psychological process, a change parallelling larger
twentieth-century cultural transformations. Underlying
its realistic facade, The Time of Your Life represents a
"frontier" allegory in which characters do not represent
geographical regions (as had been the case in the earlier
play, The Great Divide) but elements of consciousness.
When Blick enters in the last act, this psychological
allegory moves toward a climax. With Nick out of the
saloon, Blick gives free rein to his sadistic whims. He
tries to humiliate Kitty by forcing her to dance a strip-
tease, and he heartlessly assaults Kit Carson and Wesley.
Joe enters and trying to stop Blick picks up the gun that
he just had Tom buy, aims at Blick, and pulls the trigger;
nothing happens. The gun fails to fire--ironically,
because Joe had unloaded it earlier (Saroyan 1959, 463).
More than intellect is necessary to overcome Blick's
viciousness. If Mantee's gun had joined him to Squier .in
a kind of perverted "marriage" of self -destruction, Joe's
gun does not even allow that connection.
Blick, however, is doomed. Nick returns and throws
him out. Several moments later: "From a distance two
pistol shots are heard each carefully timed" (Saroyan 1959,
479). Word of Blick's death soon arrives, and then Kit
Carson enters and begins to tell one of his tall tales:
I shot a man once. In San Francisco. Shot him two
times. In 1939, I think it was. In October. Fellow
named Blick or Glick or something like that.
Couldn't stand the way he talked to ladies. Went
up to my room and got my old pearl-handled
revolver and waited for him on Pacific Street.
Saw him walking, and let him have it, two times.
Had to throw the beautiful revolver into the Bay.
(Saroyan 1959, 480)
Kit has killed Blick, and, as Joe leaves Nick's saloon for
the last time, he gives Kit his revolver--conceding that
Kit will put it to better use than he. If the civilized
Squier is dead and the savage Mantee retreats, leaving
Gabby the "stage" at the end of The Petrified Forest, in
The Time of Your Life the civilized Joe retreats and the
savage Blick is destroyed, leaving Kit the "stage" to him-
self. Manifesting Old Western toughness and a creative
mastery of the tall-tale, Kit not only exemplifies the con-
nection between the old and new frontiers, but--like
Gabby in Sherwood's play--he also represents a new fusion
of savagery and civilization. In him as in Gabby, the
frontier spirit is vindicated despite the lack of a
geographic west.
As harsh as it is, Kit Carson's off-stage shooting of
Blick and then his on-stage confession/tall-tale provide an
effective conclusion to the play's psychological allegor y.
In destroying Blick, Kit acts just as the real "Kit Carson"
would have acted if faced with a life-threatening beast on
the original frontier. Kit, however, not only "savagely"
kills Blick, but he purifies this savage act done in the out-
side world by transforming it into a tall-tale on returning
to Nick's. In allegorical terms, violent savage impulse
becomes civilized art. In suggesting that vicious savagery
can be thus destroyed/transformed, Saroyan emphasizes
the importance of the "realm of the spirit" as a con-
temporary "gate of escape" to a new frontier.
Like Sherwood's The Petrified Forest, Saroyan's The
Time of Your Life is a major, transitional American "fron-
tier play." Both plays represent 1930s responses to the
vision of the western frontier put forward in early
twentieth-century plays like Moody's The Great Divide.
The western vistas that had exemplified the geographic
western frontier in that earlier play disappear in Sher-
wood's and Saroyan's "frontier" plays. The action of both
plays is limited to indoor settings, but set in broken-down
"dives," these plays epi tomize an inward progression which
is more than just from outdoors to indoors. Both are
allegories pointing toward a new frontier, a new "West,"
which is not a geopgraphic region but the inner "realm of
the spirit." In The Petrified Forest and The Time of Your
Life, the promise of the western frontier defined by
Frederick Jackson Turner is thus modified to suit the
needs of a "settled" nation. The frontier West as it
appears i n these plays denotes a development from the
geographical "true West," presented in Moody's play,
toward the complex, psychological "true West," presented
in a contemporary work li ke Sam Shepard's play of that
In turning the pioneering eye inward, The
Petrified Forest and The Time of Your Life suggested a
new direction for playwrights pursuing the frontier
western dream in a post-frontier America--a direction in
harmony with the changing nature of twentieth-century
University of California, Riverside
Sources Cited
Bank, Rosemarie. "Rhetorical, Dramatic, Theatrical and
Social Contexts of Selected American Frontier
Plays, 1871-1906." Ph.D. diss., University of Iowa,
1972 . .
Billington. America's Frontier Heritage. New York: Holt,
Rinehart and Winston, 1966.
Brown, John Mason. The Worlds of Robert E. Sherwood:
Mirror to His Times, 1896-1939. New York: Harper
& Row, 1965.
Cowley, Malcolm. Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of
the 1920s. New York: Viking, 1969.
Fenin, George N. and William K. Everson. The Western:
From Silents to the Seventies. New York: Grossman,
Jackson, Esther. "The American Drama and the New
World Vision." TMs [photocopy], 1981.
Moody, William Vaughn. The Great Divide. In Dramas
From the American Theatre: 1762-1909, ed. Richard
Moody. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1966.
Nixon, H.C. "Precursors of Turner in the Interpretation
of the West." South Atlantic Quarterly 28: 83-89.
Pickering, Jerry. "William Vaughn Moody: The Dramatist
as Social Philosopher." Modern Drama 14: 97-99.
Saroyan, William. "An Introduction to His Plays." In The
Time of Your Life. New York: Samuel French,
___ .. The Time of Your Life. In Famous American Plays
of the 1930s, ed. Harold Clurman. The Laurel
Drama Series. New York: Dell, 1959.
Sherwood, Robert E. The Petrified Forest . New York:
Dramatists Play Service, 1962.
~ Preface to There Shall Be No Night . In John
Mason Brown. The Ordeal of a Playwright: Robert
E. Sherwood and the Challenge of War. New York:
Harper & Row, 1970.
Slotkin, Richard. Regeneration Through Violence: The
Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860.
Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press,
___ . The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in
the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890. Middletown,
Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1985.
Smith, Henry Nash. Virgin Land: The American West as
Symbol and Myth. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1978.
Turner, Frederick Jackson. "The Signifi cance of the
Frontier in American History." Report of the
American Historical Association, 1893; reprint as
Chaper 1 of The Frontier in American History. Tuc-
son: University of Arizona Press, 1986a.
------' "Contributions of the West to American Democ-
racy. Atlantic Monthly, 1903; reprint as Chapter 9
of The Frontier in American History. Tucson:
University of Arizona Press, 1986b.
___ .. "The West and American Ideals." The Washington
Historical Quarterly, 1914; reprint as Chapter 11 of
The Frontier in American History. Tucson:
U ni versi ty of Arizona Press, 1986c.
Wilson, Edmund. "The Jumping-off Place." In The
American Earthquake: A Documentary of the
Twenties and Thirties. New York: Farrar, Straus
and Giroux, 1958.
For a discussi on of movie Westerns of the 1930s,
see Fenin and Everson, (1973), 193-225.
For discussion of pre-Turner thought on the West,
see Nixon (1929), Smith (1978), and Slotkin (I 973 & 1985).
In this context, see Pickering (1971). He discusses
The Great Divide in terms of the early twentieth-century
philosoph ica1 context defined by William James and
Turner. Pickering's analysis of The Great Divide parallels
that offered here.
Regarding the use of traditional gender types in
nineteenth-century American drama, see Bank (1972), 191.
For discussions of this controversy, see Billington,
( 1966), 23-46.
The Petrified Forest is the only play that Sherwood
completed which deals in some significant fashion wit h
the "Old West"; however, among Sherwood's papers which
can be found in the Houghton Li brary, Harvard
University, is a typescript for an unfinished play entitled
"The Better Angels." This script, a product of the early
19 50s, is set among the Mormons of Utah in 1860-61.
While not specifically focussing on how Old Western
values have affected modern Americans, this unfinished
script reiterates some of the themes dealt with in The
Petrified Forest.
7The entire play occurs in Nick's bar. Even though
the short third act is set in Kitty's room in the New York
Hotel, this "set" is to be seen within the larger set
representing Nick's bar. See Saroyan (1959), 440.
Bin her unpublished manuscript "The American
Drama and the New World Vision," Esther Jackson calls
Nick's Pacific Street Saloon, Restaurant, and Entertain-
ment Palace a "last frontier" (Jackson 1981, 351). I am
indebted to Dr. Jackson for the opportunity to read this
Nevertheless, Joe does rescue Kitty and send her
off with Tom--thus helping to establish a Depression era
version ot the "marriage" of civilization and savagery.
After all, Tom (now a truckdriver--the modern day "cow-
boy") is associated with the physical, the "savage," and
Kitty, the unhappy prostitute, i s really a would-be artist
who dreams of domestic as well as other "civilized" joys.
lOin Shepard's play Austin, like Squier and Joe,
embodies "civilization" while Lee, like Mantee and Blick,
embodies "savagery." In True West, however, there is no
equivalent to Gabby or Kit Carson. Shepard defines the
"American character" as an unresolvable tension of
savagery and civilization.
Compiled by Don Wilmeth
This chronological listing is drawn from many
sources, including all of the recent scholarly studies of
Indian plays listed in a previous article in the Journal of
American Drama and Theatre (Spring 1989). A sizable
number of titles have been added as a result of my own
research and through the efforts of the librarians of
Brown University's John Hay Library and the Harris Col-
lection of American Drama and Poetry. Donald L.
DeWitt, curator of the Western History Collections at the
University of Oklahoma, and his staff, tracked down a
number of play titles for me. Acknowledgement is also
made to the following for specific leads and suggestions:
Rosemarie Bank, Rosemary Cullen, J.K. Curry, John
Emigh, Joyce Flynn, Philip C. Kolin, Tom Linklater (Per-
. severance Theatre), Walter Meserve, David Rinear,
Roberta Uno Thelwell, Paula Vogel, and Barry Witham.
Effort has been made to verify the existence of each text,
whether now lost or extant (*indicates extant text, either
published or in some archival retrievable form), although
some of the specifics are either unverifiable or require
additional research. Nonetheless, this checklist contains
more Indian plays (both North and South American) than
any other similar list to date. Included are straight plays,
operas, musicals, pantomimes, and other theatrical pieces
with Indian characters. No attempt has been made to list
the numerous Wild West shows featuring Indians or all of
the many pageants with Indians in minor roles. For each
entry, the date of first production or publication (if both
known, the earliest is provided) is given, followed by title
(or in some cases, variants), author(s), and location of
original production, where easily verifiable. When useful,
other data is provided. Any additions to this list would
be appreciated.
1606 *Le Theatre de Neptune en Ia Nouvelle-France. Marc
Lescarbot. Nova Scotia (Port Royal, Arcadie).
1612 Masque. Anon. London.
1656 *The Tears of the Indians. Bartolome de Las Casas.
1658 *The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru (opera). Wil-
liam Davenant. London.
1659 *The History of Sir Francis Drake. William Davenant.
1664 *The Indian Queen. John Dryden and Si r Robert
Howard. London.
1665 *The Indian Emperor; or, The Conquest of Mexico by
the Spaniards. John Dryden. London.
1673 *The Play-House to be Let. William Da venant.
1689 *The Widow Ranter; or, The History of Bacon in Vir-
ginia. Aphra Behn. London.
1704 *Liberty Asserted. John Dennis. London.
1721 * Arlequin Sauvage. L.F. de Ia Drevertiere Delisle.
1728 *Polly (ballad opera). John Gay. London.
1728 The Indian Emperor. Francis Rawli ng.
1735 Les lndes Galantes (ballet). Jean Philippe Rameau.
1736 * Alzire; ou, Les Americains. Voltaire.
1738 *Art and Nature. James Miller. London.
1742 *lnc/e and Yarico. Weddell.
1753 .Le Pere Indian. Le Blanc de Villeneuve. New
1753 The Last of the Serpent Tribe. Anon. New Orleans.
1758 *Tombo-Chiqui. John Cleland.
1759 *The French Flogged; or, English Sailors in America.
George Alexander Stevens. London.
1762 * Alzuma. Arthur Murphy. London (1773).
1764 *The Paxton Boys. Anon.
1764 *La Jeune lndienne. Sebastien Chamfort. Paris.
1766 *Ponteach; or, The Savages of America. Rober t Rogers.
(Not performed until 1975 in New York).
1773 *The Conquest of Canada. George Cockings. Philadel-
phia. Publ. 1772.
1776 *The Fall of British Tyranny; or, American Liberty
Triumphant. John Leacock.
1778 *Montezuma. Henry Brooke.
1779 *A Dialogue Between an Indian and an Englishman.
John Smith.
1784 Pocahontas. Johann Wil helm Rose.
1784 *The Coup-de-Main, or, The American Adventurers
(musical entertainment). Archibald MacLaren.
1785 Robinson Crusoe, or, Harlequin Friday. Anon.
1786 *The Peruvian (comic opera). Anon. (By a lady)
1787 * lnkle and Yarico. George Colman the younger.
1788 Grand Federal Procession (pageant). Anon. Philadel-
1789 *The Basket Maker. John O'Keeffe. London. (see 1820
1789 *Die Sonnen-Jungfrau. August Kotzebue. Reval.
1790 *New Spain, or , Love in Mexico. John Scaweb.
1790 *The Indians . Wi lliam Richardson. Richmond,
1792 The American Heroine; or, Ingratitude Punished. Anon.
1792 *Columbus, or A World Discovered. Thomas Morton.
London. New York, 1797.
1 792 Nootka Sound. Anon.
1792 The Cherokee. John O'Keeffe.
1792 *The Generous Chief, A Tragedy. James Norval.
1794 The Huntress, or, Tammany's Frolics. Anon.
1794 *American Discovered, or Tammany, the Indian Chief
(also known as The Songs of Tammany, or, The
Indian Chief). Anne Kemble Hatton with music by
James Hewi tt. New York. (Only songs and prologue
1795 *The American Indian; or, Virtues of Nature. James
1795 *The Cherokee (light opera). James Cobb.
1795 *Die Spanier in Peru; Oder, Roll as Tod. August von
1797 Indian War Feast (a pantomime). John (?) Burk.
1797 *The American Heroine (a pantomime). Jean Francois
Mussot Arnould. Trans. by Samuel Chandler.
1797 Harlequin and Quixotte; or, The Magic Arm. J.C. Cross.
1797 *The Catawba Travellers, or, Kiew Neika's Return.
Attributed to Mark Lonsdale. London.
1797 *The Virgin of the Sun. Benjamin Thompson. London.
1798 Robinson Crusoe; or, The Genius of Columbia (revision
of RC, 1785). Anon.
1799 *The Negro Slaves , or, The Blackman and the Black-
bird. Archibald MacLaren. London and Edi nburgh.
1799 Cora; or, The Virgin of the Sun. James C. Cross.
1799 *Pizarro; or, the Death of Rolla. Richard Heron.
1799 *Pizarro in Peru, or, The Death of Rolla. Thomas Dut-
1799 *The Virgin of the Sun. James Lawrence.
1799 *Rolla; or, The Peruvian Hero. Matthew G. Lewis.
1799 Pizarro. "A North Briton."
1799 *Pizarro, or, The Death of Rolla. Benjamin Thompson.
1799 *The Spaniards in Peru, or, The Death of Rolla. Anne
Plumptre. London.
1799 *The Virgin of the Sun. Anne Plumptre.
1799 *Pizarro. Richard Brinsley Sheridan. London.
1799 Pizarro. M. West.
1800 *The Virgin of the Sun. William Dunlap. New York.
1800 *Pizarro in Peru; or, The Death of Rolla. William
Dunlap. New York.
1800 Peru Revenged; or, The Death of Pizarro. Arthur Mur-
1800 Pizarro. Charlotte Smith.
1800 The Virgin of the Sun. Charlotte Smith.
1800 Rolla; or, The Virgin of the Sun. Benjamin Thompson.
1800 *The Indian. John Fenwick. London.
1802 *A New World Planted, or, The Adventures of the Fore-
fathers of New England, who Landed in Plymouth
December 22, 1620. Joseph Croswell.
1803 Indian Cruelty; or, The Death of Miss McCrea. Anon.
New York.
1808 *The Indian Princess; or, La Belle Sauvage. James Nel-
son Barker with music by John Bray. Philadelphia.
1809 *Harlequin Panattatah; or, The Genii of the Algonquins
(a pantomime). Anon. New York.
1811 *The Americans (also known as The War-Whoop)
(comic opera). Music by Matthew Peter King and
John Braham; libretto by Samuel James Arnold.
1812 *The Virgin of the Sun (operatic drama). Frederick
Reynolds. London.
1817 The Bold Buccaneers, or, The Discovery of Robinson
Crusoe. Anon.
1817 *The Armourer's Escape, or, Three Years at Nootka
Sound. James Nelson Barker. Philadelphia.
1819 The Carib Chief. Anon.
1819 *Catherine Brown, The Converted Cherokee. Anon. (By
a Lady). New Haven.
1819 *She Would Be A Soldier; or, The Plains of Chippewa.
Mordecai M. Noah. New York.
1820 The Indian's Revenge; Scenes in the Life of a Moravian
Missionary. Felicia Dorothea Hemans.
1820 Iroquois; or, the Canadian Basket Maker. Revision of
Basket Maker (see 1789 above). London.
1821 *Oolaita, or, The Indian Heroine. Lewis Deffebach.
1821 *Logan, The Last of the Race of Shikellemus, Chief of
the Cayuga Nation. Joseph Doddridge. Buffalo.
1822 *Philip, or, The Aborigines. Anon.
1822 *La Belle Peruvienne (ballet). Anon.
1822 The British Captain and the Indian Chief. Simpson.
1823 Indian Heroine (a ballet). Anon. New York.
1823 The Pioneers, or, The Sources of the Susquehannah.
Anon. New York.
1823 The Rival Indians (a pantomime). Anon. New York.
1823 *The Vision of the Sun; or, The Orphan of Peru. Music
by Ware; text by Charles Farley. London.
1824 *Superstition. J.N. Barker. Philadelphia.
1825 The Vision of the Sun. Anon. New York.
1825 *Montgomery; or, The Falls of Montmorency. Henry J.
Finn. Boston.
1825 Briar Cliff; or, A Tale of the Revolution. Anon. New
1826 *Briar Cliff; or, Scenes of the Revolution (also sub-
titled, A Picture of Former Times). George P. Morris.
New York.
1826 *Pontiac; or, The Siege of Detroit. Alexander Macomb.
Washington. (1838)
1827 *The Indian Prophecy. George Washington Parke
Custis. Philadelphia. (publ. 1828)
1827 *Peter Wilkins; or, The Flying Islanders. Anon. New
York. (publ. 185?)
1828 *The Red Rover; or, The Outlaw of the Ocean (based
on J.F. Cooper novel). Samuel Henry Chapman.
New York.
1828 Tuckitomba, or, The Obi Sorceress ("melo-drama").
Music by Mr. Kearns; text by Charles Farley (?).
1829 King Philip; or, The Sagamore. Robert Montgomery
1829 Metacomet. James K. Kennicott. New Orleans.
1829 *Metamora; or, The Last of the Wampanoags. John
Augustus Stone. (Full text not published until 1966)
New York.
1829 *William Penn , or, The Elm Tree. Richard Penn
Smith. Philadelphia.
1829 The Pawnee Chief. George Washington Parke Custis.
1829 The Manhattoes. Anon. New York.
1829 Virginia, or, Love and Bravery. Albert M. Gilliam.
Richmond, Virginia.
1830 Narramattah, or, The Lost Found. Anon. New York.
1830 *The Indian Wife, or, The Falls of Montmorency. James
H. Hackett and Henry J. Finn. New York.
1830 The Wigwam; or, Templeton Manor. Anon. New York.
(Revival of Pioneers, 1823?).
1830? *The Wigwam; or, The Red Men of the Wilderness .
Thomas Dibdin.
1830 *The Wigwam; or, The Men of the Wilderness. Music by
G.H. Rodwell; text by Charles Farley. London.
1830 Miantonimoh; or, The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish. Anon.
New York.
1830 Fall of Tecumseh. William H.C. Hosmer.
1830 *Carabasset; or, The Last of the Norridgewocks.
Nathaniel Deering. Portland, Maine (1831).
1830 Maid of Wyoming. James McHenry. New York.
1830 The Indian Wife. Anon. New York.
1830 Tohopeka. Anon. New York.
1830 Miantonimoh. Anon. New York.
1830 Metamora, or, The Indian Hunters. G. Blanchard. New
1830 *Pocahontas; or, The Settlers of Virginia. George
Washington Parke Custis. Philadelphia.
1830-35 (?) *Kerhohan. Ebenezer Elliott. (poetic version
published 1835)
1831 Miantonimoh. Anon. New Orleans (same as above?)
1831 The Last of the Mohicans. Stephen E. Glover. New
1831 Tuckitomba; or, The Obi Sorceress. Anon. New York.
(see 1828 above)
1832 White Eagle. Anon. New York.
1832 *Oroonoko. Thomas Sou therne. Written 1695; prod.
New York 1832.
1832 *Oralloossa, Son of the Incas. Robert M. Bird.
1832 The Indian Mother. Joseph Stevens Jones.
1832 *The Liberty Tree; or, Boston Boys in '76. J.S. Jones.
1833 Lamorah, or, Western Wild. Caroline Lee Hentz. New
1833 The Pioneers. Anon. New York.
1833 Wacousta, or, The Curse. Louisa H. Medina. New
1834 Black Hawk. Anon. New York.
1834 Tuscatombe. Anon. New York.
1834 Oronaska; or, The Chief of the Mohawks. Jonas B.
Phillips. New York.
1834 Kairrissah. Louisa H. Medina. New York.
1834 Outa/liasi; or, The Indian's Council Chamber. Anon.
New York.
1834 The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish. Anon. New York.
1835 The Cherokee Chief, or, The Shipwrecked Sailor and
His Dogs. Anon. New York.
1835 The Yemassee. A Tale of Carolina. Anon. New York.
1835 *The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish. William Bayle Bernard.
1835(?) Tutoona; or, The Battle of Saratoga. George
Washington Harby. New Orleans.
1836 *Tecumseh; or, The Battle of the Thames . Richard
(William?) Emmons. Philadelphia.
1836 The Hunter in the Far West. Joseph Stevens Jones.
1836 Sassacus, or, The Indian Wife. William Wheatley (?).
New York.
1837 *Pocahontas, A Historical Drama. Robert Dale Owen.
New York. (1838)
1837 The Snow Fiend, or, The Far, Far West. Anon.
1838 The Indian Girl. Anon. New York.
1838 The Star of the Forest. Anon. New York.
1838 Jesuit 's Colony, or, Indian Doom. Anon.
1838 *Pontiac, or, The Siege of Detroit. Alexander Macomb
(see 1826 above)
1838 *Nick of the Woods; or, The Jibbenainosay. Louisa H.
Medina. New York.
1839 Nick of the Woods; or, The Salt River Rover. George
Washington Harby.
1839 *Nick of the Woods, or, The Altar of Revenge. John
Thomas Haines. London.
1839 *The Bride of Fort Edward. Delia S. Bacon.
1839 Last of the Mohicans. Anon. New York.
1830-40? Ontiata; or, The Indian Heroine. Anon.
1830-40? Oroonoka. Anon. (see Southern's tragedy prod.
1832, NY, above)
1830-40? Onylda, The Pequot Maid. Harold Duffee.
1830-40? Osceola. Lewis F. Thomas.
1840 Tippecanoe, or, The Hunter of the West. Anon. New
1840 Miantonimoh and Narramattah. Anon. New York.
1840 The Indian Horde, or, The Tiger of War. Joseph S.
1840 The Battle of Tippecanoe. Silas H. Steele.
1841 Chief of the Mohegans; or, The Dog of the Island (a
pantomime) Anon. New York.
1841 Conancheota. (?) Chatham. New York.
1841 Osceola. John H. Sherburne. Philadelphia.
(publ. 1843)
1842 Sharratah, or, The Last of the Yemassees. Anon.
1842 The Deerslayer. Anon. New York.
1843 The Red Man, or, The Bloomingdale Inn. Anon. New
1843 *A/hal/a; or, The Lord of Talladega. Henry Rowe
1843 Manassah. H.P. Grattau. New York.
1844 *Putnam, The Iron Son of '76. Nathaniel H. Bannister.
New York. (publ. 1859)
1844 *Tecumseh and the Prophet of the West. George Jones.
1844 The Indian Girl; or, A Tale of the Revolution. Anon.
New Yor k.
1845 *Telula; or, The Star of Hope. C.H. Saunders. Boston.
1845 *The Green Bushes; or, a Hundred Years Ago. John
Baldwin Buckstone. London.
1845 Montezuma; or, The Future Destinies of Mexico. Anon.
New York.
1846 Prairie Bird; or, A Child of the Delawares. Walter M.
1846 Onoleetah. Anon. Philadelphia.
1846 Arasapha, or, The Last of the Delawares. Anon. New
1846 The Wild Steed of the Prairie. Anon. New York.
1846 Montezuma; or, The Conquest of Mexico. George
Hielge. Philadelphia.
1847 *Metamora; or, The Last of the Pollywogs. John
Brougham. Boston.
1848 *The Forest Princess; or, Two Centuries Ago
(Pocahontas play). Charlotte M.S. Barnes. Philadel-
1848 *The Son of the Wilderness. Charles Edward Anthon.
1848 *The New World (dramatic poem). Harriette Fanning
1848 *Saratoga, A Dramatic Romance of the Revolution. W.B.
1849 The Eagle Eye; or , The Steed of the Delawares.
J.H.Hall. New York.
1849 *The Female Forty Thieves (contained burlesque, Met-
taroarer). Anon. New York. (Ms)
1849 *The Last of the Mohicans. Anon.
1849 Lamora, or, The Indian Wife. Miss Conway. New
1850 Oua Cousta, The Lion of the Forest. Nathaniel H. Ban-
nister. Philadelphia.
1850 The Live Indian. Anon.
1850-56? *The Wept of the Wish-Ton-Wish. Anon.
1850-75? *Henry Granden; or, The Unknown Heir. Frank
Lester Bingham.
1850 Naramattah; or, The Lost Found. Louisa Medina (?).
New York.
1850 Kit Carson. Anon. New York.
1851 The Indian Queen. Anon.
1851 The Wild Indian. Anon. New York.
1851 *Wacousta; or, The Curse. R. Jones.
1851 The Scalp Hunters, or, The Trappers of the Moun.tains.
Anon. New York.
1851 The Mysterious Chief. H.J. Conway. New York.
1852 De Soto, The Hero of the Mississippi. George H.
Miles. Philadelphia. (publ. 1901)
1852 The Star of the West. Anon. Philadelphia.
1852 The Live Indian. Anon. New York.
1852 *Civilization; or, The Huron Chief. John H. Wilkins.
New York. (publ. 1853)
1855 Magnolia; or, The Child of the Flower. Anon.
1855 *Po-Ca-Hon-Tas; or, The Gentle Savage. John
Brougham. New York.
1856 Silver-Knife, or, The Hunters of the Rocky Mountains.
James Pilgrim. New York.
1856 *Hi-A-Wa-Tha, or, Ardent Spirits and Laughing Water.
Charles M. Walcot. New York.
1856 *Tan-Go-Ru-A. Henry Clay Moorehead.
1857 *Fashions and Follies of Washington Life. Henry Clay
1857 *Cortez, the Conqueror. Lewis F. Thomas.
1857 The Scalp Hunters. John H. Wilkins. New York.
1857 Oniska. Anon. New York.
1857 Wissahickon, or, The Heroes of 1776. Anon.
1857 Wetamo. Anon. New York.
1857 The Oatman Family. Charles E. Bingham.
1858 The Minute Spy. T. Law. New York.
1858 *The Mormons; or, Life at Salt Lake City. Thomas
Dunn English. New York.
1858 The Will and the Way; or, The Indian's Revenge. Anon.
New York.
1858 Outahlanchet. Anon.
1858 *Nick Wiffles. John Hovey Robinson. New York.
1859 *Senor Valiente, or, The Soldier of Chapultepec.
George Henry Miles.
1859 *The Octoroon. Dion Boucicault. New York.
1859 Stella Delorme; or, The Comanche Chief. James Pil-
grim. New York.
1859 The Mute Spy. Anon. New York.
1859-70(?) *In Quod; or, Courting the Wrong Lass. Anon.
1860 The Red Ranger, A Romance of the Revolution. Anon.
New York.
1860? Kindness Softens Even Savage Hearts . Delia Anne
1861 *Liddesdale; or, The Border Chief. James Lawson.
1862 Scotto; or, The Scout and His Party. Robert Jones.
New York.
1864 *Jona. Eliza [beth?] A. Dana.
1868 *Giles Corey of the Salem Farms. Henry Wadsworth
1870 *II Guarany (opera-ballet). Music by Antonio Carlos
Gomes; libretto by Antonio Scalvini. Milan.
1870 *Across the Continent; or, Scenes from New York Life
and The Pacific Railroad. James J. McCloskey. New
1870 *The Last of the Mohicans ("An Ethiopian Sketch").
J.C. Stewart. New York.
1871 *Horizon. Augustin Daly. New York.
1871 *Ellie Laura; or, The Border Orphan. James O'Leary.
1872 Buffalo Bill, The King of the Border Men. Frederick
G. Maeder.
1872 The Scouts of the Prairie; or, Red Deviltry As It Is.
Ned Buntline (pseud. for E.Z.C. Judson). Chicago.
1873 The Scouts of the Plains. Fred G. Maeder. New York.
1873 The Last Shot for Custer, or, The Yellow Hand.
Attributed to Ned Buntline.
c.1873 *Dashing Charlie, the Texas Whirlwind. Ned Buntline.
(extant in fiction form)
1873 *Home. Mary L. Cobb.
1873 The Moducs, The Live lngin (minstrel sketch). Anon.
New York. (Bryant's Minstrels)
1873 The Life and Death of Natty Bumpo. Thomas Blades
De Walden.
1873 Roughing It. Augustin Daly. New York.
1874 The Scalp Hunters; or, Life on the Plains. Fred G.
Maeder. New Yor k.
1874 The Last of the Mohicans. (?) Rowe. New York.
1874 Kit Carson. Anon. New York.
1874 Little Rifle, or, The White Spirit of the Pawnees. Anon.
New York.
1874 *Pochontas, A Melo-drama. Samuel Hawkins Marshall
1875? *Henry Granden; or, The Unknown Heir. Frank Lester
1889 A Dream of the Centuries. Elbridge Streeter Brooks.
1889 Border Land. Charles Townsend.
1889 Hiawatha. A.L. Warner.
1889 The Renegade. Herr Cherrytree (pseud. for Edward
T. Kirchbaum).
1890 *The History of Geronimo's Summer Campaign of 1885.
G.D. Cummings.
1891 Buffalo Bill Abroad. Anon. New York.
1891 Buffalo Bill Abroad and At Home. Anon. New York.
1892 Wep-to-No-Mah, the Indian Mail Carrier. Anon. Wil-
1892 Eagle's Nest. Anon. New York.
1892 The Scout. Anon. New York.
1892 The Indian Hero. Anon. Brooklyn.
1892 *Christopher Columbus. M.M.A. Hartnedy.
1893 *The Girl I Left Behind Me. David Belasco and
Franklyn Fyles. New York.
1893 *The Frogs of Windham (comic opera). Nason Leavitt.
Music by Burton Emerson Leavitt.
1893 *The Aztec God (aka The Aztecs). George Lansin
Raymond. (publ. 1894 and 1900)
1893 *Blennerhassett's Island. Donn Piatt.
I 893 *The Golden Gulch. Charles Townsend.
1893 *Tatters, The Pet of Squatters' Gulch. Levin C. Tees.
(publ. I912)
1893 *Columbus (also Columbus the Discoverer). George
Lansing Raymond (pseud. Walter Warren).
I894 *Philip of Pokanoket. Alfred Antoine Furman.
1894-5 *The Great Train Robbery. Scott Marble. (Ms)
1896 *Kindness Softens Even Savage Hearts. Delia A.
1896 Old Plymouth Days and Ways (a pageant). Margaret
. MacLaren Eager. Plymouth, Massachusetts.
1897 *Maria Candelaria. Daniel Garrison Brinton.
1897 *Yaddo (masque). George Parsons Lathrop.
1898 *Society Acting. Frank Dumont.
1898 *The Girl from Klondike, or, Wide Awake Nell. Frank
I 898 *Thayendanegea. James Bovell Mackenzie.
1899 Arizona. Augustus Thomas. Chicago. (publ. 1895)
1900 Ramona. Frank W. Bacon.
1900 *Hiawatha or Nanabozho. An Objibway Indian Play.
Louis Olivier Armstrong. Kensington Point, Des-
barats, Ontario.
1901 *Kit Carson. Franklyn Fyles. New York.
1901 *Hiawatha Entertainments. Stanley Schell.
1902 *Hiawatha (dramat i c cantat a). Freder ick R. Bur t on.
(Music extant)
1903 *Wah-na-ton; or, 'Way Out West. John Arthur Fraser.
1904 *Nisowassa. A Drama of Wisconsin 's Indian Days.
Jacob Kurtz and Paul Herman Phillipson.
1904 *Peter Pan. James Barrie. London.
1905 *The Girl of the Gold en West. David Belasco.
1905 *Strongheart. William C. DeMille. New Yor k.
1905 *The Squaw Man. Edwin Milton Royle. Buffalo.
1905 *The Custer Massacre; An Ehoch [sic] in American
Aboriginal History in 3 Tableaux. Thomas W. Prior.
New York.
1906 *Poia (opera). Arthur Nevin and Randolph Hartley.
Berlin, Germany?
1906 *Custer's Last Fight. James Halleck Reid. New York.
1906 *Miss Pocahontas: An Indian War-Whoop in Two
Whoops. Book by R.A. Barnet and R.M. Baker.
Music by Dan J. Sullivan.
1906 * Pocohantas, The Virginia Nonpareil . George Viett.
Jamestown, Va.
1906 *Pocahontas. Tecumtha (pseud. Edwin Oliver Ropp.)
Normal, Illinois?
1907 *The White Dove of Oneida. Helen P. Kane.
1907 *In the North Woods. Edward Harrigan. (Ms)
1908 *Royalty in Old Virginia (Pocahontas play). Effi e
Louise Koogle. Lebanon, Ohio?
1908 *The Half-Breed. Frank Dumont.
1908 *Pierre of the Plains. Edgar Selwyn. New York.
1909 *The Red Moon (musical). Bob Cole and J . Rosamond
Johnson. New York. (sheet music extant)
1909 *Hiawatha the Mohawk (a pageant). Louis Oliver
Armstrong. Lake Champlain (floating stage).
1909 *Hudson-Fulton Pageant. Anon. Hudson River and
New York City.
1909 *An Histori cal Pageant of Illinois. Thomas Wood
Stevens. Evanston, Illinois.
1910 *An Oregon Idyll. Joaquin Miller.
1910 *Pontiac, A Drama of Old Detroit, 1763. A.C. Whi tney.
1910 *From Cave Life to City Life, or, The Pageant of the
Perfect City. Boston (directed by Frank C. Brown).
1910 *The Indian Play, Hiawatha (a pageant). Anon. Petos-
key, Michigan.
1910 *Hiawatha, The Indian Passion Play (a pageant).
Anon. Glen Island, New York.
1911 *The Arrow-Maker. Mary Austin. New York.
1911 *Natoma (opera). Victor Herbert and Joseph Red-
ding. Philadelphia.
1912 *The Masque of Montezuma. Thomas Wood Stevens
and Kenneth S. Goodman. Chicago.
1912 Historical Pageant. Ellis Paxon Oberholtzer.
1912 Princess Pocahontas. Constance D' Arcy Mackay.
1912 *The Half-Breed. Frank Dumont.
1912 *Hiawatha. Anon. (based on Longfellow).
1912 *Pocahontas; a Pageant. Margaret Ullmann.
1912 *The Passing of Hiawatha (pageant). Constance
D'Arcy Mackay. Schenectady, New York. (publ.
1912 *The Vanishing Race (pageant). Constance D' Arcy
Mackay. Schenectady. (publ. 1915)
c. 1912 *Glory of the Morning. William Ellery Leonard.
Madison, Wisconsin.
1913 *The Great Trail. An Indian Mystery Play. Marie
Elizabeth J. Hobart. New York.
1913 *The Sun Dance (opera). William Frederick Hanson.
1913 *The Mystery of Life ("A poetization of 'The Hako'--
a Pawnee ceremony). Hartley Burr Alexander.
1913 *The Arrow-Maker's Daughter (a camp fire play based
on Longfellow's "Hiawatha"). Grace E. Smith and
Gertrude Knevels.
1913 *Fire. Mary Austin. Carmel, California.
1914 *The Capture of Ozah (one-act play). Helen P. Kane.
1914 *Yagowane. Helen P. Kane.
1914 *Yot-che-ka. Helen P. Kane.
1914 *The Pageant of the Mohawk Trail. Anon. North
Adams, Massachusetts.
1914 *St. Louis Pageant. Thomas Wood Stevens. St. Louis.
1914 *The Pageant of Cape Cod. William Chauncey Lang-
don. Bourne, Massachusetts.
1914 *Nec-Natama, A Forest Play. J . Wilson Shiels; music
by Uda Waldrop. Sonoma County, California.
1915 *Wakupwapi. Hartley Burr Alexander.
1915 *The Law of the Tribe. Frederick Stuart Greene.
1915 *"The Gate City." Pageant of Lincoln. Alexander Hart-
ley Burr. Lincoln, Nebraska.
1915 *Heart-in-the-Lodge, "All a mistake". Aaron McGaffey
1916 *The Heart of Wetona. George Scarborough (and
David Belasco). New York.
1916 *The Eagle and the Star (a pageant for Camp Fire
Girls). Elaine Goodale Eastman.
1916 *Hiawatha Dramatized Scenes. Valerie Wynga te.
1916 *Pochontas (comic operetta). Book and lyrics by Fred
Edmonds; music by Edward Johnston.
1916 *The Acorn Planter: A California Forest Play. Jack
1916 *The Last of the Mohicans (L'ultimo dei Moicani)
(opera). Paul Hastings Allen. Florence, Italy.
1917 * Azora, the Daughter of Montezuma. Henry Kimball
Hadley and David Stevens.
1917 *Pioneers. Mary L. Macmillan.
1918 *Shanewis or The Robin Woman (opera). Charles
Wakefield Cadman and libretto by Nelle Richmond
Eberhart. New York.
1918 *Pokey; or, The Beautiful Legend of The Amorous
Indian (one act). Philip Moeller.
1920 *The Seekers, An Indian Mystery Play (Canadian
Indians). Amy (Redpath) Roddick.
1920 *The Last of the Lowries. Paul Green. Chapel Hill,
North Carolina.
1922 The Flaming Arrow (opera). Mary Carr Moore. San
1922 *Mirage. George M.P. Baird.
1922 *Pageant of Virginia. Thomas Wood Stevens. Rich-
mond, Virginia.
1922 *Hiawatha (opera). Coleridge Taylor. London.
1922 *Red Bird. A Drama of Wisconsin History. William
Ellery Leonard. Madison, Wisconsin.
1923 *The Light on the Mountains. Jennings Talbot.
1923 *Ramona Pageant. Garnet Holme.
1924 *Rose Marie (operetta). Music by Rudolf Friml and
Herbert Stothar; Book by Otto Harbach and Oscar
Hammerstein II. Atlantic City.
1924 *The Corn Bringers. Irene Dale Hewson.
1924 *The Curse of Chirra-Ponnje. Llewelyn Bullock-
1924 From 1796 to 1924: The Span of Time (a pageant).
Harper Garcia Smythe. Cleveland, Ohio.
1925 *Ben of Broken Bow. Edith Ellis.
1925 *The Song of Hiawatha. Oliver Price.
1925 *Rosario, the Pageant of the Rose. Doris Smith; music
by Charles Wakefield Cadman; words by Nelle
Richmond Eberhart. Portland, Oregon.
1925 *Manito Masks (collection of 9 short plays). Hartley
Burr Alexander.
1926 *Crow feather's Christmas. Orlando W. Stephenson and
Edith L. Hoyle. Ann Arbor, Michigan.
1926 *Footprints West; a Pageant. Jennings Talbot.
1927 White Eagle (operetta). Brian Hooker and W.H.Post.
Music by Rudolf Friml. New York?
1928 *The Golden Age. Lester Lonergan and Charton
1928 *Around the Blue Wigwam (Pocahontas). Oliver Price.
1928 *Where the Trails Cross (a one-act play of Navajo
life). Anne Charlotte Darlington.
1928 *The Poor Little Turkey Girl; A Play of Pueblo Indian
Folk Lore (Junior League Play). Dorothy Hamilton
1929 *The New Spirit. John F. Volkert.
1929 *Kills-with-Her-Man. Hartley Burr Alexander.
1930 *The Cherokee Night. Lynn Riggs. Hedgerow Theatre,
Pennsylvania. (publ. 1936)
1930 * Atahua/pa, The Last of the Incas. Alfred Antoine
1930 Acoma. Edgar Lee Masters.
1931 *Mother Minnetonka. Jack Stuart Knapp.
1932 *The Red Swan. Edward Tallmadge Root.
1932 King Philip. Benjamin Robbins Curtis.
1933 Pochantas and the Elders. A Folk piece in Four Acts.
Virgil Geddes.
1933 *Tekakwith, Lily of the Mohawks. Anon.
1933 *Tekakwith, Who Moveth All Before Her. Anon.
1933 How the West Was Won (a pageant). S.B. Penrose.
Walla Walla, Washington.
1933 American Dream. George O'Neil. New York.
1934 *Taiwa. Hartley Burr Alexander.
1935 *Veedauwoo (Earth-born). Mabelle De Kay.
1936 *High Tor. Maxwell Anderson. New York.
1936 *Tangled Trails, A Play of Southern Indian Days.
Eugene H. Blake. Greenwood, South Carolina.
1937 *The Lost Colony. Paul Green. Roanoke Island, North
Car olina.
1937 *A Bride Out of Beaver. Grace Williams.
1937 *A Century of Culture, a Pageant. Anon. (Frederick
Koch, director)
1938 *The Wooden Wife. Alice Henson.
1938 *The Tomahawk. Amy (Redpath) Roddick.
1939 *Flotilla of Faith (pageant). Hallie Flanagan. Port-
land & Vancouver.
1939 *Chisbaohoyo: The Sweetheart of the Corn. John W.
1940 Pocahontas. M.W. Robinson.
1940 The Colorado Pageant. Thomas Wood Stevens.
1941 *The Cream in the Well. Lynn Riggs. New York.
1941 *The Passion of Pascua. Emily Brown.
1945 *The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the
American Indians. Paul Radin.
1946 *Annie Get Your Gun (musical). I r ving Be r lin and
Dorothy and Herbert Fields. New York.
1946 *Pocahontas (radio drama). N. Mooney. New York.
1948 *Osceola, a Historical Drama. Rose Angell.
1950 *Unto These Hills:A Drama of the Cherokees. Ker mit
Hunter. Western North Carolina (Cherokee).
1950 *Tzinquaw. Frank Morrison.
1950 *Riel: A Play in two Parts. John Coulter. Toronto.
(publ. 1962)
1951 *Lo and Behold. John Patrick. New York.
1952 *They Went Thataway! Pete Williams (pseud. for
James Reach].
1952 *Horn In the West (symphonic drama) . Kermit
Hunter. Boone, North Carolina.
1953 The Aracoma Story. Thomas Patterson.
1955 *When the Fire Dies. Ramona Maher [pseud. for
1956 *The Royal Hunt of the Sun. Peter Shaffer. London.
1957 *The Founders. Paul Green. Jamestown. (Typescript)
1959 *Little Mary Sunshine (musical). Rick Besoyan. New
1960 *The Fantasticks (musical). Tom Jones and Harvey
Schmidt. New York.
1960 *Desert Soliloquy. Len Peterson.
1960 *Stand-in for a Murder. Len Peterson.
1960 The Third Frontier (symphonic drama) Kermit
Hunter. New Bern, North Carolina.
1963 *Montezuma (opera). Roger Sessions and G. A.
Borgese. Berlin.
1963 *One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Dale Wasserman.
New York.
1964 *The Royal Hunt of the Sun (Peruvian Indians) Peter
Shaffer. London.
1964 *Indian. George Ryga. First produced on CBC televi-
sion in 1963.
1964 *Take Me to Your President. Christopher Sergei.
1965 *Cross and Sword (symphonic drama of the Spanish
settlement of Florida). Paul Green. Saint Augustine,
1965 *Tecumseh. Claude Dunster.
1966 *Texas (symphonic drama). Paul Green. Palo Duro
1987 *Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping With His Daughter:
Coyote Builds North America. Stories by Barry
Lopez; original concept and music by John Luther
Adams. Douglas, Alaska.
Data on the following plays and authors is too imprecise
to include in the list above; however, since they represent
a significant number of titles written in the past two
decades, they have been included below with what
specific information is known. The compiler would wel-
come information on dates of composition, publication
data, and first production location for these or any titles
in the checklist where details are missing.
Plays and authors: W. Borden, I Want (or Wanna) to be an
Indian; M Charles, Ianius; C. Duval, Katsina; Melanie M
Ellis, Mo-wah; Joel Ensana, The Sacred Dance of Yellow
Thunder; Mario Fratti, The Only Good Indian; Hanay
Geiogamah, War Dancer, Land Sale, and Grandma; Diane
Glancy, Weejob; Carol Ann Howell, Whadiff; R. Meinholtz,
The Sly Old Bag; Roya Ramon, Indian Hospital; Craig Kee
Strete, Paint Your Face on a Drawing in the River; Terry
Tafoya, Good Medicine; Craig Yolk, Sundancers; Bill Yel -
lowrobe, Sneaky; Spiderwoman Theater, Sun, Moon &
Margaret M. Knapp
The name of Minnie Maddern Fiske evokes in the
student of the American theatre a kaleidoscopic series of
images: Mrs. Fiske the "intellectual" actress noted for her
repressed, cerebral style of playing; Mrs. Fi ske the
indomitable trouper who brought her company to small
towns and frontier outposts some of which had never
before seen a live stage performance; Mrs. Fiske the Ibsen
champion who proved that the plays of the dour Nor-
wegian could be popular and profitable in the American
theatre; Mrs. Fiske the intransigent Independent who
stood virtually alone against the monopolistic Theatrical
Syndicate; Mrs. Fiske the discoverer and nurturer of new
American playwrights. Most scholars have tended to
focus on only the first of these images, that of the
intellectual actress;
yet, if we examine her gifts as an
individual artist within the larger context of the artistic
and economic changes sweeping through American theatre
at the turn of the century, we soon discover that each of
the various images of Mrs. Fiske either contributed to, or
resulted from, her decision to oppose the Theatrical
Deprived of the services of the era's great
playwrights, almost all of whom were controlled by the
Syndicate through literary agent Elisabeth Marbury, Mrs.
Fiske was thrown back on the still -controversial plays of
Ibsen and the work of unknown and untried writers.
Closed out of Syndicate-managed theatres across the
country, she was compelled to extend the range of her
national tours, thereby bringing live theatre to places in
the southwest and Canada which had never experienced it
before. And, most importantly, shunned by New York
theatre owners and producers who had already sur-
rendered to the Synd i cate, Mrs. Fiske was forced to
become (in collaboration with her husband) a theatre
manager, producer, and director as well as fulfilling her
responsibilities as the star of her company. Fueled by the
economic necessity of supervtstng her own productions,
and inspired by the demands and the possibilities of the
new realistic drama in which she chose to appear, Mrs.
Fiske became a producer-director widely recognized in
her own day for innovative productions that stressed
ensemble acting and overall unity of effect.
In her most creative period Mrs. Fiske was acclaimed
by the more discerning critics as much for her behind-the-
scenes contributions to the productions as for her more
visible triumphs as an actress, yet this part of her work is
largely unknown today, obscured by the more enduring
images of actress, Ibsenite, and martyr to the Syndicate.
By examining extant reviews, articles, speeches, and let-
ters, we can begin to uncover the extent of her contribu-
tions as a producer-director, from her role in the initial
choice of plays through the rewriting of scripts, casting
and rehearsal of actors, supervision of scene and costume
designs, and involvement in front-of -the-house manage-
The major events in Mrs. Fiske's career have been
recounted in many places. She was born Marie Augusta
Davey, daughter of an acting family, in 1864.
As a child
she acted as "Little Minnie Maddern" with many of the
era's great stars, including Lawrence Barrett and John
McCullough. In her teen years she graduated to
melodramatic and farcical roles, the latter frank imita-
tions of the parts played by the popular Lotta Crabtree.
As Minnie Maddern she had begun to make a name for
herself both in New York and on the road when she
retired from the stage in I 890 upon her marriage to Har-
rison Grey Fiske, the young editor of the New York
Dramatic Mirror. After four years away from the New
York stage she appeared in a charity matinee of A Doll's
House which brought her great acclaim and led to her
return to the professional stage as Mrs. Fiske.
The renewal of her acting career coincided with the
formation of the Theatrical Trust, a business enterprise
which initially sought to rationalize the chaotic methods
by which touring shows were booked, but which soon
attempted to gain control of all theatrical activity in the
United States and Europe. At first there was widespread
opposition to the Theatrical Trust (most often referred to
as "the Syndicate"), led by the editorial pages of Harrison
Grey Fiske's newspaper. Little by little, however, as the
coercive power of the Syndicate became evident,
opponents were forced to capitulate. Only the Fiskes held
out and went their own way, but at great personal cost,
for the Syndicate did everything it could to prevent Mrs.
Fiske from appearing, either in New York or on the road,
and at the same time tried to drive Harrison Grey Fiske's
New York Dramatic Mirror out of business.
Despite the formidable restrictions that resulted
from opposing the Syndicate, the period from 1895
through 1910 was the most productive and the most art-
istically significant time in Mrs. Fiske's career. In those
years she starred in tremendously popular adaptations of
two English novels: Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles and
Thackeray's Vanity Fair (both stage versions were by
young writers), and a critically acclaimed series of Ibsen
plays: her first professional production of A Doll's House
in 1902, Hedda Gabler in 1903, Rosmersholm in 1908, and
The Pillars of Society in 1910. She also introduced two
new plays that represented departures from the usual
dramatic fare of the day: the witty satire The New York
Idea by Langdon Mitchell, and the starkly realistic Salva-
tion Nell by Edward Sheldon.
Interspersed with these successes was a series of les-
ser plays that were put on with the hope that they would
provide a steady income while the Fiskes were developing
productions of a higher quality; ironically, the failure of
many of these potboilers drained the very financial cof-
fers they were intended to replenish. To guarantee that
Mrs. Fiske would be able to premiere her productions in
New York, the Fiskes leased the old Manhattan Theatre in
Herald Square from 1901 through 1905. While Mrs.
Fiske's productions in their new theatre were successful,
the couple lost money on other plays that were produced
by Harrison Grey Fiske in an attempt to keep the theatre
open while his wife was out on tour. They were soon
forced to give up the management, although they con-
tinued to use the theatre for New York premieres of their
productions and retained the ti tie "Manhattan Theatre
Company" for several years. By 1914 the Fiskes' financial
situation had reached a crisis stage, and Harrison Grey
Fiske was forced to declare bankruptcy.
In the years after 1910 Mrs. Fiske presented the
plays of many new playwrights, but with less success or
lasting impact than she had had earlier. By the 1920s she
was performing almost exclusively in comedy, and for the
first time drew on the classics for her productions of The
Rivals, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Much Ado About
Nothing. Her single notable serious role of this period was
as Mrs. Alving in a 1927 production of Ibsen's Ghosts. She
continued acting until the end of 1931, and died in March
Although the war with the Syndicate forced the
Fiskes into areas of theatrical management and produc-
tion that they might have otherwise avoided, they were
not entirely unprepared for these responsibilities. During
her four years' retirement from the stage in the early
1890s, Mrs. Fiske spent much of her time reading dramatic
literature, discussing theatre with her husband, and even
writing a series of one-act plays, which she later claimed
helped her to better understand the principles of dramatic
When she emerged from retirement, it was
with the idea that she would appear in only the best
plays, maintaining the high theatrical ideals that she and
her husband shared. Although her first productions were
offered under various managements, the Fiskes chose the
plays themselves, and the early programs usually credit
the direction of the play to Mrs. Fiske. Thus, when the
Syndicate forced them to take on the added burdens of
management and production, the Fiskes had both a vision
of what the theatre ought to be, and enough practical
experience to make that vision a reality.
The nature of the collaboration between Harrison
Grey Fiske and Minnie Maddern Fiske is not always easy
to discern. Theatre programs for their productions carry
any number of different divisions of labor,
and financial
exigencies often forced them to compromise on their
preferred working methods in order to keep the enterprise
going. During their most productive years, the partner-
ship seemed to work according to the following general
outlines: Harrison Grey Fiske rarely left New York, while
Mrs. Fiske spent most of her time touring across the
country, either in her most recent play, or, if that did not
draw audiences, in a revival of one of her older hits.
Much of the collaborative work was carried on in the
daily letters the Fiskes wrote to one another.
through their letters or in discussions when they were
both in New York or on summer vacation in the
mountains, they would decide upon the next play to be
produced, and hammer out the overall interpretation of
the play that they wished to follow.
Judging from Mrs. Fiske's many letters about new
plays, she seems to have been able to discern the theatri-
cal potential of a manuscript even when the playwright
had had little experience in molding the rna terial into
effective dramatic form. Once a play was accepted, Mrs.
Fiske prepared the manuscript for production. If it was
an Ibsen play, the rewriting would be minimal; however,
with new plays, Mrs. Fiske's work on the script was often
extensive. In fact, in later years she admitted privately
that she probably deserved credit as co-author on most of
the plays she produced
(her public stance was always
that she had done hardly anything to the plays). As soon
as she finished with a manuscript, it was sent back to
New York for typing, usually under conditions of great
secrecy so that no other managers would know of her
plans. Concealment was especially important during the
Syndicate years because in an attempt to disrupt her tours
the Syndicate would try to lure authors away, or produce
a play on the same subject matter, or send out rival pro-
ductions of the same play if it were in the public domain.
Harrison Grey Fiske took charge of the visual ele-
ments of the production. Mrs. Fiske seems to have had
great reliance upon his tastes in scenery, lighting, and
costume. That her faith was well founded is clear from
articles and reviews that praise Harrison Grey Fi ske as
"practically without peer in the field of American play
Nevertheless, she often wrote of her own
ideas about the visual side of the production, and could
be insistent when she felt strongly that her ideas were
right. In addition to advising him about the visual ele-
ments, Mrs. Fiske bombarded her husband with letters
about casting. In fact, the proper casting of all the roles
in the play seems to have been one of her central concerns
in the early preparation process. Time and again she
would write to her husband about an actor she had seen
in another play several seasons before, or about a per-
former whose name had been mentioned to her in some
casual conversation with other actors. Sometimes she had
a single actor in mind from the very beginning; at other
times she suggested name after name for her husband to
consider. Where possible, actors currently appearing with
her in her tour were cast in the next play, enabling Mrs.
Fiske to begin rudimentary rehearsals while still on the
road. In some cases, actors for the new production would
be given minor roles in the current tour so that they
would be available for these early rehearsals. Meanwhile,
Harrison Grey Fiske would be rehearsing the other newly-
hired actors in New York. Since the two had had
innumerable discussions about the main lines of the pro-
duction, these two sets of rehearsals seem to have been
more fruitful than the process might suggest at first
When Mrs. Fiske's tour ended, she would gather with
the cast, either in New York or in the city where the new
play was to try out, and begin an intensive period of
rehearsals. During this time, Mrs. Fiske's main
responsibility seems to have been working with the actors
on the psychological underpinnings of their parts and
creating an ensemble out of the two disparate groups of
performers. Meanwhile, her husband would be putting
the finishing touches on the visual elements, arranging for
publicity, and planning the subsequent and inevitable
If the new show was a success it might play in New
York for several months; if a failure, the company would
fall back on an older hit or would head out on tour while
a different play was being put into production. During
the tour, Mrs. Fiske would see that everyone in the com-
pany, including the stagehands and the manager, con-
tinued to work at a high level; she would also wrestle
with cast replacements, changes in tour routing, additional
publicity, and, of course, thoughts about the next produc-
As grueling as this system of production was (and
the constant interference of the Syndicate certainly made
it even more grueling than it needed to be), Mrs. Fiske
believed that it was superior to a system of repertory
whereby four or five new plays were produced each sea-
son, since she was able to give most of her attention to
work on a single new play, while continuing to keep her
name before the public by performing in older successes
that had been continually improved over a period of
months or years. When operating at its best, that is, when
it was not compromised by a second-rate play or the
necessity for rushing a new play into production to
replace an unpopular or faltering show, the Fiskes' system
does seem to have resulted in first-rate productions.
Critics praised their work lavishly, emphasizing the
beauty and appropriateness of the settings, the uniform
strength of the cast, and the emphasis on ensemble acting.
These are the very qualities that the Fiskes had striven
for, and although they are qualities that we sometimes
take for granted today, they were by no means common at
the turn of the century, as the tone of pleased surprise in
review after review demonstrates. To understand how the
Fiskes were able to make this system work, let us examine
the steps in greater detail, with special attention to their
last collaboration on an Ibsen play, the 1910 production of
The Pillars of Society.
That Mrs. Fiske chose to produce an Ibsen play in
1910 is not surprising, given her previous successes as
Nora Helmer, Hedda Gabler and Rebecca West, and the
fact that she had been more or less alternating an Ibsen
season with a new play for the last several years. Critics
were disappointed that she settled on one of Ibsen's ear-
lier and less challenging social dramas, especially since
the leading female role was relatively small in comparison
with that of the male protagonist. Nevertheless, at a time
when the great robber barons, the pillars of American
society, were being excoriated for their hypocrisy on the
front pages of the nation's newspapers, the play had a
timeliness that was widely acknowledged in reviews of
the production.
In working on the script, the Fiskes
underlined the play's relevance to 1910 America by aug-
menting some of the more hypocritical speeches of
Bernick's business associates with additional lines about
the "morality" of their scheme to have a new railroad
built on land they secretly owned.
Harrison Grey Fiske
also wrote an essay on "women's place _in the home" that
was given to the actor playing Rorlund to read in the
opening scene of the play (Ibsen's stage direction merely
states, "Doctor Rorlund, reading from a book with gilt
edges, a word here and there being heard by the
audience"13). These additional speeches blended smoothly
into the William Archer translation that was being used
for the production. With work on the script completed,
the play was ready to be cast and rehearsed.
The process of casting Pillars was agonizing for Mrs.
Fiske. She wrote to her husband several times about the
importance of finding an actor with the right high com-
edy touch for the role of Hilmar. She also worried about
finding actors who would look like "pillars of society" for
the roles of Bernick's business associates, particularly
since they were so important to the last act. She felt very
strongly that the role of Olaf should be played by a real
boy rather than a girl or young woman (although she was
willing to compromise by having a girl understudy Olaf
so that she would also be available for the next produc-
tion, Hauptmann's Hannele).
Her goal, as always, was to find the right actor for
each role; she explained to Alexander Woollcott that "the
perfect company we must have every time, above all con-
and told him of the effort that went i nto
f i nding the best actor s for her production of Salvation
Nell: "I cannot begin to tell you how many times Mr. Fiske
and I virtually dismissed an entire company; how over
and over again members of the cast were weeded out and
others engaged; how over and over again we would start
with an almost entirely new company, until every par t . . .
was realized . ... "
Although she was not able
to achieve this ideal with the Pillars cast, most critics,
accustomed to the inferior supporting companies employed
by other "star" actors, marveled at the uniformly high
level of acting in the Fiskes' production.
By the time she gathered together the company for
The Pillars of Society Mrs. Fiske had spent almost a
quarter of a century obeying the whims of stage
managers, followed by fifteen years of supervising her
own companies in rehearsal. Unlike most of her con-
temporaries, she believed that the director was the princi-
pal figure in the theatre. In a series of interviews pub-
lished by Alexander Woolcott in 1917, Mrs. Fiske talked of
the establishment of an ideal theatre: "First catch your
ideal director, endow him, then leave him alone."17 She
came to believe in the centrality of the director despite
her low opinion of those practicing the craft in her day.
Her advice to a young actor, as reported by Woolcott, was
"pay no attention, or as little attention as possible, to the
director, unless he is a real director. The chances are that
he is wrong. The overwhelming chances are that he is
'theatricalized,' doing more harm than good. Do not let
yourself be disturbed by his funny little ideas. Do not be
corrupted, then by the director."
These seemingly con-
tradictory statements about directors obviously grew out
of Mrs. Fiske's own experience on the stage. During her
youthful apprenticeship playing in the emotional dramas
so popular at the end of the nineteenth centruy, Mrs.
Fiske had observed the old-fashioned techniques of
"pointing" or emphasizing the big moments of the play,
often with scenes of uncontrolled hysterics.19 When she
resumed her career in 1895, she quickly recognized that
those techniques were of little use in directing modern
psychological dramas, such as those of Ibsen, where the
key to a successful performance is often the subtle
expression of largely repressed emotions. With no models
to follow, her direction became what she called "a species
of origination,"
that is, a whole new approach developed
over the course of the next f i fteen years.
Underpinning her approach to directing was a long
and careful analysis of the play, particularly when she
was reviving Ibsen. Her highly-praised impersonations of
Hedda Gabler and Rebecca West were the result of many
years of study,
and presumably her work as director also
benefitted from the same intense involvement with the
script over a period of time. Similarly, Mrs. Fiske's direc-
tion of new plays no doubt benefitted from the extensive
preliminary work she did on the scripts in conjunction
with the playwrights. Mrs. Fiske believed that this
preparation was vital, since her goal was to offer plays
that were "presented with appreciation,"22 that is, plays
that were produced with respect for their more subtle and
less obvious nuances of meaning. Her thorough analyses
of scripts sometimes yielded surprising results. For exam-
ple, it is clear from a number of her letters that she con-
sidered the secondary role of Hilmar Tonnesen to be cru-
cial to The Pillars of Society and had envisioned the per-
formance in detail long before rehearsals began. She
wrote to her husband that "one of Hilmar's characteristics
(as he lolls about the sofas and tables) is to stick his
hands in his pockets--and often has a cigarette--and
occasionally turns his coat collar up (velvet lounging coat)
in feeling a slight draught .... "
The character of Hil-
mar turned out to be a key to Mrs. Fiske's interpretation
of Pillars, for he provided much of the humor that she
discovered in the pia y, humor that had been largely
ignored by previous directors under the impression that
all Ibsen productions must be played in a tone of
unrelieved gloom.
The fruits of her analyses were shared with the
other actors at the early rehearsals. She felt that the first
reading of the play was "all-important" for it was then
that the director explained his or her interpretation of the
play, an interpretation that only emerged after long study
of the drama. Mrs. Fiske believed in allowing time for
the actors to discuss the play and its various characters
while still seated at a table; only after they had "digested
and come to a thorough understanding of the play" did
actual blocking begin. 24
Believing that acting was part technique and part "a
thing of the spirit, "
Mrs. Fiske evolved a method of
directing that had as its foundation the tenet that "the
principal function of the stage director is developing the
actor. It would seem unduly autocratic to speak of train-
ing an actor, but one can at least remove obstacles and
give him a fair chance of self -development. ... It is a
pleasure to see obscure people come to the for e, it not
under training, at least under guidance and supervision."
Although she here disclaims any invol vement in training
actors, i n later years she credited her successful produc-
tion of Salvation Nell to "the virtual opening of a dramatic
conservatory, "
indicating that for that production at
least her efforts extended to instruction in the fundamen-
tals of acting.
In working with individual actors on their roles,
Mrs. Fiske's methods seem to have varied considerably.
According to some reports, she sometimes gave the actor
an exact reading to be copied. Several witnesses testify to
the skill with which she assumed one role after another in
rehearsal. According to one eyewitness, "Before an
audience [Mrs. Fiske] gives but one interpretation, but at
rehearsal she plays every part in the play--suggesting to
the more capable members of her company an altered
reading or a piece of stage business that illumines the
lines . .. . "
Another writer reported that in rehearsal
"she has a faculty for putting herself in any role. To
illustrate her ideas she may, in the course of a rehearsal,
act every part in the play, and bring out a meaning that
the player never realized or did not know how to
On the other hand, Mrs. Fiske seems to have been
adept at eliciting original interpretations from her more
capable actors. The critic Ashton Stevens, writing of
what he called Mrs. Fiske's "actormanagement," stated that
"she, setting about the business of i nterpret i ng a play,
knows to the final nicety what to ask of an actor, and
how to bring it forth if it is in him,"so while an eyewit-
ness at her rehearsals claimed that "where she finds
originality she gives f ull opportunity for its display."
This ability to evoke the best work from each of her
actors is demonstrated by the f ~ t that, as her biographer
points out, many actors who received high praise for their
work in Fiske productions never achieved the same high
level of performance in other companies.
Perhaps the most valuable contribution Mrs. Fiske
made during rehearsals was providing what she called a
"thorough-bass" for each interpretation. She gave the fol-
lowing example of a thorough-bass to Alexander
"Recently I witnessed a play wherei n, early i n a
scene, there was a touchingly acted, naturally
moving reunion between an anxious mother and
her wandering boy. She expressed the immediate
tumult nicely enough, and then took it off and put
it away like a bonnet. She played the rest of the
scene without a trace of it. Yet had she kept it in
mind, as the thorough-bass of her performance, the
fact that whatever the text and however preoc-
cupying and irrelevant the business, the mother
would really be saying in her heart, 'My boy has
come home, my boy has come home,' why, it would
have colored her every word and warmed her
every glance. The quiet, inner jubilance would
have given all her performance a tremulous over-
tone, the subsiding groundswell of the emotional
It is clear from this example that Mrs. Fiske's thorough-
bass is a first cousin to the superobjective, through-line,
or spine of today's Stanislavsky-based acting theory. Most
often, these hints about the overall shape of the role were
given to the actor during a quiet moment in the rehears-
als, after which the others who were present were often
startled to see the improvement in the actor's perform-
Her work with individual actors was colored by
what the New York Dramatic Mirror called her "passion for
Believing that "art requires that there should
be a diversified interest in a play,"
Mrs. Fiske attempted
to provide that diversity by casting the best possible
actors in each role and then drilling them to support one
another unselfishly. This approach could only be success-
ful because she as the "star" of the company was willing
to share the stage with the other actors, and her
generosity in this regard reached its height with her deci-
sion to produce The Pillars of Society even though it did
not contain a "starring" role for her. The more discerning
critics praised her for subsuming her own work in the
ensemble; thus, the reviewer for the New York Globe
announced that Mrs. Fiske "exhibits a positive .disinclina-
tion for the centre of the stage and a prayerful desire to
further the author's design rather than her own individu-
Mrs. Fiske compared an ensemble performance in the
theatre to that of a "well-balanced orchestra," and
wondered what the audience at a symphony would think
"if while listening to an orchestra they should hear two or
three instruments playing in harmony and the others all
off the key?"
The same effect, she felt, results from a
play whose cast is uneven in abilities and improperly or
inadequately rehearsed. Since ensemble effects were not
easily achieved, it is hardly suprising that Mrs. Fiske's
work during rehearsals was marked by a tireless attention
to details. One writer praised her for her "faculty for
leadership, for organization, patience in working out
details, quickness of observation, indomitable energy, and
willpower," and spoke of how she "works and strives and
drills till she obtains the effect desired."39 A second
writer agreed, noting that "she is extremely painstaking at
rehearsals, having an unlimited capacity for detai1s."
As a perfectionist, Mrs. Fiske was frequently dis-
satisfied with the results of her labors, whatever the
response of the critics and the audience. Although her
production of The Pillars of Society was a great critical
success (one reviewer said that it was produced "in nearly
faultless fashion"
), Mrs. Fiske never reconciled herself to
having to use an actor who was inadequate to her idea of
the role of Consul Bernick. Forced by circumstances to
hire Holbrook Blinn, who had appeared with her in Salva-
tion Nell and was touring with her while Pillars was being
prepared, Mrs. Fiske was privately critical of his work
even though most reviewers hailed his performance as
being the best of his career. For years afterward she
hoped to revive Pillars with a more suitable actor as
Although working with the actors was her primary
responsibility during the rehearsal period, Mrs. Fiske kept
her eye on all other aspects of her productions. While still
on tour during the winter of 1909-1910, she took great
pains over the designs for the set of Pillars, discussing
them with her husband in six letters. The preliminary
plans for the set had been executed by Ernest Gros, a
veteran scene painter who had worked for David Belasco
and also for the Fiskes on earlier productions. When the
sketches and a model were sent to Mrs. Fiske, she objected
that he had chosen a color scheme that was much too
dark, had designed a room that was "very set and stiff,"
and had failed in his set to capture the effect of a small
sea town.
Her suggestions to her husband, given in
great detail in her letters, included brightening the whole
set by painting it in French grey and white and having a
bright garden and vividly painted houses visible through
the windows. She also recommended the use of a
cyclorama on which could be projected sunsets, moonlight,
and a storm in Act III. The use of the cyclorama was not
to interfere with the drama itself, however, but was
merely to give "a slight suggestion of the gathering storm,
and the whole effect should glide in easily and
inconspicuously with the action of the play."
Her ideas
about the scenery prevailed, and the critics were surprised
to see such a light and beautiful set in an Ibsen play.
One reviewer noted the "bright interior, with a charming
outlook through long windows on a vine and flower
bedecked piazza, and beyond that to the blue waters of a
placid fjord," while another writer noted that "the one set-
ting of the play ... was a thing of beauty. The warm,
sunny tones, the great windows overlooking the pic-
turesque Norwegian town, with the glimpse of the sea in
the distance, was delightfu1."
The set helped to com-
municate Mrs. Fiske's interpretation of the play, which
stressed the light and satirical elements in Ibsen's drama.
Similar attention was lavished on other aspects of
the production. Letters from Mrs. Fiske to her husband
are filled with details about costuming, makeup, lighting,
and music. And while on the road she continued to super-
vise every element of her current production. She held
nightly conferences with the stage manager and the
and kept a careful eye on the publicity gen-
erated by her company manager.
This painstaking effort was not without its rewards,
for more discerning audiences and critics were quick to
praise the unity and integrity of the production. One
reviewer claimed that the production revealed "the unify-
ing impulse of a fine directing mind," while another critic
felt that Mrs. Fiske's acting had to take second place to
"the transcendant phase of Mrs. Fiske's art ... her super-
lative ability as a producer."
Several reviewers recognized Mrs. Fiske's specific
contributions as director: one critic declared that "Mrs.
Fiske produces the piece marvelous! y. The numerous
touches of humor, the universality of types, the exposition
of motives, are shown with unerring hand." Another
reviewer wrote. that "As a stage manager Mrs. Fiske shines
brilliantly, as is her wont. By her arrangement of the
scene and maneuvering of the company, she contrives to
generate just the right atmosphere for the drama."
the writer for the New York Sun recognized the effort that
had gone into the casting and rehearsal of Pillars when he
wrote that "It would be interesting in view of some pro-
ductions that are witnessed on ambitious stages from time
to time to discover where Mrs. Fiske finds actors so well
suited to her purposes. Perhaps they are always available,
however, for those who know how to mould them to their
In the spring and summer of 1910 The Pillars of
Society was taken on the obligatory tour, along with pro-
ductions of Hauptmann's Hanne/e and Schnitzler's The
Green Cockatoo. The latter plays had been warmly
received by New York critics, but proved to be caviar to
the general, and Mrs. Fiske was forced to revive her old
standby, Becky Sharp, for cities where there were not
enough sophisticated theatregoers to patronize a full week
of modern realism and poetic drama.
But by then the Fiskes' willingness to gamble on
productions of challenging modern dramas had given
them the reputation of the foremost theatrical manage-
ment in the country. After detailing Mrs. Fiske's
accomplishments in the theatre, Kenyon West announced
that "there is no one in America so able, so well-equipped
as Mrs. Fiske to be at the head of a National Theater, but
she is unfortunately handicapped by being a woman!"60 A
greater compliment to the achievements of the Fiskes
came when Paul Cravath, the Wall Street businessman who
was one of the guiding forces behind the New Theatre,
negotiated with the Fiskes to take over the management
of that ill-starred New York playhouse. The New
Theatre, which had been conceived as the dramatic equi-
valent of the Metropolitan Opera House, had the backing
of some of the most important figures in America, includ-
ing Cornelius Vanderbilt and Otto Kahn. The playhouse
itself was a cavernous space with poor acoustics, and from
its opening in November 1909 its ambitious repertory was
subjected to venomous attacks by critics. The high ideals
with which the theatre had been founded were soon
buried .under controversies about its architecture, its
management, its choice of plays and its company of
After two years of mediocre productions the direc-
tors realized that the theatre needed a management that
could combine high ideals with practical experience in
choosing and preparing serious drama. They turned to
Harrison Grey Fiske, with the understanding that Mrs.
Fiske would also be involved in the preparation of pro-
ductions. It is clear from Mrs. Fiske's letters that she was
quite excited at the prospect of succeeding where other
producers had failed. She reeled off names of plays and
possible actors for the company, and reiterated her will-
ingness to participate in the work. Unfortunately, she
was never given the chance. The original backers had ini-
tially accepted the idea of the Fiske management, but
Cravath was unable to get a majority together to vote on
the scheme.
Not long after, the New Theatre was leased
by the Shuberts for commercial productions and
eventually torn down.
And so Mrs. Fiske went back to touring, and Har-
rison Grey Fiske continued to produce plays in New York
until financial setbacks forced him to declare bankruptcy.
Their fifteen years of fruitful collaboration were over,
and they had little to show for their efforts except a
recognition among critics and theatre professionals that
their partnership had created some of the most outstand-
ing productions of the era. They had awakened theatre
audiences from the deadening mediocrity of Syndicate-
produced drama, and had thus prepared the ground for
the experiments of a new theatrical generation that was
about to emerge in the years just before World War I.
lSee, for example, Elizabeth L. Neill, "The Art of
Minnie Maddern Fiske: A Study of Her Realistic Acting,"
Ph.D. dissertation, Tufts University, 1970. Two recent
studies have taken more cognizance of the impact of eco-
nomic and artistic trends on Mrs. Fiske's work: Mary Ann
Angela Messano-Ciesla, "Minnie Maddern Fiske: Her Battle
with the Theatrical Syndicate," Ph.D. dissertation, New
York University, 1982; and Ellen Donkin, "Mrs. Fiske's
1897 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles': A Structural Analysis of
the 1897-98 Production," Ph.D. dissertation, University of
Washington, 1982. I am grateful to Ellen Donkin for her
valuable suggestions during the early part of my research.
Mrs. Fiske claimed that Shakespeare's ''great works
never appealed to me strongly for my own uses" ("Tells of
the Ibsen Spell," Rochester Post-Express, March 23, 1910, in
the Scrapbook of Clippings, 1909-10, Minnie Maddern
Fiske Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Con-
gress, hereafter referred to as LC. A 1900 plan to appear
in Captain Brassbound's Conversion was defeated by a
misunderstanding between Shaw and the Fiskes, and no
further attempts were made by the actress to produce a
Shaw play. Mrs. Fiske was thus even more limited in the
choice of good plays than other actresses of her day.
SThe major source of information on Mrs. Fi ske is
the coHection of her papers in the Manuscript Division of
the Library of Congress.
The only complete biography of Mrs. Fiske, writ-
ten by Archie Binns in collaboration with Olive Kooken,
is Mrs. Fiske and the American Theatre (New York: Crown,
Although most sources give Mrs. Fiske's year of
birth as 1865, Arnold T. Schwab makes a convincing argu-
ment that she was born in 1864. See "Minnie Maddern
Fiske's Birthda te: A Correction," Nineteenth Century
Theatre Research 8 (1980), 87-90.
6" An Actress Manager and her Ideas of Play
Producing," New York Times, 25 November 1906, sec. 4, p.
7See the appendix to the Binns biography, 401-426.
Hundreds of Mrs. Fiske's letters to Harrison Grey
Fiske are preserved in the Library of Congress. Only a
few of his letters to her are kept in the same collection.
One interviewer claimed that Mrs. Fiske's correspondence
"would stagger a bank president" (Wendell Phillips Dodge,
"Mrs. Fiske, America's Intellectual Actress," Strand Maga-
zine, October 1913, 391).
9See, for example, Binns, 293-94.
lODodge, "Mrs . Fiske, America's Intellectual
Actress," 389.
0ne reviewer suggested that the production
should be given in the vicinity of Wall Street "so that the
gentlemen who conduct the corporation [sic] affairs of
America might have a chance to study Mr. Ibsen's analysis
of their kind of doings" (quoted in Binns, 226).
12These additional lines are appended to one of the
prompt copies of the play in the Minnie Maddern Fiske
Collection, LC.
The Pillars of Society, in The Works of Henrik
Ibsen, Vol. 7, trans. William Archer (New York: Scribner's,
1911), 284.
14See, for example, letters of December 14, 1909
and January 12, 1910 in the Minnie Maddern Fiske Collec-
tion, LC.
Alexander Woollcott, Mrs. Fiske: Her Views on
Actors, Acting and the Problems of Production (New York:
Century, 191 7), 120.
16Woollcott, 21-22.
17Woollcott, 123.
Woollcott, 89.
19Mrs. Fiske spoke with scorn of these "false
appeals" in a speech given to the Harvard University
Ehtical Society in December 1905. Several versions of the
speech are preserved in the Minnie Maddern Fiske Collec-
tion, LC.
2o"An Actress Manager and Her Ideas," sec. 4, p. 2.
21Binns recounts Mrs. Fiske's intensive study of
Hedda Gabler (pp. 138-39), and reports that she had spent
five years planning her production of Rosmersholm (p.
New York Times, 29 August 1904, quoted in Neill,
"The Art of Minnie Maddern Fiske," 155.
2SQuoted in Binns, 222.
24Mrs. Fiske described some of her directing meth-
ods in a speech given in Cincinnati. The copy of the
speech in the Library of Congress is undated; it appears
to have been written between 1900 and 1906.
Woollcott, 76.
26"An Actress Manager and Her Ideas," sec. 4, p. 2.
27Woollcott, 22.
28Kenyon West, "The Personality and the Art of
Minnie Maddern Fiske," The Arena, January 1908, in the
Scrapbook of Clippings, 1907-08, LC.
Dodge, "Mrs. Fiske, America's Intellectual
Actress," 386-87.
sou Ash ton Stevens Says: Royal Acting in Mrs.
Fiske's 'Rosmersholm'," New York Evening Journal, Decem-
ber 31, 1907, in the Scrapbook of Clippings, 1907-08, LC.
31West, "The Personality and the Art."
32Binns claims that Tyrone Power had the best
roles of his long career in Mrs. Fiske's company (p. 331 );
the same may be said for several other performers, such
as Holbrook Blinn.
sswoollcott, 126.
Alexander Woollcott recalled hearing of how Mrs.
Fiske "would lead a player into a corner, sit down with
him, talk to him for a while, ... and then send him back
to the stage equipped, apparently, as he had never been
before" (p. 125).
"Mrs. Fiske as Lona Hessel," New York Dramatic
Mirror, 2 April 1910, p. 6.
36Harvard speech, 1905.
S1New York Glo_be, 29 March 1910, in Scrapbook of
Clippings, 1909-10, LC.
Harvard speech, 1905.
S9West, "The Personality and the Art."
Paul Tietjens, "Minnie Maddern Fiske," Uncle
Remus's Maganzine, April 1908, in the Scrapbook of Clip-
pings, 1907-08, LC.
41"Mrs. Fiske's Finished Work," New York Sun, 29
March 1910, in the Scrapbook of Clippings, 1909-10, LC.
Letter from Minnie Maddern Fiske to Harrison
Grey Fiske, 2 July 1910, in the Minnie Maddern Fiske
Collection, LC.
43Letters of 7 January 1910, 8 January 1910, and
12 January 1910, LC.
44Letter of 7 January 1910.
Mrs. Fiske in Ibsen's 'Pillars'," Buffalo News, 2
April 191 0; "F. W. W. on 'The Pillars of Society'," Denver
Times, 14 June 1910, in the Scrapbook of Clippings, 1909-
10, LC.
"Mrs. Fiske is Dead: Funeral Pompless as She
Requested," New York Times, 17 February 1932, Biographi-
cal Information Folder, Minnie Maddern Fiske Collection,
47"At the Play," New York Town Topics, 31 March
1910; untitled article, Topeka Daily Capital, 7 June 1910,
in the Scrapbook of Clippings, 1909-10, LC.
"Mrs. Fiske Produces 'Pillars of Society' at
Olympic," St. Louis Republic, 24 May 1910, in the Scrap-
book of Clippings, 1909-10, LC.
49"Mrs. Fiske's Finished Work," New York Sun, 29
March 1910, in Scrapbook of Clippings, 1909-10, LC. The
reference to "ambitious stages" was most likely a not-too-
subtle criticism of the New Theatre, which had opened
with great fanfare just a few months earlier.
50West, "The Personality and the Art."
51Binns, 247-50, 252.
Peter A. Davis
Histories of the American theatre unanimously
acknowledge the paucity of original and viable pre-
Revolutionary dramatic literature.
It is particularly sig-
nificant, therefore, that a short note published by the his-
torian Robert E. Moody reveals the existence of a
previously unknown playscript in the Massachusetts His-
torical Society's collection.
The manuscript dates from
1732, making it the first play written in Boston and the
third oldest surviving American play, preceded only by
Robert Hunter's Androboros (c. 1715) and Lewis Morris's
Dialogue Concerning Trade (1726).
Untitled and
anonymous, the work is entirely unknown to theatre his-
torians; not a single reference to it can be found in any
published theatre history source:'
Moody's cursory introduction to the edition of the
script which appears in the Proceedings of the Mas-
sachusetts Historical Society for 1980 asserts that the "play
has importance not as a drama but as a document of
political satire;"6 as a political historian, he has no inter-
est in indentifying an important document in American
theatre history. His bibliographic description specifies
the watermarks and dimensions of the paper, but most
importantly notes the existence of later docketing which
declares on the back page "Copy play wrote at Boston
He also transcribes a letter dated 26 February
1822 from the donor Theodore Lyman (Boston author and
philanthropist), detailing all that is known about the
play's origins. Apparently it was given to Lyman by the
grandson of Dr. John Bard, a prominent colonial
physician, to whom the handwritten manuscript may have
originally belonged. 7 The play was dona ted in 182,2, and
until 1981 sat uncatalogued and forgotten in the Society's
collections. Presumably Moody's assessment of the play
and decision to publish it result from its status as a politi-
cal curiosity. Neither the Society's placement of the
script at the back of the Proceedings nor Moody's intro-
duction and occasional annotations were geared for notice
by theatrical academe.
In fact, the play is as much a rare theatrical docu-
ment as it is a pol i tical novelty. Li ke its predecessor
Androboros, the script is a harsh satire of the political
activities surrounding a colonial admi nistration, that of
Jonathan Belcher, governor of Massachusetts from 1730 to
Unl i ke i ts predecessor, however, it assumes a
definite anti-royalist attitude. Nevertheless, it is similarly
theatrical and literate, potentially producible and an
unusual example of colonial American dramaturgical skill.
Moreover, the play i s a vital missing link on the broken .
chain of theatrical development before the American
Revolution. It bridges what otherwise appears to be a
f ifty-year gap between Androboros and The Paxton Boys
(1764), extending political satire in dramatic form beyond
Morris's play, and closer to the crucial works written dur-
ing the decade preceding the Revolut ion.
It certainly
tends to disprove any notion that its two predecessors
were mere anomalies.
Jonathan Belcher, the play's central character and
the person against whom the satire is directed, was the
son of Andrew Belcher (a prosperous Boston merchant and
politician who served as a member of the Massachusetts
Council from 1702 until his death in 1717). Cambridge
born and Harvard educated, Jonathan Belcher spent the
four years immediately following his graduation touring
Europe and establishing important business and political
contacts in London. After his return to Boston in 1704,
he devoted the next decade to building a considerable for-
tune as a merchant/entrepreneur. At the same time, he
developed a reputation among his fellow Bostonians as a
staunch supporter of colonial rights, particularly for the
growing and fiercely independent mercantile class. Like
his father, Belcher entered politics and was elected to the
Massachusetts Council eight times between 1718 and 1729.
In his Ia tter years on the Council he became especially
involved with the perenni al quest ion of gubernatorial
salaries--a problem that plagued many colonial governors
including Rober t Hunter of New York ten years earlier.
This controversy led to Belcher's appointment as governor,
but only at a tremendous political cost. The machinations
resulti ng in his appointment are at the heart of this play.
While still a member of the Massachusetts Council,
Belcher was approached by the Connecticut Assembly to
act as its agent in London in the attempt to reverse the
infamous Winthrop versus Lechmere case, a challenge to
land titles in the colony.ll Belcher's advocacy was an
anti-royalist act and so irked Governor Edward Burnet of
Massachusetts that he invalidated Belcher's 1729 election
victory. Instead of squelching Belcher's career, this
prompted the Massachusetts Assembly to appoint him as
its representative in London as well in the continuing
salary battles between the colonial governors and their
assemblies. As a native-born colonial and an outspoken
critic of the Board of Trade's demand that colonial
governors be granted fixed and regular salaries through
their repective assemblies, Belcher was the perfect choice.
Or so it seemed.
Thus, in January 1729, Belcher arrived in London
with dual charges (neither of which held him in good
stead with Governor Burnet) and the optimistic trust of
his colonial associates. But shortly after Belcher's arrival,
Burnet died. Seizing the opportunity for self -promotion,
Belcher called upon his many contacts and by January
1730 was named Burnet's successor. The Board of Trade
noted that he was both a colonial and a "prerogative man,"
meaning he had convinced the appropriate people that he
was now a royalist and thus favored fixed and regular
salaries for colonial governors.
This turnabout clearly
shows a fundamental change in Belcher's political
allegiance, though it was not immediately apparent to his
supporters in the colonies.
He returned to Boston in August 1730 to the general
approval of all and assumed his appointment under the
most favorable circumstances, a situation rare among
colonial governors. Soon, however, his favored status was
lost amid a series of battles with the General Court over
the expenditure of public funds and the revelation of his
perfidiousness with regard to fixed salaries. Although
Belcher continued in office for another ten years, his
administration was racked by the bitter infighting and
factiomilism typical of most colonial governments;1
sudden reversal in his attitude was the source of conflict
and the raison d'etre for the unique 1732 playscript.
It is difficult to be certain how much of the action
in the play is based on real events. There is some
accuracy in the chronology, but other aspects such as the
permu ta tuions of characters in particular scenes are
dubious, derived from the anonymous author's imagina-
tive musings of what might (or should) have occurred.
Nowhere in the work do we see a moment like Solemn's
speech to the mock-assembly in the first act of
Androboros, which was most likely paraphrased from an
actual speech given by the character's real-life counter-
part, Lewis Morris.l Nor is the script a complete fab-
rication as is Morris's later dialogue. Instead, it is a
viable attempt at a fictional recreation of historical
events within a deliberately satiric framework. The work
is undoubtedly an intentional piece of dramatic literature
by someone familiar with at least the structure and form
of a working pla yscript, if not the classical drama tic
unities as observed by its two predecessors.
More so than Morris's Dialogue, this work shows
structural competence and performability reminiscent of
Androboros, though like Androboros a staging in its day
would have been very unlikely because of its libelous and
seditious nature. For example, the play opens with a
prologue that is as strong a statement of colonial rights as
any literary document prior to the Revolution:
In Ancient Rome, the Tribunes kept them free
And were the Guardians of their liberty,
The Spartans by their Ephori took care
To hinder Tyranny from entering there
And Britain, by her Parliaments, hath shown
That She'll keep Kings, to what they've justly Sworn
And surely it can ne're be taken ill, if we
By the Same methods keep our liberty.
Such a blatant appeal to colonial liberty would certainly
prohibit any public presentation in its own day. That the
play has a prologue (in iambic pentameter no less) reflects
both the author's familiarity with contemporaneous
theatre and the serious dramatic intentions for the satire.
Its author appears to have more in common with Hunter
than Morris, whose theatrically naive dialogue is devoid
of poetry.
The first scene takes place two years before Bel-
cher's gubernatorial commission, just after the installation
of Burnet as Governor in 1728. Three prominent members
of the Massachusetts Assembly (Mr. Cushen, Mr. Lewis
and Dr. Cook) are joined by Belcher in a discussion about
the Burnet appointment. They resolve to give the new
governor a chance, but only after Belcher declares: "I lay
this down as a certain rule, from which I'll never deviate,
that which is not just, is not lawfull, And that which is
not lawfull, ought not to be obeyed. And no Instruction
can bind a free people, Except by their own consent." In
light of Belcher's infamous turnabout, the author wastes
little time in establishing his apostasy. In the second
scene, the assemblymen welcome the new governor.
The third scene finds Burnet in consultation with a
Colonel Taylor to whom he confides his intention to make
the colonial council comply with the royal demand that
he, as governor, be granted a fixed salary. They are
joined by the good Dr. Cook who delivers a stern lecture
in defense of the colonial opposition to the royal preroga-
tive. The Governor's attempt to persuade the council to
his view is quickly squashed in a stinging rebuke by
"councillor Belcher." The council briefly retires to a
townhouse in scene five to regroup and reaffirm its com-
mitment to the anti-prerogative position only to be inter-
rupted by an urgent message demanding that they return
immediately to the council chamber.
Scenes 6 and 7 show Burnet once again attempting
to appease the council and the council once again
rejecting the royal instructions. After dissolving the
assembly, Burnet delivers a revealing and surprisingly
sympathetic soliloquy, one that must have been echoed by
many colonial governors:
Hard is my fate, if I comply with the King's
instructions, I must want; If I give them up, I shall
loose the government, Oh could I retire, and spend
the remainder of my days free from contention, I
should then know what happiness is, which the
hurry of my life has hitherto made me a stranger
In scene 8 the issue is taken to a town meeting in which
Belcher is chosen to serve as moderator. Here he delivers
the most direct indictment of the royal demands:
Your Generall court, you see is dissolved for not
complying with an Arbitrary instruction which if
you had done, your utter ruin would have been the
consequence, for consider my friends, the King
says we must pay 1000 pounds sterling a year to
the Governor, next year he may say 2000 and so
on, till as last We shall be forced to sell our estates
to support the pride and arrogance of a governor,
and send our children beyond the sea, to begg
bread. Such thoughts as these my friends must
inspire everyone of us with resolution to Defend
the expiring life of this country.
Once again the author advocates a fierce anti-royalist
position through the harshly ironic mouthpiece of the
leading character. The mob is persuaded by his speech
and elects Belcher to argue its case in London.
He is briefed by Dr. Cook in scene 9 and granted a
1000 pounds sterling allowance for his journey. A short
but sentimental scene follows in which Belcher says good-
bye to his family. He tells his wife: "The ship waits, so I
must take leave [kisses her], I hope no temptation will
make you forget your dear Jonathan." She responds in
kind: "I hope my dear, you believe my virtue a sufficient
guard against any temptation," to which he concludes, "I
believe my dear, it would be as impossible to tempt your
virtue, as it would my integrity." Knowing what hap-
pened to his integrity, the obvious implication of this
statement is one of the play's great ironic moments and
certainly would have tempted the libel laws had it been
publicly disseminated. The first act concludes with a
brief three line exchange between Mr. Willard (the council
seceretary) and Mr. Dummer (the Lieutenant Governor) in
which Dummer is informed of Burnet's sudden death.
The second act deals indirectly with Belcher's
activities in London and opens with Cook, Cushen, Taylor
and Mrs. Belcher awaiting news of his safe arrival. Over
the next five scenes little happens except the reading of
occasional reports from Belcher which indicate that he is
working earnestly in support of colonial interest. There is
speculation as to who the next governor may be but none
of it focuses on Belcher, which makes the outcome just
that much more perfidious.. Ultimately all are very
pleased with the job their agent does until the final letter
arrives describing Belcher's sudden ascension to the
governorship and his intention to follow the royal
prerogative. Approval quickly turns to disbelief and
suspicion. Even Mrs. Belcher expresses her doubts:
I fear the people won't think him so Excellent
honest as he promised he would be, but I'll be
for Women always must submit
And lett their husbands act, as they think fit.
At the start of Act III, the members of the assembly
cautiously celebrate the recent appointment of th-eir
native son. The group's underlying concern is sharply
expressed by Dr. Cook, who warns "I hope he is wise
enough to refuse the government if he is to accept of it
with such positive Instructions." There is word that Bel-
cher in tends to follow through on the royal salary
demands and the council members prepare for a fight. In
Act III, scene 3, Belcher arrives home and declares his
perfidious intentions. In the final scene, Belcher con-
fronts the Assembly in an attempt once and for all to
secure a fixed salary, is admonished by Cook for taking
such a hard line, and meets with a committee of the Gen-
eral Court which refuses to comply with his request. Bel-
cher vows to himself to carry the fight onward: "If
nothing won't do, I'll plague them and make them slaves
if they won't support me. For he's a fool that e'er
pretends/to serve mankind, but for his own by ends." The
play concludes with an appropriately patriotic epilogue:
Be not surprised sincerity's no more
And ancient Honesty's turned out of door
The trust reposed is broken e'ry day
As you may see by the preceding play;
We do resolve to make the man repent
That he to Caesar's Court was ever sent
And since we crost the Vast Atlantic Sea,
With all his art we will not baffled be
But Roman like preserve our Liberty.
In view of Belcher's well documented perfidy and
widespread abuses of patriotic trust, it is entirely
understandable that he became the object of such a
vicious satire. What remains something of a mystery is
that the play, which concludes with the governor resolved
to continue the salary battle with the Assembly, is dated
at least six months after Belcher agreed to accept the
annual legislative grants in lieu of a permanent salary,
thereby settling the issue. It is impossible to determine
whether the date is erroneous or the author had other
reasons for post-dating the action. In any case, by 1732
(the play's supposed date) the conflict which is at the
heart of the play had already been largely resolved.
The play's existence raises the crucial issue of the
extent to which drama was used as a tool for political
parody, and more significantly what it may say about the
value of dramatic satire among the educated colonials--
especially those in government service--as an extension of
political rivalries and even colonial dissension. Historians
acknowledge such uses in the decade prior to the Revolu-
tion, but do not generally regard drama as a viable form
of dissension and political discourse much earlier than the
Identifying three satires of roughly similar pur-
pose and intent dating between 1715 and 1732 indicates
that the form was more widespread at an earlier date
than previously thought.
The plays of 1715-32 (Androboros, Dialogue Concern-
ing Trade and the Boston play) represent a dramatic tradi-
tion distinct from the dialogic religious discourses in
theme, content, style and aesthetic sensibility. They were
written by and for people familiar with drama and
theatrical technique, and are not simply emulations of
Platonic discourses. There is a clear distinction between
these politically oriented dramas born out of factional
rivalries and the moral didactic discourses of the religious
writers. While not intended for actual performance, they
nevertheless display theatrical savvy rather than just
appealing to readers with a particular political (or
spiritual) agenda; in so doing they more directly addressed
the cultured tastes of the au thor's circle of sophisticated,
well-educated patriots. The dramatic format (in contrast
to a pamphlet or periodical article) may have also
shielded the author's anonymity while providing license
for bi ting satire and farcical exaggeration, fulfilling a
rhetorical purpose yet ensuring that it remain
unperformed and unpublished.
Drama may have also been used as a means to cir-
cumvent colonial sedition laws. As early as 1639, the
American colonies passed legislation designed to prevent
the dissemination of politically subversive material in
writing and speech.
The laws were quite separate from
anti-theatrical legislation which allegedly sought to regu-
late public morality. Instead, the purpose was to give the
royal governors strict legal sanction over sedition and a
modicum of con trot over personal attacks. The Ia ws
generally took one of three forms. The earliest laws con-
cerned restrictions on the freedom of speech; Maryland,
for example, passed a Ia w in tended to prevent "scandalous
or contemptuous words or writings to the dishonor of the
lord proprietarie or his lieutenant generall for the time
being, or of any of the council."
Massachusetts, New
Jersey and North Carolina had similar laws on the books
by 1715.
Alternately, legislation could put restrictions
on the press; beginning with Governor Dongan of New
York in 1686, royal instructions specified that governors
had the right to license printed material and presses.19
Ultimately, libel litigation became the preferred method,
particularly after many of the earlier laws were subverted
by aggressive and freedom-minded legislatures.
Attempts to enforce the laws were only occasionally
successful. For example, in 1721 the Massachusetts
Assembly in effect nullified restriction on the press by
rejecting Governor Shute's proposal to legalize his royal
instructions, though it did resolve "to suffer no books to
be printed without license from the governor" on pain of
"innumerable inconveniences and danger."2o Printed
playscripts, however, fell into a legal loophole since they
were not considered under the same rubric that covered
pamphlets, speeches and other documents meant to be
read. Nor could they be prosecuted under the anti-
theatrical legislation for they were not performed. As
long as scripts like the 1732 Boston play were not publicly
disseminated, even the sweeping libel Ia ws of the age were
i nadeq ua te to effect meaningfu I prosecution. Thus,
Androboros, Dialogue Concerning Trade and the Boston play
of 1732 were all written at a time when the restrictions
against speech and the press were disintegrating and the
legal statutes for preventing unperformed dramatic satire
had not been instituted. The only threat came from the
unlikely possibility of a civil libel suit--a difficult course
for suppressing politically critical closet drama.
The use of dramatic satire for political expression
was by no means a colonial invention; its extensive use in
England during the early decades of the eighteenth
century precipitated the infamous Licensing Act of 1737.
Under Queen Anne and her successor, the Hanoverian
King George I, dramatists increasingly aligned themselves
with the leading political parties of the day. According
to Jean C. Kern, as many as fourteen percent of
playwrights working between 1720 and 1750 received
stipends from political parties and many benefited f rom
political favors, incl udi ng various posts and titles i n
return for sat iric commentary and criticisms in plays.
While much of the satire was generic, by the time of the
great South Sea Company scandal in 1720, playwrights
were much more direct in portraying actual incidents and
people--a tendency enthusiastically embraced by colonial
writers. 22 In the American colonies, of course, the
playwrights were the politicians, and satire served politi-
cal expedience with little obligation to meet popular taste.
Although the early American satirists attempted to
demonstrate the sophisticat ion and diversity of their
skills, Boston's f irst play shows greater finesse in rhetoric
that in playwriting.
Lacking the balanced combination of Juvenalian
and Horatian satire that distinguishes Androboros, this
work's approach is at first glance Juvenalian. While
offering a more mature theatricality than Morris's
Dialogue, it is generally devoid of the detailed character-
izations found in Androboros. Missing too are the
numerous and delightful poetic diversions evident in the
writings of Hunter and Lewis (the rhymed couplets at the
end of each act notwithstanding). Nevertheless, the
Boston play does have its moments. Governor Bur net's
confession in Act I, for example, conveys a subtlety and
sensitivity for an antagonist that is completely absent in
the coarser parody of Androboros and the stilted didac-
ticism of Dialogue Concerning Trade.
Yet significantly, there is more than just a hint of
Menippean satire in Act I, scene 8, where Belcher delivers
his strongest rebuke of the royal prerogative. His later
apostasy makes utter mockery of the avowed patriotism,
lending a Menippean slant to the character in counter-
point to the author's obvious sympathies. The Menippean
element is also apparent in Hunter's manipulations of
leading villains (Fizle, Flip, and Androboros) as well as
Morris's treatment of the Traveller. Thus, the satiric
tradition during this period in American drama is perhaps
more Menippean than anything else, uniting Swift's
approach to characterization and political commentary
with the dramatic form. Considering Menippean satire's
emphasis on attitudinal criticism and ridicule of
pretentiousness, it may have been the most effective form
for colonial American expression.
In one important sense, however, Boston's f irst play
differs from its predecessors by modifyi ng Meni ppean
characterization, a voiding the crude utterances of charac-
ters in Androboros and the subtle stereotypes of Dialogue.
The Boston play's characters are not veiled parodies but
actual people, placed in situations that are plausible;
indeed, the play gives the impression that it is more a
summary of events than pure comical fiction, an element
it shares with much of the English dramatic satire of the
day. The little humor in the text is reserved for the
laywer, Mr. Achmuty, who is compelled by the author to
conclude most of his speeches with his own built-in laugh
track: "I think Mr. Belcher a man of Judgement ha, ha,
ha," or "'Tis not much matter what they say, if they will
but do anything, ha, ha, ha."
Such a characteri zation
might be perceived as strongly Menippean, but it certainly
does not compare to the ludicrous pretensiousness of
Hunter's Androboros, Flip, or Fizle, or even the more
broadly generic types lampooned in Morris's Dialogue.
Farcical characterizations and situational exaggeration are
least apparent in this play, bringing it closest to Loftis's
perception of political satire in the early eighteenth
century as "a chronicle of the age."
This is what truly distinguishes Boston's first play
from Androboros and aligns it more closely to the later
Dialogue. The defiant anti-royalist nature is not a
humorous reflection of past events as in Androboros, but
rather an attempt at Dryden's satire of "harsh remedy''
aimed at changing an on-going situation.
The written
data notwithstanding, Boston's first play (like Morris's
Dialogue) seeks to confront directly a relatively con-
temporaneous issue, albeit in a veiled and protected man-
ner. It may be interpreted as an attempt to relieve frus-
tration cathartically, though the author is also
demonstrating a belief in the immediately persuasive
power of satiric expression by addressing topical material.
Moreover, the author correctly recognizes the efficacy
inherent in the dramatic form by utilizing a literary
approach that would be most attractive to the appropriate
Despite the author's closeted intentions, the play is
fully producible and shows a clear dramatic sense. Its act
divisions, prologue and epilogue, and relatively natural
dialogue indicate the author's familiarity with con-
temporary dramatic conventions. The characters are well-
drawn, the scenes appropriately organized, and the story
has a logical progression. While some moments are stilted,
most of the play flows quite efficiently and its action is
credible. Although strikingly similar to Hunter's piece in
length and construction, its style and political leanings
indicate that there can be no direct authorial connection.
Unpublished and unproduced in its day, it is nevertheless
a complete play and unlike all other earlier dialogues
with the notable exception of Androboros and Morris's
piece, the script is more than just a political discourse in
dramatic form.
Whereas Androboros stood out until now as an iso-
lated piece, distinguished as much by its dramatic skill as
by its primacy, "A Play Wrote at Boston" shows that such
skilled dramatic writing, be it for or against the Crown,
was more evident in the colonies than previously thought.
Admittedly a far cry from Warren's plays forty years
later, the work is nonetheless the first example of anti-
royalist drama with speeches every bit as powerful as
those found in the plays immediately preceding the
Revolution. The mere fact of its existence shows that
early colonial satire in the form of closet drama extended
well into the intervening years between Androboros and
The Paxton Boys. Despite the lack of conclusive evidence
connecting these works with subsequent developments in
the theatre, there may now be reason to look for a closer
relationship between America's earliest dramas and those
pivotal pieces of political satire written just prior to the
Revolution. Boston's first play is not only a crucial link
in this relationship, it also moves us a step closer to
understanding the extent to which dramatic literature as
political satire reflected the revolutionary spirit in
colonial America.
Tufts University
See for example, Walter J. Meserve, An Emerging
Entertainment, The Drama of the American People to 1828
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977), 37-59; Jack
A. Vaughn, Early American Dramatists, From the Beginnings
to 1900 (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.,
1981 ), 7- 23; Garff B. Wilson, Three Hundred Years of
American Drama and Theatre, From Ye Bare and Ye Cubb to
Chorus Line (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall Inc.,
Robert E. Moody, "Boston's First Play," Proceedings
of the Massachusetts Historical Society, XCII (1980), 117-
139. I am grateful to the Massachusetts Historical Society
for allowing me access to the manuscript.
3[Robert Hunter and Lewis Morris], Androboros: A
Bographical [sic] Farce In Three Acts, Viz. The Senate, The
Consistory, and The Apotheosis ([New York]: [William Brad-
ford, Printer], [c. 1715]); the only known copy is in the
Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California;
[Lewis Morris], Dialogue Concerning Trade, (1726) MSS in
the Morris Papers, Box 2, Rutgers University Library, Spe-
cial Collections; Edmond Dale Daniel, ed.; "'Dialogue Con-
cerning Trade': A Satirical View of New York in 1726,"
New York History 55, No.2 (April 1974), 199-229.
Li ke And roboros, the surviving manuscript is
unique. Its origins are impossible to determine except to
say that it was probably the product of a well-educated
individual, familiar with the dramatic conventions of the
day who was clearly an opponent of Governor Belcher.
Apart from that, the play offers no other clues as to its
author. We can only assume that the assigned date on the
covering page is correct since the events parodied in the
manuscript do not extend beyond 1732.
5Moody, 119.
6Additionally, Moody cites the dimensions of the
document (five 12" X 15 1/2" pages, folded in half to
make twenty pages total), identifies the watermark on the
paper as that of W.A. Churchill of London, and indicates
the presence of the unidentified initials "HR" on each
page. Ibid., 120 fn.
See James Thacher, American Medical Biography, I
(Boston, 1828), 96-143.
8John L. Sibley, Sibley's Harvard Graduates, IV
(Cambridge, Massachusetts: n.p., 1933), 434-449. See also
For example, Mercy Warren's The Adulateur (1773),
The Group (1775) and John Leacock's The Fall of British
Tyranny (1776). Meserve, 67-71, 78-81.
1Mary Lou Lustig, Robert Hunter, 1666-17 34, New
York's Augustan Statesman (Syracuse: Syracuse University
Press, 1983), 91-112.
Thomas Hutchinson, The History of the Colony and
Province of Massachusetts-Bay, Lawrence Mayo, ed., II
(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press,
19 36 ), 2 80-28 8; 01 i ve r Morton Die kerson, American
Colonial Government, 1696-1765 (New York: Russell and
Russell, Inc., 1962), 274-276.
12Hutchinson, 278-279.
Ibid., 288-304.
14Peter A. Davis, "Evidence of Collaboration in the
Writing of Robert Hunter's Androboros," Restoration and
18th Century Research, III, I (Summer 1988), 20-29.
See Meta Robinson Braymer, "'Exult, Each Patriot
Heart': Satiric and Comic Drama in Eighteenth-Century
America," Unpublished dissertation, University of Tennes-
see, Knoxville (1977), 20-65; Meserve, 37-59; Bruce Ingham
Granger, Political Satire in the American Revolution, 1763-
1783 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1960),
Evarts Boutell Greene, The Provincial Governor in
the English Colonies of North America (Cambridge, Mas-
sachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1906), 127-128, 199.
See also E.B. O'Callaghan, ed., Documents Relative to the
Colonial History of the State of New York, III (Albany:
Weed, Parsons and Company, 1853-1883), 369; William
Hand Browne, ed., Maryland Archives, VIII (Baltimore,
1883-1897), 279; Nathaniel Bouton, ed., Documents and
Records relating to the Province of New-Hampshire, II (Con-
cord, 1867-1873), 68; William A. Whitehead, W. Nelson, and
F.W. Ricord, eds., Documents relating to the Colonial History
of the State of New Jersey, II (Newark, 1880-1897), 489.
John Leeds Bozman, The History of Maryland, II
(Baltimore: n.p., 183 7), 603; Browne, Maryland Archives, III,
18Greene; Aaron Learning and Jacob Spicer, eds.,
the Grants, Concessions, and Original Constitutions of the
Province of New Jersey (Philadelphia: n.p., [1752]), 99;
James Iredell, ed., Laws of the State of North Carolina
[1715-1790] (Edenton, 1791), 17; William L. Saunders, ed.,
The Colonial Records of North Carolina, II (Raleigh, 1886-
1890), 546.
19Q'Callaghan; Greene, 127.
20Hutchinson, II, 223.
Jean B. Kern, Dramatic Satire in the Age of Wal-
pole, 1720- 1750 (Ames, Iowa: The Iowa State University
Press, 1976), 17.
22For more on the South Sea Company fiasco, the
subsequent financial collapse and its unfluence on
satirists and dramatists, see Kern, 23-24 and C. Grant
Robertson, England under the Hanoverians (New York and
London: Methuen, 1927), 39.
2311, v.
24John Loftis, The Politics of Drama in Augustan
England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 161.
According to Dryden, "the end of sa tire is the
amendment of vices by correction, and he who writes
honestly is no more an enemy to the offender, than the
physician to the patient when he prescribes harsh
remedies." :John M. Aden, ed., The Critical Opinions of
John Dryden (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press,
1963), 223224.
RUBY COHN, Professor of Comparative Drama at the
University of California, Davis, serves on the Board of
Editors of Modern Drama, Theatre Journal and The Cam-
bridge Guide to World Theatre. Among her books are
Dialogue in American Drama, 1971, New American
Dramatists 1960-1980, 1982 and From Desire to Godot, 1987.
RICHARD WATTENBERG teaches and directs in the
Theatre Department at the University of California,
Riverside. He has published articles in The Theatre
Annual, Themes in Drama and The Journal of American Cul-
DON B. WILMETH, Professor of Theatre and English at
Brown University and curator of the Smith Collection of
Conjuring Books, served on the editorial board of The
Cambridge Guide to World Theatre, 1988. Among his books
on American theatre is George Frederick Cooke: Machiavel
of the Stage, 1980.
MARGARET KNAPP has taught at New York University
and the Graduate School of CUNY. In addition to essays
she has recently co-authored The Aunchant and Famous
Citties: David Rogers and the Chester Mystery Plays.
PETER A. DAVIS, Assistant Professor of Theatre History
at Tufts University, is preparing An Industrious Art: Read-
ings in Early American Theatre History through the Nine-
teenth Century for Greenwood Press, and an annotated col-
lection of America's earliest extant plays.
For your subscription to J ADT (three issues), please com-
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Journal of American Drama and Theatre
CUNY Graduate Center
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New York, NY 10036