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Volume 9, Number 3
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Fall 1997
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Volume 9, Number 3 Fall 1997
DIANE ALMEIDA, Four Saints in Our Town:
A Comparative Analysis of Works by Gertrude Stein
and Thornton Wilder 1
AMELIA HOWE KRITZER, Mary Carr Clarke's Dramas
of Working Women, 1815-1833 24
CHERYL BLACK, Pioneering Theatre Managers:
Edna Kenton and Eleanor Fitzgerald
of the Provincetown Players 40
jAMES R.STACY, Making the Grave Less Deep:
A Descriptive Assessment of Sam Shepard's
Revisions to Buried Child 59
RICHARD DELLAMORA, Tony Kushner and the
"Not Yet" of Gay Existence 73
Journal of American Drama and Theatre 9 (Fall 199 7)
Four Saints in Our Town:
A Comparative Analysis of Works by
Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder
Four Saints in Three Acts premiered in Hartford, Connecticut on
February 9, 1934;
the libretto for this opera was the fi rst of the dramatic
works of Gertrude Stein to reach the stage. An innovative production in
many ways/ it had, according to Variety, received more press coverage
than any other opening of the season. By all accounts it was a spectacu-
lar success. Four years later, Our Town, the second of Thornton Wilder's
plays to receive a professional production, had its world premiere in
Princeton, New Jersey on January 22, 1938.
With innovations of its
own, this play was also a success and won for Wilder the second of his
three Pulitzer Prizes.
In the years between these two productions Gertrude Stein and
Thornton Wilder met for the first time in Chicago in November of 1934,
a week or so after the four-performance run of Four Saints at Chicago's
Sullivan Opera House. Stein, having gained a popular notoriety the
previous year as the eccentric author of The Autobiography of Alice B.
Toklas, was on a lecture tour of the United States. Wilder was himself by
this time a distinguished American writer. The second of his several
novels, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, had won for him his first Pulitzer
prize in 1928. His dramatic work at that time included the 1931
Score by Virgi I Thomson, conducted by Alexander Small ins, scenario by
Maurice Grosser, directed by John Houseman, lighting by Abe Feder, choreography
by Frederi ck Ashton, scenic design by Florine Stettheimer.
With its all-Negro cast, most of them inexperienced i n operat ic performance,
Four Saints in Three Acts was the first professionally produced American play to use
black actors in roles that were not specifically written for them.
Produced and directed by Jed Harris, technical director Raymond Sovey,
costumes by Madame Helene Pons. The Stage Manager was played by frank Craven.
Donald Haberman dates this f irst meeting in the winter of 1935. See " The
Original Four Saints in Three ~ c t s , The Drama Review 26 (1982): 101-30.
publication of a collection of shorter works under the title of The Long
Christmas Dinner and Other Plays in One Act. The two authors quickly
developed a mutual affection and admiration. It was the beginning of a
friendship that would last until Stein's death in 1946.
Wilder quickly become one of the great champions of the work of
Gertrude Stein. In 1935, he wrote the introduction for the publication of
Stein's four Chicago lectures, Narration. He would do the same for The
Geographical History of America in 1936, and also for her Four in
America, published posthumously in 1947. Gertrude Stein thought
fondly enough of Wilder to include a rather poignant portrait of him in
The Geographical History of America:
A portrait celebrated as the portrait of Thornton Wilder.
I wish I knew a history was a history.
And tears.
I wish I knew a history as a history which is not which is not
there are not fears.
He has no fears.
At worst he has no tears.
For them very likely he is made of them.
It is too bad that fears rhymes with tears.
Very I ikely for them.
But which I beseech you to say.
Her continued affection for Wilder as well as her encouragement and
support of his work is evidenced by a number of his journal entries, many
of which were made long after her death:
Gertrude Stein, The Geographical History of America (New York: Random
House, 1973), 72-3.
Four Saints in Our Town 3
[September 12, 1955]
Oh, it's to Gertrude that I owe this invulnerability to the evalua-
tion of others! Nay, I have it so deeply implanted that I can hold
in my head at one time both my confidence in what is meritori-
ous in my work and my real self-reproach at what is bad.
Their friendship was an unlikely one. Stein was one of the few close
friends that Wilder had in his life; to her, he was but one friend of very
many. Although he was a world traveler, he was quite a private man and
appears to have lived the fairly conservative life-style of a college
professor; her eccentric life-style with Alice B. Toklas at 27, rue de Fleurs
is legendary, perhaps more publicized than her writings. It was in
Wilder's nature to accommodate; it was in Stein's nature to dominate.
But, as with their works, their temperaments which seem so different on
the surface, were much more similar than one would suppose.
Over the years, Stein came to use Wilder as a sounding-board for her
ideas on art and philosophy, which they would mull over during their
long walks in Paris or near her summer home in Bilignin. She became
somewhat of a mentor to Wilder, a role she seems to have been reluctant
to cultivate. In Everybody's Autobiography she. worries about Wilder's
inclination to be led:
I have made [Thornton] literary executor will he get weak and let
any one he admires and believes in some, he does in me but that
is not the same thing of course not, well anyway here and now
it is said that he is not to let his left hand know what his right
hand is doing and his left hand does lead him were he is led. I
am not leading him I am confiding in him ...
Yet he was, in a way, following her lead. He always acknowledged the
enormous influence she had on his work: "She was the great influence
on my life ... It was from her that I learned to write dryly and objec-
Thornton Wilder, The Journals of Thornton Wilder 1939-1961 (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1985), 239.
Gertrude Stein, Everybody's Autobiography (New York: Cooper Square
Pub I ishers, 1971), 301.
Janet Hobhouse, Everybody Who Was Anybody: A Biography of Gertrude Stein
(New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1975), 185.
By the time Stein returned to Paris in 1935, Wilder had had ample
opportunity to become directly and thoroughly acquainted with many of
her ideas; it was during their initial acquaintance in Chkago that
habit of long talks and long walks began. Stein's. 1'934:-35 lectur.es in
"'What is English, Li.ter,atture,.'' "The,
Making of. The of AmeriCans," "Portraits atmd. Repetih0'fnl,"'
"Poetry and Grammar," and "Pictures." Her lectures tt.a Wliild:eJils.
students at the University of Chicago covered essentially the same
ground. Of immense interest to Wilder were the concepts she meditated
upon the following year in The Geographical History of America. Upon
reading a manuscript copy, he wrote to her:
What a book! I mean what a book! I've been living for a month
with ever-increasing intensity on the conce.ptiolil:s. of Human
Nature and the Human Mlnd,.. and Ol!ll the of Mas.
ter-pteces to their apparent Those thrngs, yes and
identity, and have become cetf and marrow in me and now at
last f have more about them. And it's all absorbing and fascinat-
ing and intoxicatingly gay, even when it' s terribly in earnest.
It seems likely, then, that while Wilder was composing Our Town Stein's
concepts were very much on his mind. Gertrude Stein's notions of an
absolute present, of the relations of Human Nature to Human Mind, and
of the play as landscape helped to shape her I ibretto for Four Saints in
Three Acts. Similar concepts are identifiable in Our Town.
The conceptual similarities of these two plays are the focus of this
essay. First I will review Stein's concept of an absolute present, of
Human Nature and Human Mind, and of the play as landscape, and
demonstrate the techniques through which these concepts are realized
in Four Saints. Then I will discuss Wilder's versions of these concepts
and describe the techniques through which they are rendered in Our
An Absolute Present
Gertrude Stein studied psychology with William james at Harvard in
the 1890s, and although she did not pursue her studies in that field, she
was from that time on increasingly fascinated by the workings of the
human mind. This interest is evident in "Melanctha," one of Stein's
earliest stories. The repetition of words and phrases and slow forward
James R. Mellow, Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein & Company (New York:
Praeger Publishers, 1974), 419.
Four Saints in Our Town 5
motion of the story line are the beginnings of her experimentation with
the perception of time in her fiction. Stein felt that in this work she was
" groping for using everything and there was a groping for a continuous
present and there was an inevitable beginning of beginning again and
again and again."
This groping led to her "enormously long" book,
The Making of the Making of Americans and to her "enormously short"
Her portrait "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene" provides a good example
of Stein's making of a "continuous present and an including everything
and a beginning again and again in a very small thing."
After having
"traveled to another place" we are told that Miss Furr and Miss Skeene
stayed there and were gay there, not very gay there, just gay
there. They were both gay there, they were regularly working
there both of them cultivating their voices there, they were both
gay there. Georgine Skeene was gay there and she was regular,
regular in being gay, regular in not being gay, regular in being a
gay one who was one being quite a gay one. They were both
gay then there and both working there then.
Robert Bart lett Haas links the technique of presenting this series of
repetitive but slightly variant statements to the cinema:
Each statement is uniquely felt, uniquely formed in the present,
and is succeeded by another, slightly different, like the succes-
sive frames of a film that build an image which seems to prolong
itself in the present for a given period of time.
Because plays, like films, always happen when they are happening, the
logical development of this technique was to replace narration with
dramatization. This, along with a desire to express the essence of an
event without telling a story, led to Stein's writing plays.
Gertrude Stein, Writings and Lectures 1911-1945 (london: Peter Owen, 1967),
/bid., 26.
Gertrude Stein, Geography and Plays (Boston: Four Seas Company, 1922), 17.
Robert Bartlett Haas, A Primer for the Gradual Understanding of Gertrude Stein
(los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1971), 49.
Without any orientation whatsoever 1n time and space, What
Happened, A Play in Five Acts, opens:
Loud and no cataract. Not any nuisance is depressing.
The essence of What Happened is presented as a succession of sensations
or perceptions as they occur in the immediate present. As in pictorial
cubism this technique is not entirely abstract: There is always some
reference to what is being represented.
We know from The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that this play
was written to capture the essence of a dinner party. Without telling a
story or setting the stage or introducing characters, Stein's choice of
words, images, and language patterns does indeed evoke images of a
dinner party, a birthday party it seems, complete with the cutting of a
cake in Act Three:
A cut, a cut is not a slice, what is the occasion for representing
a cut and a slice. What is the occasion for all that.
A birthday speech and a wry joke occur in Act Four:
A birthday, what is a birthday, a birthday is a speech, 1t 1s a
second time when there is tobacco, it is only one time when
there is poison. It is more than one time when the occasion
which shows an occasional sharp separation is unanimous.
Best wishes are wished for the birthday person and "many many more,
and many more many more many many more."
This five-act play takes up less than five pages in Geography and
Plays. The language is agrammatical in structure and words have been
deliberately divorced from their usual associations. There are no
distinctions made between dialogue and stage direction, no indication of
time and place, yet this piece does evoke a pleasant evening spent among
Stein, Geography and Plays, 205.
/bid., 207.
/bid., 208.
/bid., 209.
Four Saints in Our Town 7
friends. Stein has managed to do this without providing spatial orienta-
tion and without any reference to past or future events. Present time in
the play is bound to composition.
Four Saints in Three Acts represents a further step in Stein's evolution
of an absolute present. We know that What Happened was created after
an event that had occurred in reality. Four Saints, on the other hand, was
written after Stein and Virgil Thomson had agreed to collaborate on the
opera, but without their have settled upon much more than that the two
main characters would be Saint Therese and Saint Ignatius Loyola. And
so without any idea as to "what happened," Stein sat down to "begin
beginning" the play. Her "progress reports" to Thomson give us
valuable insight into Stein's creative process:
I think I have got St. Therese onto the stage, it has been an awful
struggle and I think I can keep her on and gradually by the
second act get St. Ignatius on and then they will be both together
but not at once in the third act.
Jane Bowers suggests that this process of creation is written into the
text of Four Saints, and that having done this, "Stein makes herself and
her creative process manifest during the performance by giving herself
most of the lines."
Thus many of Stein's lines might be read as
comments by the author. As Bowers describes them, they consist of
"self-criticism, self-encouragement, progress reports, plans and prepara-
tions for writing, and discussions of the ease or difficulty of writing. "
Bowers suggests we think of the opening lines as a rendition of Stein' s
thought processes as she sits down to "begin beginning" the play:
To know to know to love her so.
Four saints prepare for four saints.
It makes it well fish.
Four saints it makes it well fish.
Mellow, Charmed Circle, 303.
Jane Bowers, "The Writer in the Theater: Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three
Acts," in Critical Essays on Gertrude Stein, Michael J. Hoffman (New York: Praeger
Publishers, 1974), 215.
/bid., 215.
Four Saints prepare for four saints it makes it well well fish it
makes it well fish prepare for saints.
In narrative prepare for saints.
This incantation might be read as Stein's initial frustration with some
difficulty in conjuring up the images necessary to commence the play.
As Bowers points out, there are other points in the script which indicate
that the struggle is ongoing. If we listen to the text with this in mind, we
will hear Gertrude Stein conjure up her characters and images and urge
them to participate in the creation of the play. "Four Saints is a represen-
tation of the mind of Gertrude Stein, and Gertrude Stein sees to it that
that representation is brought into the theatre."
If these editorial lines were to be rendered visually and audibly and
integrated into a unified production, the result could be a representation
of the creative processes of Stein's mind being directly present to and
immediately processed by an audience: as if it were all being created
simultaneously by the minds of everyone in the auditorium. If the
technique worked in practice as well as in theory, the performance could
conceivably become a communal experience of the inner creative
processes of one particular mind. This binding of the time of perfor-
mance to the process of composition, then, creates an absolute present
regardless of when and where the play is performed.
Human Nature and Human Mind
In Gertrude Stein's vocabulary Human Nature is the equivalent of
identity, Human Mind the equivalent of entity. Identity is the image we
hold of ourselves as we go about our business in the world, or remember
ourselves as we once were, or think of what we might become. But this
is not a process of the Human Mind.
The human mind fails to become a human mind when it thinks
because it cannot think that what is the use of being a little boy
if you are going to grow up to be a man.
Gertrude Stein, Last Operas and Plays (New York: Rinehart & Co., 1949), 440.
Bowers, "The Writer in the Theater," 222.
Stein, The Geographical History, 59.
Four Saints in Our Town 9
A man thinking of his boyhood is thinking in the past tense; a boy looking
forward to manhood thinks in the future tense. Memory and recognition
of identity are functions of Human Nature, not of the Human Mind.
Human Mind exists as pure entity: it is that which observes a
phenomenon as it occurs in the absolute present. Every past moment is
memory. Thornton Wilder commented:
Since the Human Mind, existing, does not feel its past as
relevant, why does succession in identity have any importance?
What is the purpose of living in time? One cannot realize what
one was four seconds ago, four months ago, twenty years ago.
Memory depends on identity, which is not a construct of the Human
Mind, and in this sense the Human Mind "cannot think that what is the
use of being a little boy if you are going to grow up to be a man,"
because if the thought occurs at all, it is a product of Human Nature
which doesn't mean that the little boy that Human Nature remembers is
somebody else. William H. Gass explains that
[Stein] did not mean to say that when we look at our own l ife,
we are looking at the history of another; we are like a little dog
licking our own hand, because our sense of ourselves at any time
does not depend upon such data, only our "idea" of ourselves
does, and this "idea," whether it's our own or that of another, is
our identity. Identities depend upon appearance and papers.
Appearances can be imitated, papers forged.
Human Nature is bound to ideas, value judgments and all manner of
subjective thought; because of this, Human Nature's experience of reality
is distorted. If "I am I because my little dog knows me," my being
depends upon the dog's recognition of my identity. Who am I then,
when my little dog is no longer there?
Identity is related to Human Nature. It is subject to a reality primarily
defined in terms of what it has already experienced. It goes about the
world viewing everything through the veil of its own subjective point of
view. Its very existence depends upon memory or acknowledgement of
one's self by another. It plans for the future, learns from the past and
manipulates the present. The manner in which most of us live in the
Thornton Wilder, Introduction to Stein, The Geographical History, 46.
William H. Gass, New Introduction to Stein, The Geographical History, 37.
world for nearly every moment of our lives in an expression of identity.
Identity, unable to conceive of a non-self situation, can never really grasp
its own mortality.
Entity is related to the Human Mind. It is not subject to the reality of
past experience; it exists only in the absolute present, and is not
concerned with past and future. It maintains a completely objective view
of the world; it is independent of subjective judgment. Entity does not
rely either upon memory or the recognition of another to exist; it exists
without reliance upon anything external to itself. Entity experiences
immediate sensations. Entity intuits its own mortality. Entity creates.
Although Gertrude Stein did not really crystallize these ideas until
1936, there is clearly an entity at work in Four Saints as the voice of the
creator engaged in the act of creating.
The first several pages of Four Saints appear to be an expression of
the creator's difficulty in bringing her creation to life. The following
scene occurs after the struggle has been going on for some time. It is
found under the heading, "Repeat First Act":
Saint Therese very nearly half inside half outside outside the
house and not surrounded.
How do you do. Very well I thank you. And when do you go.
I am staying on quite continuously. When is it planned. Not
more than so often.
The garden inside and outside the wall .
Saint Therese about to be.
The garden inside and outside outside and inside of the wall.
Nobody visits more than they do visits them.
Saint Therese. Nobody visits more than they do visits them.
Saint Therese.
The scene is a rendering of the creative process, and describes the very
moment during which the entity/creator finally gives birth to the
identity/created, Saint Therese. She has very nearly arrived in this world
at the first I i ne:
Stein, Last Operas, 446.
Four Saints in Our Town 11
Saint Therese very nearly half inside and half outside outside the
house and not surroundedY
The following lines might be said to represent this half-real ized state in
the form of an internal dialogue carried on between Saint Therese and
her creator:
How do you do. Very well I thank you. And when do you go.
I am staying on quite continuously. When is it planned. Not
more than so often.
Two I ines later it is announced that her birth is imminent:
Saint Therese about to be.
And after having fully arrived, Saint Therese speaks the first speech in the
play that is independent of the thoughts of the creator, which quite
appropriately echoes words which her creator has just finished thinking:
Saint Therese. Nobody visits more than they do visits them.
The creator, encouraging Saint Therese to continue being and to continue
speaking, says:
As loud as that as allowed as that.Jl
And Saint Therese complies by reiterating her first phrase:
Nobody visits more than they do visits them.
She adds a curious line in words we have not heard before, words which
must then be original to her, and which are particularly interesting
considering the process which she has just gone through:
Who settles a private life.
And then, perhaps because she has been "as allowed as that" to be "As
loud as that," she repeats her first line four times:
Saint Therese. Who settles a private li fe.
Saint Therese. Who settles a private life.
Saint Therese. Who settles a private life.
Saint Therese. Who settles a private life.
The function of entity in the play gives it a dimension that is not
found in traditional plays. A traditional play often employs the familiar
device of the "play within the play." Four Saints in Three Acts creates
a " play without the play," an effect which has been achieved through the
creation of Human Mind.
The Play as Landscape
Recalling her experience with the theatre as a child in California,
Gertrude Stein remembered certain specific bits of the production she
had seen, such as the escape across the ice in Uncle Tom's Cabin , the
Indian attack in Buffalo Bill, and the swan changed into a boy in
Lohengrin. She particularly remembered watching Hamlet lying at
Gertrude's feet during the dumb show more than she remembered the
dumb show itself. This was the first time she remembered having had the
feeling of two things going on at one time in the theatre.
As she grew older she realized that she had a great deal of trouble
having her own emotions accompany the emotions of the scene she was
viewing. She attributed this to the number of different sensations being
felt and heard at the same time, things "over which one stumbled to such
an extent that the time of one's emotion in relation to the scene was
Stei n, Writings and Lectures, 70.
Four Saints in Our Town 13
always interrupted."
These stumbling blocks were i n the way of her
feeling familiar with a play. The effect of this was that the alternate
reality of the stage was never quite in tune with the reality of the
audience. This, Stein says, made her feel nervous and she stayed away
from the theatre for years.
Stein continued writing portraits and poems and began to write her
early plays. Along with the problem of the expression of time itself, she
also addressed the problem of several different personal ities occupyi ng
the same space at the same time. Stein:
came to think that since each one is that one and that there are
a number of them each one being that one, the only way to
express this thing each one being that one and there being a
number of them knowing each other was in a play. And so I
began to write these plays. And the idea in What Happened, A
Play, was to express this without telling what happened, in short
to make a play the essence of what happened. I tried to do this
with the first series of plays that I wrote.
After writing several plays in the same vein, Stein felt that she had taken
the form as far as she could at that time, and returned to writing poetry
and portraits exclusively. Then one summer in Bilignin, unable to write
about a landscape to her satisfaction, she wrote a play instead. This was
the origin of her idea of the play as landscape. And she felt that the play
in this form would help solve the problem of the syncopation of emotion
between the spectator and the play:
I felt that if a play was exactly like a landscape there then would
be no difficulty about the emotion of the person looking on at
the play being behind or ahead of the play because the land-
scape does not have to make acquaintance. You may have to
make acquaintance with it, but it does not with you, it is there
and so the play being written the relations between you at any
time is so exactly that that it is of no importance unless you look
at it. Well I did look at it and the result is in all the plays that I
printed as Operas and Plays.
/bid. , 71 .
/bid., 74.
/bid., 75.
If there is no plot, no intrigue, no evolution of character, there is no
sequential intellectual or emotional development; the spectator need only
concern himself with what is being presented at the time it is being
presented; and therefore he need not acquire an "acquaintance" with the
play. Towards this end, one aim in writing a landscape play is to express
the essence of the play solely in terms of the relations among the various
elements within the play as they exist as objects in their own physical and
spatial reality.
It is perhaps useful to think of these plays in terms of the cubist
painters, many of whom Stein knew intimately. George Heard Hamilton
describes Fernand Leger's cubist cityscape, The City, of 1919:
It is executed in the Synthetic Cubist technique of overlapping,
strongly colored planes, although Leger's are always opaque and
so can collide and intersect but not interpenetrate, and their
movement defines no static still-life situation but communicates
the restless pace of city life. The passage of fragments of objects,
of a signboard or building, one behind another, suggests the
instability of urban movement, as if the spectator himself were
moving past and through the picture in a motor-car.
It is a similar sense of movement among objects that are ultimately static
that Stein was attempting to achieve. As Stein's concept of an absolute
present was designed to create a play existing within its own,
self-contained time, the concept of the landscape play is to create the
sense of movement within a self-contained space. The landscape play
" does not move away from the spectator, but moves within itself at a
distance from his gaze."
In her lectures, Stein relates what she thought
she had accomplished in Four Saints in Three Acts:
Anyway I did write Four Saints an Opera to be Sung and I think
it did almost what I wanted, it made a landscape and the
movement in it was like a movement in and out with which
anybody looking on can keep time. I also wanted it to have the
movement of nuns very busy and in continuous movement but
placid as a landscape has to be because after all life in a convent
is the I ife of a landscape, it may look excited a landscape does
George Heard Hamilton, Painting and Sculpture in Europe 1880-1940, 3rd Ed.
(New York: Penguin Books, 1983), 254.
Betsy Alayne Ryan, Gertrude Stein's Theatre of the Absolute (Ann Arbor,
Michigan: UMI Press, 1984), 53.
Four Saints in Our Town 15
sometimes look excited but its quality is that a landscape if it
ever did go away would have to go away to stay.

There are several passages in Four Saints in Three Acts in which a
limited number of elements are arranged and rearranged over and over
Scene II
Pigeons on the grass alas.
Pigeons on the grass alas.
Short longer grass short longer longer shorter yellow grass.
Pigeons large pigeons on the shorter longer yellow grass alas
pigeons on the grass.
If they were not pigeons what were they.
If they were not pigeons on the grass alas what were they. He
had heard of a third and he asked about it it was a magpie in the
sky. If a magpie in the sky can not cry if the pigeon on the grass
alas can alas and to pass the pigeon on the grass alas and the
magpie in the sky on the sky and to try and to try alas on the
grass alas the pigeon on the grass the pigeon on the grass and
alas. They might be very well very well very well they might be
they might be very well they might be very well very well they
might be.
The passage renders a sense of movement that is ultimately static. In rapid
succession the yellow grass is longer or shorter or longer again, pigeons
come and go, a magpie flies in the sky. The ultimate effect is like Leger's
The City or one of Picasso's cubist collages. The alternating images are
designed to lead the mind continuously from one point to another,
leaving it no place to rest; this is not unlike the movement of the birds as
they touch down on the grass for just a moment before taking flight again.
The passage is full of the motions of pigeons and grass and magpies, but
Stein, Writings and Lectures, 81.
Stein, Last Operas, 467-8.
none of the movement is progressive. As the onstage characters sing or
speak the words, the images seem always to return to their origins,
beginning again and again, and the movement remains within the spatial
limitations of the stage landscape.
There are passages during which this stage picture is filled with Saints
in a constantly shifting relation to one another within the landscape:
Scene X
Saint Ignatius. Withdrew with with withdrew.
Saint Ignatius. Occurred.
Saint Ignatius. Occurred withdrew.
Saint Ignatius. Withdrew occurred.
Saint Ignatius. Withdrew occurred.
Saint Ignatius occurred Saint Ignatius withdrew occurred
Saint Sarah. Having heard that they had gone she said how
many eggs are there in it.
Saint Absalom. Having heard that they are gone he said how
many had said how many had been where they had never been
with them or with it.
Saint Absalom. Might be anointed.
Saint Therese. With responsibi I ity.
Saint Therese. And an allowance ....
The image is-one of monks and nuns filling the landscape, alternating
between conversation and meditation. The image of Saint Ignatius as he
appears, withdraws, and reappears at the top of the scene sets the rhythm
for the movement among the Saints who fade in and out of the landscape
as the focus shifts from one to another. The rapid succession of short
/bid., 464-5.
Four Saints in Our Town 17
I ines gi ves the scene the sensation of constant motion as the audience
focus shifts from one Saint to another; but this motion among the Saints,
I ike the pigeons before them, does not move progressively through space,
from one place to another. The Saints do not have a destination, nor is
their dialogue progressive. Yet the scene is full of activity.
Stein was very pleased with her opera and felt that it was one of the
more successful examples of the play as landscape:
Anyway the play as I see it is exciting and it moves but it also
stays and that is as I said in the beginning might be what a play
should do.
Thornton Wilder's Eternal Present
Thornton Wilder's fascination with time and place was apparent long
before he met Gertrude Stein. In his early novels and plays this fascina-
tion with history, along with a need to write on religious subjects, might
be considered a precursor to the almost mystical sense of time and place
that is conveyed in Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth.
Wilder's manipulation of stage time appears as early as 1931. In his
one-act play, The Long Christmas Dinner, the action spans four genera-
tions, from the time the Bayard family house is first built to the the time
the last of the family members leave. There are references to family living
before and after the time elapsed in the play, and the work achieves the
sense of a parade of generations progressing through the portals of life
and death.
The theatrical device of the Stage Manager as narrator is also
introduced in this collection in Pullman Car Hiawatha and The Happy
journey to Trenton and Camden. Like The Long Christmas Dinner,
Pullman Car Hiawatha calls for a minimum of scenery. The Stage
Manager, in this first incarnation, opens the play in a remarkably simi lar
manner to the Stage Manager of Our Town. Further on in the play, the
Stage Manager locates the train's position "geographi cally, meteorol-
ogi cally, astrologically, theologically."
In The Happy journey to Trenton and Camden, no scenery at all is
called for, and the Stage Manager sets properties and reads minor roles
from his typescript. And almost identically to his counterpart in Our
Stein, Writings and Lectures, 81.
Thornton Wilder, The Long Christmas Dinner and Other Plays in Once Act
(New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 58.
Town, he is seen at the opening of the play "leaning lazily against the
proscenium pillar at the audience's left. He is smoking."
None of these devices, however, achieve the degree of resonance
they acquire in Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth. Wilder's ideas
about time and place began to crystallize after he was i nspired by
Gertrude Stein's The Geographical History of America:
The human mind (said Gertrude Stein] ... gazes at pure existing
and pure creating, and " it knows what it knows when it knows
it." It can be found i n masterpieces, for masterpieces alone
report the ever-unfolding and boundless now.
The concept of time in Our Town appears at first to be the opposite
of the absolute present of Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts. In Our Town
Wilder creates a sense of all time, a sense of eternity. The Stage
Manager, who apparently knows everyone and everything in Grover's
Corners, knows these things regardless of past, present, or future time:
he knows what he knows when he knows it. At the play's opening
Wilder begins to set up the framework of this all-encompassing time.
After having informed the audience that the play takes place on May 7,
1901, the Stage Manager refers to events that happen nearly thirty years
in the future. And from this perspective in time, the Stage Manager is
able to speak about these future events in the past tense.
Doc Gibbs died in 1930. The new hospital 's named after him.
Mrs. Gibbs died first-long time ago, in fact.
He can also refer to past events in the future tense:
First automobile's going to come along in five years-
belonged to Banker Cartwright.
Donald Haberman, The Plays of Thornton Wilder: A Critical Study (Middleton,
Connecticut: Weslayan University Press, 1967), 54-5.
Thornton Wilder, Our Town, A Play in Three Acts (New York: Harper & Row,
1938), 8.
/bid., 6.
Four Saints in Our Town 19
But the scenes that the Stage Manager chooses to show us are necessarily
in the present tense. What Wilder has in fact constructed, as in Stein's
masterpieces, is a relationship of "the ever-unfolding and the boundless
Now" to past and future time.
Through the guidance of the Stage Manager, then, we are able to
perceive the present of any event that he cares to show us. And what
appeared at first to be the polar opposite of Stein's absolute present is
actually a variation of her concept. As Haberman remarks:
The remainder of time past seems to work directly in opposition
to Wilder's idea of the stage's eternal now; however, it moves
with a logic all its own and exists as present tense. 5
The sense of time in Our Town is similar to Stein's absolute present
in its particulars and in the immediacy of the events as they are being
enacted, but its scope is much broader. Time in Our Town is is liable to
jump out of the present and into eternity at any given moment. Into the
time capsule that will be opened "a thousand years from now," the folks
of Grover's Cqrners plan to place, among other things, a copy of the very
play they are playing:
So people of a thousand years from now-this is the way we
were in the provinces north of New York at the beginning of the
twentieth century-This is the way we were: in our growing up
and in our marrying and in our dying. 5
There are certain moments in the drama when the Stage Manager, the
characters, and the audience exist concurrently in the actual present time
of the performance. Mr. Webb breaks through the artificial time frame
of the play when the Stage Manager invites him to speak directly to the
audience. And with an effect similar to that of Four Saints in Three Acts,
Wilder has created a "play without the play" of Our Town.
The different techniques used to create this same effect, Wilder's
Stage Manager and Stein's "creator," reflect the fundamental difference
between the two authors. Stein is interested in the workings of a single
human mind (her own) as it perceives the immediate world. Wilder's
interest is in presenting humanity as a whole as it perceives itself across
Haberman, The Plays of Thornton Wilder, 58.
Wilder, Our Town, 32.
Entity and Identity
Wilder's conception of time, like Stein's, is directly related to the
concepts of Human Nature and Human Mind. It is not difficult to find
the correlative to Stein's concepts in Our Town. The Stage Manager, like
the "creator" of Four Saints, functions as the creator of the play. He
represents the entity out of which Our Town is created. He is already
present in Grover's Corners before the audience arrives, and will
apparently stay on long after they all have gone home. He creates
Grover's Corners in time and space as the play opens. He decides what
scenes are to be shown and when they are to be played. Like the
"creator"/entity in Stein's play, the Stage Manager/entity is an all-
encompassing presence, the source of everything that occurs onstage.
As entity, the Stage Manager experiences events directly, and thus is
capable of finding "a value above all price for the smallest events of our
daily life."
He notices the dawn and appreciates the stars. He
magnifies the importance of seemingly insignificant events by deliberately
choosing to put them on stage. In this way, Wilder creates a world in
which all of the elements are equally important. The choice of scenes
implies that Howie Newsome's milk delivery, the children doing their
homework, and Mr. Webb mowing his lawn are events of equal
significance to a birth, a wedding, and a funeral. Like the Human Mind,
the Stage Manager/entity experiences I ife directly and indiscriminately.
As the Stage Manager is a variation on Stein's Human Mind/entity,
the population of Grover's Corners are representative of Human
Nature/identity. The people of Our Town, wrapped up in identity, are
unable to achieve the objectivity of the Stage Manager while they are
living. Only after death are they freed from earthly concerns:
STAGE MANAGER: You know as well as I do that the dead
don't stay interested in us living people for very long.
Some of the things they're going to say maybe'll hurt your
feelings-but that's the way it is: mother 'n daughter .. .
husband 'n wife .. . enemy 'n enemy ... money 'n miser . .. all
those terribly important things kind of grow pale around here.
Rex Burbank, Thornton Wilder, 2nd Ed. (Boston: Twayne World Publishers,
1978), 75.
Four Saints in Our Town 21
And what's left when memory's gone, and your identity, Mrs.
As Emily discovers, it is only after death that the folks of Grover's Corners
can appreciate the significance of each moment of their lives. Only the
saints and poets know that their being is not reliant upon identity.
Once again Wilder and Stein are using similar techniques and
employing them towards different ends. Stein's " creator" is an abstrac-
tion and difficult to realize. Wilder's Stage Manager is familiar and
personable. Stein's interests are purely aesthetic: she is conveying an
abstract concept in theatrical terms to a I imited audience. Wilder's
humanitarian concerns require a recognizable entity, one that is able to
get his ideas across the footlights to a larger public. He is interested in
speaking to the average American in a language that is easily understood.
The Landscape of Our Town
One of Stein's aims in the landscape play was to create a sense of
movement within a self-contained space, so that the play never moves
towards or away from the audience, but moves only within its own space
at a given distance from the spectator. The effect of this technique is that
the images of the play begin to form a kind of cubist collage in which
many images exist at the same time in the same limited space. One result
is an ability to perceive at one time all the elements of the whole. In his
manipulation of the sense of space in Our Town, Wilder achieved a very
similar effect.
The relation of Grover's Corners to the earth is established at the
outset of the play:
Grover's Corners, New Hampshire-just across the Massachu-
setts line: Latitude 42 degrees 40 minutes; longitude 70 degrees
37 minutes.
Wilder, Our Town, 81-2.
/bid. , 54.
When she tells George about Jane Crofut's letter, Rebecca Gibbs reveals
the relation of Grover's Corners to the universe and beyond:
Grover's Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States
of America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System;
the Universe; the Mind of God ...
And Professor Willard describes the geology of Grover's Corners through
the ages:
Grover's Corners lies on the old Pleistocene granite of the
Appalachian range. I may say it' s some of the oldest land in the
world. We're very proud of that. A shelf of Devonian basalt
crosses it with vestiges of Mesozoic shale, and some sandstone
outcropping; but that's all more recent: two hundred, three
hundred million years old.
Grover's Corners is situated within this universal vision and revealed
through the smallest detai Is: a rooster crowing, the smell of he I iotrope,
the clinking of Howie Newsome's milk bottles. And from the mind of
God, the postman is able to locate and deliver a letter to Jane Crofut, just
the same.
The effect of this placement of the tiniest details within the broadest
possible expanse is similar to that of Stein's landscape plays. Here, too,
there is the sense of a non progressive movement through space and time.
The townsfolk of Grover's Corners go through all the motions of a
I ifetime without ever moving out beyond the boundaries of the town.
The Stage Manager builds, dismantles, and rebuilds the town in various
configurations upon the same space: from the houses in which the
children are born to the graveyard where they are buried. Thus, like the
space in Four Saints, our image of Our Town is similar to a cubist
collage: there is the sensation of moving through time and space within
a framework that is ultimately static.
Wilder employs his theatrical elements in such a way that he requires
the audience members to participate in the creation of what is familiar to
them all. Because Our Town is recognizable as any small American
town, it becomes all towns. Stein's landscape play is the creation of pure
Four Saints in Our Town 23
imagination. It is the singular product of a singular individual, full of
personal idiosyncrasies that are left open to interpretation.
Stein's rendering of time achieves the sense of an absolute present,
always focused upon the immediate experience. Her creator/entity is
acutely aware of the creative process itself. Her landscape plays are
fantastic collages full of peculiar happenings. Wilder's manipulation of
time achieves a sense of eternity. With the Stage Manager/entity
representing the Human Mind, he achieves a sense of eternal omni-
science. And through the relation of elements in space and time he
achieves a sense of the universal.
Thornton Wilder's plays have become a permanent part of the
repertory of the mainstream American Stage; Gertrude Stein's plays are
part of the repertory of avant-garde theatre. There is no doubt that both
artists, who were such close friends and thought so much alike, each
made a significant impact on the American theatre, each in his or her
own distinctly different way.
Journal of American Drama and Theatre 9 (Fall 1997)
Mary Carr Clarke's Dramas of
Working Women, 1815-1833
Mary Carr Clarke, a woman who wrote for the theatre between 1815
and 1833, a period when conditions of life for American women
underwent major changes, offered her perspective on those changes in
her plays. Though few facts can be established regarding Carr Clarke's
a number of her writings have survived. Living in Philadelphia and
New York after the death of her husband, Carr Clarke wrote to support
herself and her children, at times supplementing the money she earned
from her variety of writing enterprises by running a boarding house. This
work, which provided tenuous financial stability but threatened the social
respectabi I ity she always sought to maintain/ placed her among a
growing class of self-supporting women in a period when the nation was
What meager biographical information I have found has been gleaned from the
preface to the 1838 edition of the ghost-written Memoirs of the Celebrated and
Beautiful Mrs. Ann Carson, and from references to herself in A Concise History of the
Life and Amours of Thomas 5. Hamblin. Mary Carr Clarke, Memoirs of the
Celebrated and Beautiful Mrs. Ann Carson, Daughter of an Officer of the U.S. Navy,
and Wife of Another, Whose Life Terminated in the Philadelphia Prison, 2nd ed.,
revised, enlarged, and continued till her death (New York: 1838); and A Concise
History of the Life and Amours of Thomas 5. Hamblin, Late Manager of the Bowery
Theatre, As Communicated by his Legal Wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Hamblin, to Mrs. M.
Clarke (Philadelphia and New York: 1838(?)).
Not only Carr Clarke's dates of birth and death, but also her original name
remain in question. Historian Susan Branson considers Mary Carr's birth name to be
Clarke, reasoning that she reverted to it after the death of her husband. It seems just
as likely to me, however, that Clarke was a name taken at the time of a second
marriage. Since in my research I have not yet found a resolution of the question, I
refer to my subject as Mary Carr Clarke, in reference to the sequence with which she
used the names. (Branson refers to her as Mary Clarke Carr.) Oxford Companion to
Women's Writing in the United States, ed. Cathy N. Davidson, et al. (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1995).
Writing, in the preface to Memoirs of the Celebrated and Beautiful Mrs. Ann
Carson, of her residence in a working-class area, Carr Clarke emphasized the
respectability of her neighbors, "a sober, industrious class of mechanics."
Mary Carr Clarke's Dramas of Working Women 25
undergoing rapid urbanization, industrialization, and social differentia-
Far from confining herself to drama, Mary Carr Clarke did various
types of writing in the course of her career. In 1814 she founded a
weekly magazine, The Intellectual Regale and Ladies' Tea Tray, in
Philadelphia; as far as is known, she is the first woman to edit such a
periodical in the United States.
She wrote fiction and poetry, including
the serialized novel Clermont Herbert, and popular songs, such as "The
Taylor's Alley Ball." She did journalistic reporting, covering the conten-
tious trial in Philadelphia of a Catholic priest charged with sexual assault
of a young woman. She wrote schoolbooks and ghost-wrote biographies
of celebrities. An extant example of the latter is the memoir of Ann Baker
Carson, a bigamist and forger who at one point gained widespread
notoriety because of her involvement in a plot to kidnap the governor of
Theatre, nevertheless, provided the most consistent focus for Carr
Clarke's writing. Despite her constantly changing circumstances and the
varied nature of her work, she was never far from theatres and the people
who worked in them. She changed her residence from Philadelphia to
New York in the late 1820s-just at the time New York achieved
dominance over Philadelphia in theatre. By her own account,4 she
worked regularly as a play reviewer; unfortunately, the anonymous
nature of most reviews at that time makes attribution of particular reviews
to Carr Clarke next to impossible.
She also wrote biographies or pseudo-
biographies of theatre figures of her day, including A Concise History of
1n a biographical sketch in the Oxford Companion to Women 's Writing in the
United States, Susan Branson credits Carr Clarke with being the first female magazine
editor in the United States. Eleanor Wolf Thompson, in Education for Ladies 1830-
1860: Ideas on Education in Magazines for Women, notes that Carr Clarke initiated
the style in which a female editor addressed her readers as intimate friends, long
before the much better known Sarah Josepha Hale adopted this style as edit or of
Codey's Lady's Book. Eleanor Wolf Thompson, Education for Ladies 1830-1860:
Ideas on Education in Magazines for Women (Morningside Heights, NY: King's Crown
Press, 1947), annotated in Nancy K. Humphreys, American Women's Magazines: An
Annotated Historical Guide (New York: Garland, 1989).
Carr Clarke often refers to her own activities in A Concise History, and it is here
that she mentions her work as a play reviewer.
Johnson and Crain emphasize the difficulty of attribution in early nineteenth-
century American drama criticism: "Criticisms were almost never signed, even in
magazines carrying a regular weekly or monthly column o.r department." Albert E.
Johnson and W. H. Crain, Jr., "A Dictionary of American Drama Critics, 1850-1910,"
The Theatre Annual XIII (1955) : 66.
the Life and Amours of Thomas 5. Hamblin, Late Manager of the Bowery
Theatre As Communicated by his Legal Wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Hamblin,
and a biography of Edwin Forrest which is not extant. Finally, Mary Carr
Clarke wrote three plays: The Fair Americans {1815), The Benevolent
Lawyers {1823), and Sarah Maria Cornell, or The Fall River Murder
(1833). These plays center on female characters whose own work makes
them self-sufficient women. Each play provides vivid glimpses of the
lives and work of women in the early nineteenth century. At the same
time, they chart a disturbing trajectory from confidence and optimism to
betrayal and anger.
The first of Carr Clarke's plays, The Fair Americans (published under
her first known name, Mary Carr), a comedy with music, was performed
in Philadelphia at the Chestnut Street Theatre in 1815. A product of early
American interest in dramatizing contemporary historical events.
play deals with the War of 1812 and was performed during celebrations
of American victory in that conflict. Though it includes scenes set in an
army encampment, The Fair Americans, as its title implies, actually
focuses on the women who tend the home fires before, during, and after
the military conflict. It shares with other comedies by women in the early
national period a confidence that the freedom enjoyed by women in the
new nation would naturally lead to their happiness.
Most of the play's action takes place on a family farm near Erie,
Pennsylvania, occupied by the Fairfield family. The first scene, in which
two young women walk along the shore of Lake Erie at daybreak, creates
a sense of pastoral tranquility; however, the idyllic calm is broken almost
immediately, when the young women encounter a recruiting party with
news of impending war. Meanwhile, at the Fairfield's home, the shouted
orders of Mrs. Fairfield create an even more jarring break with the quiet
of early morning. This doughty farm wife strides onstage and energeti-
cally rail ies her domestic troops for the work day:
A Concise History is, at best, a highly partisan account sympathetic to Elizabeth
Blanchard Hamblin and unsympathetic to Louisa Medina, with whom Hamblin lived.
At worst, it is an attempt to undermine a rival playwright-Medina-with whom Carr
Clarke seems as much occupied as with Hamblin.
William W. Clapp, Jr., A Record of the Boston Stage, Reprint of 1853 ed. (New
York: Greenwood, 1969), 134.
Thes.e include Slaves in Algiers (1794) by Susanna Haswell Rowson, Virtue
Triumphant (1795) and The Traveller Returned (1796) by judith Sargent Murray, and
The Young Carolinians (1818) by Sarah Pogson.
Mary Carr Clarke's Dramas of Working Women 27
Sun half an hour high, and not one wheel
going in the house!
Cows to milk, breakfast to get, bread to bake, beer to brew,
butter to churn, cheese to press-everything to do, and nothing
doing! ( 188)
The Fairfield farm, as is evident in the list of activities rattled off by Mrs.
Fairfield, functions as a busy center of productivity, generating wealth for
the family and community. Mrs. Fairfield dominates this setting, defining
and directing its productive activities. The play makes it clear that the
farm's prosperity depends on Mrs. Fairfield's management, and she
demands recognition for her work at one point, when she exclaims to her
Did not I get four hundred yards wove last year, all spun in the
house, and ha'nt I the best dairy, the fattest pigs, and finest breed
of poultry in the country? Don't I make more butter and cheese
than any woman in the village? (190)
Letters, diaries, and other first-person accounts from the period validate
the play' s presentation both of the rural household as an important center
of productivity in pre-industrial America and of the integral part played
by the farm wife in production.
The scenes that bring the War of 1812 to the stage-scenes in which
a recruiting party seeks enlistments, farmers and villagers debate the
merits of the war, and preparations for fighting occur at an army
encampment-highlight the separation between men's and women's
spheres at that time. When the war breaks out, most of the young men
leave to fight, despite frequently voiced questions over the validity of the -
conflict. The older men devote themselves to gathering news of the
fighting and discussing the progress of the war. The play, however,
subordinates the war episodes and the male characters to its central focus
on the women who maintain the integrity and prosperity of the farm
household during this time of threats and upheaval. While complaining
The reference is to spinning wheels. Spinning and weaving of thread and cloth
for everyday clothing was a common activity of rural households in early America.
Page numbers refer to The Fair Americans. An Original Comedy in Five Acts
(Philadelphia: 1815) in Plays by Early American Women, 1775-1850, ed. Amelia
Howe Kritzer (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995).
See, for example, accounts in Gerda Lerner, The Female Experience: An
American Documentary (New York: Macmillan, 1985).
about the difficulty of getting tasks like the plowing done with sons and
a hired man gone, Mrs. Fairfield allows nothing to interrupt the day-to-
day work of the farm. She even sees new potentials for productivity in
the circumstances of the war: because of the ban on imports, she says, "I
plan to make my girls spin their own muslin gowns next year, and
William's room shall be taken to raise silkworms in, that I may manufac-
ture my own silk" (198).
While the household provides the sole context for Mrs. Fairfield's
self-sufficiency, this domestic sphere is not marginalized by an opposition
between pub I ic and private. Instead, the household functions as an
institution that is both central and permeable. It figures as both public
and private space; in the action of the play it encompasses all three
categories contained in Habermas's concept of the public sphere-the
state, the economy, and the arena of pub I ic discourse.
The farm serves
as workplace and primary economic support not only for family members
but also for several paid workers. It is permeated by affairs of state when
the family is called upon to support an embargo on imported goods.
Debates and decisions about the war take place within the home. In the
wake of the American victory, it is within the family that relations with
England are restored to normal, when an English soldier who found
refuge with the family is welcomed as a prospective son-in-law.
The Fair Americans creates the household as the primary metaphor
for the nation itself. Characters establish their identity as Americans
through their relationship to it. It is headed not by the husband, but by
the partnership of the husband and wife. Mr. Fairfield's position of
leadership appears as a symbolic one, while Mrs. Fairfield's energetic
direction and actual labor keep the household going. Though lacking
rights of ownership, Mrs. Fairfield has the power to define and shape the
household environment, its boundaries, its inhabitants, and its activities.
While the idea of manufacturing si lk might seem far-fetched, it was not
unknown. Susanna Wright, a remarkable eighteenth-century woman, carried on a
profitable silk-making enterprise on her Pennsylvania farm, harvesting sil k from the
thousands of silkworms she cul tivated and weaving it into cloth. See Sharon Harri s,
ed., American Women Writers to 1800 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996),
J urgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An
Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989).
Jeanne Boydston first brought to my attention the permeable nature of the early
American household, from the time of pre-Revolutionary boycotts of tea and other
goods, in Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the
Early Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).
Mary Carr Clarke's Dramas of Working Women 29
The household's independence guarantees the autonomy of all those who
are part of it, and that guarantee clearly includes the young women, the
"fair Americans" of the title.
Exercising their freedom with energy and optimism, the young
women come and go, night or day, with ho apparent restrictions other
than Mrs. Fairfield's demands for their labor. Their freedom of movement
in the midst of war does, of course, entail risk, and two of the young
women are captured by hostile Indians as they walk along the edge of the
lake one night. The happy ending of this incident, however, suggests that
the young women do themselves and their families no harm through their
adventurous, risk-taking behavior. In fact, the venturesome nature of the
young women aids their active search for the right marriage partner.
Both the daughters of the farm's owners and the young woman hired to
do household work make their own choices in marriage. In notable
contrast to the foppish Ensign Freelove, who wants to find a wealthy wife
in order to secure a position in the world, they make their choices on the
basis of personal feeling rather than economic considerations.
young people's anticipation of happiness at the war's end, when they
plan their weddings, receives validation from the comfortable situation
and affectionate relationship of the middle-aged Mr. and Mrs. Fairfield.
The play shows its audience only one blot on this pleasant picture,
and that is a political one-the lack of a political role for women. The
"fair Americans" repeatedly voice frustration at that lack. Although the
outbreak of the war calls forth vigorous debate among all the characters,
the male characters ignore and denigrate the views of the women. When
Sophia Fairfield expresses shock that her brother would volunteer to serve
in what she terms an "unnatural contest," he lectures her:
It is not for girls to condemn the rulers of a nation. We have
chosen these men to act for the welfare of the country ..
. certainly, then, what they decree must be for the true interest
and honor of America. (195)
Mrs. Fairfield, whose single-minded dedication to productivity makes her
an opponent of the war, later declares, "I wish I was Congress, I would
always be at peace!" This statement, though intended for humor, alludes
The Fair Americans differs from post-Revolutionary dramas by Susanna
Rowson, Judith Sargent Murray, and Sarah Pogson in that the young women do not
think about the alternative of remaining single. I see this as related to the fact that Carr
Clarke, unlike the other three playwrights, bases her characters on people who lack
inherited wealth. For that class of people, in that period (male and female), not
marrying was a luxury few could afford.
to Mrs. Fairfield's expansive conception of herself, while it also displays
her knowledge of the workings of the government from which she is
excluded-here, the power of Congress to declare war. Mr. Fairfield
responds only to his wife's humor: "Well, my dear, we will run you for
President when we want an old woman in the chair" (198).
This dismissal of the opinions of women on political issues is, of
course, consistent with the fact that women were denied political rights
at the time. The only political role offered women in the new nation was
that of the "republican mother," a construct that gave women the tasks
of teaching, exemplifying, and guarding the ideals of the nation within
their families. As historian Linda Kerber has pointed out, republican
mothers were supposed to serve as "monitors of the political behavior of
their lovers, husbands, and children."
Unlike the American women
playwrights of the post-Revolutionary period, who built upon and
attempted to expand the concept of the rep ubi ican mother, Carr Clarke
shows us the limitations of the republican mother construct, both in the
men's disregard for the mother's views and in the mother's own narrow
attitude that what is good for her own household must be good for the
nation. Instead, Carr Clarke has the female characters begin to voice
demands for overtly political roles, while emphasizing the importance of
women in the nation's economic life. In representing the characters of
The Fair Americans as "typical" American women, Carr Clarke brought
attention to the essential work of women and used this work as the basis
of a claim for a political voice.
The difficulty in establishing a foothold in the American theatre,
combined with Carr Clarke's need to earn money, may account for the
eight-year hiatus between The Fair Americans and her next known play,
The Benevolent Lawyers; or, Villainy Detected, in 1823. In any case, the
context for the self-sufficient woman changes radically in this second
play. An early melodrama, The Benevolent Lawyers presents a young
married woman who, in the absence of her sea-captain husband,
provides for herself and her family by sewing. Her poverty makes her
vulnerable to the predations of several villains, but she is aided by her
sister-in-law and a free black household worker, and finally saved from
catastrophe by a couple of public-spirited lawyers. The absence of the
heroine's husband at sea, though a realistic detail in the time period, can
be seen metaphorically as referring to the wide gulf between domestic
and nondomestic work taking shape with urbanization and industrializa-
Linda K. Kerber, "A Constitutional Right to Be Treated Like American Ladies:
Women and the Obligations of Citizenship," in U.S. History as Women's History, ed.
Linda K. Kerber, Alice Chessler-Harris, and Kathryn Kish Sklar (Chapel Hill: University
of North Carolina Press, 1995), 25.
Mary Carr Clarke's Dramas of Working Women 31
tion. In a similar way, the home-based occupation of sewing, also
realistic, demonstrates the confinement of women-even those who
needed to support themselves-to a private domestic sphere. It repre-
sents the way in which separation of spheres and confinement of women
to the private one denied even self-supporting women the power to
define or shape the conditions of their lives.
The main character of the play, Mrs. Campbell , who is not actually
seen unti I Act Three, stays within the boundaries of her home until
compelled by extreme circumstances to leave it. The dangers that
threaten her within this enclosed and private environment cast ironic
doubt on the value of "home" as a secure sanctuary for women and
children. They include being turned out of her house for failure to pay
the rent, having her home invaded by a man who intends to rape her,
and having her children kidnapped and killed by agents of her madly
vengeful mother. Her response to these threats is a largely passive
defense: she maintains her virtue, trusts in the actions of her friends, and
hopes that her husband will return in time to prevent disaster. Only
when the would-be rapist installs himself in her home does she leave it
and seek refuge with friends. Similarly, it is the crowning disaster-the
kidnapping of her children in the middle of the night-that rouses Mrs.
Campbell to action. A friend describes her as "quite deranged" (65),
and says that in spite of the opiates which have been administered to her,
she has to be physically restrained from dashing out into the street.
Incidentally, in a counter-stereotypical contrast to this image of a woman
propelled into frantic action by distress, the play has Captain Campbell,
when he returns to find his home abandoned and his family gone,
collapse in distress.
In The Melodramatic Imagination (1976), Peter Brooks describes
melodrama as "the dramaturgy of virtue misprized and eventually
recognized. It is about virtue made visible and acknowledged."
In this
case, the virtue of Mrs. Campbell, which has been hidden so completely
behind the walls of her domicile that even her immediate neighbors do
not know her, is brought to the attention of those outside her domestic
sphere by the threatened destruction of her family. Before the threats of
catastrophe descend on her, she is described by a friend as "blest with
every gift of heaven, beauty, mind, soul and sentiment; affections ardent
Page numbers refer to original edition: Mary Carr Clarke, The Benevolent
Lawyers; or, Villainy Detected. A Comedy in Five Acts (Philadelphia: 1823),
Microfilm Three Centuries of Drama, American.
Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1976), 27.
and sincere; honour and integrity" (9). Significantly, the person who is
being told about Mrs. Campbell 's virtues entirely misunderstands who the
speaker is talking about. Similarly, a wealthy neighbor admires the
workmanship of the elegant trimming adorning her ball gown, but does
not realize it was made by Mrs. Campbell, her sister and daughter. From
the outside, the neighbors perceive only a neatly kept house from which
lovely piano music often issues. The inside-the-house view afforded the
audience shows an affectionate mother, loyal wife, and competent
provider. The character communicates most of this through images and
actions, rather than words. Mrs. Campbell speaks l ittle; even the reunion
with her husband and children evokes only the briefest verbal expression
of joy. The virtues this female character exemplifies-those virtues which
are validated by the outcome of the play-are consistent with the most
limiting patriarchal definitions of woman, despite this character's
temporary self-sufficiency.
In Melodrama and the Myth of America, Jeffrey Mason articulates the
basis of melodrama as follows: "Each melodrama must satisfy its
audience concerning the nature not of virtue, but of evil, of that which
places virtue in jeopardy, of that which virtue fears."
The Benevolent
Lawyers creates two vivid images of evil. One is commonplace: the
villainous man bent on sexual exploitation-an image often invoked to
justify limitations placed on women supposedly for their protection. The
second vision of evil is much more original: a murderously malignant
mother. Mrs. Loverule is a woman bent on the destruction of her
illegitimate daughter, Mrs. Campbell, because she blames the daughter
for her humiliation and sense of loss. Mrs. Loverule is a woman of
independent means, though her wealth is derived from her connections
with men rather than from her own endeavor, and with her money she
buys the cooperation of others in her nefarious scheme. Mrs. Loverule
has obviously renounced maternity, and with it, the other traditional
virtues. Not content merely to have abandoned her child, she has
returned after years of absence to destroy the happy life that the young
woman has managed to construct in spite of her disadvantages. Mrs.
Loverule even arranges for the kidnapping and murder of her own
grandchildren. (Their murders are foiled by the resourceful double-
dealing of two servants-one Irish and the other black.
) The opposition
Jeffrey D. Mason, Melodrama and the Myth of America (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1993), 18.
Carr Clarke was unusual in challenging the negative, stereotypical
characterizations of Iri sh and black domestic workers typical in the drama of the early
nineteenth century.
Mary Carr Clarke's Dramas of Working Women 33
between virtuous daughter and evil mother is emphasized by the latter's
excessive speech. Mrs. Loverule engages in lengthy soliloquies,
recounting her own sufferings and laying plots for her daughter's
destruction. What emerges in the contest between the active monster of
inverted motherhood and the passive daughter is, very clearly, a triumph
of traditional feminine virtue.
The context for female self-sufficiency in The Benevolent Lawyers is,
by comparison with The Fair Americans, vastly less empowering for
women. Although the concept of domestic partnership remains, the
physical absence of the husband and relative passivity of the wife
problematize the concept. The play expresses a definite fear that freedom
exercised by women may bring them or their families to grief. While it
places some responsibility on the man whose sowing of "wild oats"
resulted in an illegitimate child, the play presents him as a kindly old man
who has since redeemed himself through devotion to the woman he
eventually did marry, and by service to his family and community. Mrs.
Loverule, on the other hand, by forsaking the patterns of accepted
feminine virtue and the traditional family structure, has become a
grotesquely damaged person and an extraordinary source of poison i n
While the stark contrast between the virtuous woman and the evil
one provides the most obvious drama in the play, The Benevolent
Lawyers does contain two characters who can be seen as a tentative
alternative to this opposition. Charlotte Friendly, a neighbor of Mrs.
Campbell, is a young woman who seems to exercise more control than
do the other characters over the conditions of her life. She moves about
independently, has many of her on-stage scenes in outdoor places, makes
social contact with people who interest her regardless of their class or
position, and insists on making her own choice of marriage partner. On
the other hand, Charlotte's independence derives from inherited wealth
rather than from her own work. Matilda Campbell, Mrs. Campbell's
sister-in-law, though seldom seen outside the house, takes an active
stance in defending it when it is besieged.
The more assertive Matilda
counters Mrs. Loverule's insulting comments about Mrs. Campbell; in
response, the villainess accuses Matilda of being a man (and, by sneering
implication, a paramour of Mrs. Campbell) dressed as a woman. Matilda
1t may be worth noting that Mati Ida Campbell ' s initials are the same as Mary
Clarke's. This coincidence can be accorded added significance with the real ization
that The Benevolent Lawyers was written at a time when Carr Clarke had chosen to
shelter Ann Baker Carson, who had been paroled. While strongly condemning Baker
Carson's crimes, she felt a bond with her because both had suffered similar
remains calm and continues to demand respect. It is also Matilda who
rescues Mrs. Campbell when a fainting episode puts her at the mercy of
the man who intends to rape her. At the end of the play, both Charlotte
and Matilda become engaged to be married, but the world they inhabit
lacks both the sense of other options and the positive view of life after
marriage contained in The Fair Americans. Thus, the sense of rejoicing
is subdued, and the formation of new famil ies does not make a symboli c
I ink with the formation of a new nation and the generation of new
Mary Carr Clarke's last known play, Sarah Maria Cornell, or The Fall
River Murder (1833L shows the self-sufficient woman not only under
siege, but ultimately powerless. Its central character, a young female
textile mill worker, while independent to a degree Mrs. Fairfield and Mrs.
Campbell have not been, lacks home, family, or familial support. The
character, Sarah Maria Cornell/
possesses all the traditional virtues, but
these are not enough to save her. This play, which can be seen as a
melodrama that goes awry and does not result in the heroine's being
saved, is based on the actual murder of a female factory worker in Fall
River, Massachusetts, and the sensational trial of a Methodist minister for
the murder.
When Cornell's body was found hanging from the framework
covering a haystack on a farm near Fall River, just before Christmas in
1832, the death was initially judged a suicide. Subsequent examina-
tions, however, revealed evidence of a violent struggle; in addition,
i njuries to the body, including evidence of a crude attempt at abortion
(the murder victim, as it happened, was several months pregnant) and the
"clove hitch" knot with which the rope was tied, pointed to murder.
Letters found among Cornell's belongings impl icated Ephraim Avery, a
married Methodist minister in a nearby town. Publicity about the suspect
brought forward Cornell's physician, who made it known that she had
come to him for diagnosis of pregnancy and named Avery as her seducer,
as well as witnesses who said that they had seen a man of Avery's
description near the farm on the night of the murder. Inquiries estab-
lished that Avery had been absent from home on the night of the murder,
and he himself compounded his appearance of guilt by fleeing to New
Hampshire, forcing authorities to mount a search that culminated in his
being brought back and indicted in early March of 1833.
Although neither the victim nor the accused were well known, the
trial , which began in early May, attracted unprecedented publicity.
By using Cornell's full name (which was not typi cal in accounts of the murder
and trial), Mary Clarke again presents an important character whose initials relate to
her own.
Mary Carr Clarke's Dramas of Working Women 35
Journalists from all over New England descended on Newport, Rhode
Island, for the trial. The pre-trial publicity made it difficult to find
unbiased jurors, and a record one hundred and eight were challenged
before a jury was seated.
With the financial and moral backing of the
Methodist Church, Avery hired an expert defense lawyer from Boston.
Using the now-familiar strategy of trying the victim in sexual assault
cases, this lawyer obtained an acquittal after a record-setting four weeks
of testimony and argument.
Reporters who had covered the trial
expressed virtually unanimous outrage at the trial's outcome, sounding
a particularly resonant chord among women-who, it must be remem-
bered, were not permitted to serve on juries or sit as judges at that time.
Mary Carr Clarke, who had covered an earlier trial in Philadelphia
involving a member of the clergy, may have been among the reporters
who covered the Avery trial. In any case, she was one of two writers,
both women, to publish full-length works about the case sympathetic to
Cornell .
Carr Clarke's play uses the real names of the murder victim
and the farmer who found the body and makes only the thinnest pretense
of disguising the name of the Methodist minister, calling him Mr. Averio.
Its episodic plot, which must have relied on audience knowledge of the
case, simplifies events and collapses the actual figures of the Fall River
coroner and Cornell's physician into the fictional Dr. Neverflinch.
The primary focus of the play lies in the opposition it creates between
the title character and Mr. Averio, as melodramatically stark representa-
t ives of good and evil. Sarah Maria Cornell is presented as a woman of
great beauty, exemplary virtue, and outstanding industry. The first scene
shows Sarah's friends at the factory thanking her for instances of
generosity and loyalty. Most emphatically, her friends praise Sarah' s hard
work and productivity; at one point, she is referred to as " the best hand
in [the] factory" (32).
By contrast, Mr. Averio and his fellow ministers
show themselves to be licentious, greedy, and deceitful. Preparing for a
camp meeting-a type of outdoor revival service that went on for days
and attracted large crowds -they anticipate large donations and sexual
Catherine Read Williams, Fall River: An Authentic Narrative, ed. Patricia
Caldwell (New York: Oxford, 1993), 43 .
For a thorough discussion of the murder investigation and trial , see David
Richard Kasserman, Fall River Outrage: Life, Murder, and justice in Early Industrial
New England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1986).
The other, Catharine Read Williams, wrote a documentary-style narrative.
Page numbers refer to original edition: Sarah Maria Cornell, or, The Fall River
Murder. A Domestic Drama in Three Acts (New York: 1833).
conquests. Even the ministers' own wives are not safe from the advances
of the others; in fact, Clarke's play accounts for one of the much-
discussed elements of the actual case-the fact that Avery's wife stood by
him-by portraying her as having a tryst with one of his fellow ministers
on the night of the murder.
The seduction scene forms the central episode in the play's action.
Although the play itself refers to the scene as a seduction, by contempo-
rary standards, the action it represents is a rape. At the camp meeting,
Sarah goes with Averio to a deserted spot where Averio begins to make
sexual advances. Sarah refuses him, but he grabs her and carries her off
deeper into the woods, while her cries for help rouse several people to
look for her but do not bring effectual aid. In the aftermath of this scene,
Sarah shows strength of spirit, spurning Averio's offer of support because
it would compel her to live as his mistress and dismissing the young
farmer who has been courting her because she does not want to
"deceive" him by "a semblance of virtue" (31 ). Though in later scenes
Sarah assures Averio she will do nothing to jeopardize his reputation, she
begins to fear for her safety as soon as she tells him of the pregnancy.
When he asks her to meet him after dark, she does so in the hope that he
wi II place her in a "private asylum" for women in her condition, but
takes the precaution of leaving a note in her room to "detect him if he
means me wrong" (37) . When they meet, Averio roughly demands that
she take a drug to induce abortion; when she refuses, he drags her off,
strangling her.
With its title character dead, the remainder of the play, comprising
only eight of its forty-eight pages, brings the story to an abrupt close.
Averio is shown tying the body to the haystack cover and sneaking away.
Discovery of the body occurs. In a very brief trial scene, the crucial
testimony of the doctor is thrown out on a technicality, and the case is
dismissed. The play ends with Sarah's funeral, which includes a tribute
to her as "the i 11-fated victim of seduction and barbarity," a tableau
around her bier, and a procession off the stage.
Although this play clearly seems to be an attempt to re-try the case
in the court of public opinion, it does not focus on a re-examination of
the evidence or arguments introduced during the murder trial. Instead,
it attempts to re-present the character of the murdered woman, to undo
the post-mortem damage done to her by the character-assassination
tactics of the defense lawyer. The issues raised in the play, however, go
beyond justice for one woman and extend to the entire class of self-
supporting women of which Clarke was a part. The sympathetic
portrayal of Sarah Maria Cornell's character attempts to establish the
principle that women can work in the pub I ic sphere, supporting
themselves and living independently of the traditional family without
Mary Carr Clarke's Dramas of Working Women 37
losing or violating traditional systems of morality-an issue which was
implicit in the debates surrounding the murder triaiY The play buttresses
this principle with a positive portrayal of Mr. Thornhill, the factory
manager, who treats his female employees in a non-exploitative manner.
The play's emphasis on Cornell's hard work and high productivity poi nts
to the fact that women can and do make valuable economic and social
contributions through their work outside the domestic sphere.
Of course, the fate of the play's main character is sealed from the
start: despite her strengths and virtues, Sarah does not survive. The
context in which she lives and works is now defined not only by gender
division but also by a class division between owners and workers.
Unlike male factory workers, Sarah must choose between home and
work. Like them, she can earn a living but can never gain additional
power or alter her circumstances through her work. Though Clarke
seems at a loss in her construction of the play to account for Sarah's
irresistible urge to attend the camp meeting, this urge can easily be seen
as a longing for some kind of family and for a sense of power within it.
The Methodist Church which sheltered and defended Avery was actually
notable among American Christian denominations of the nineteenth
century for the relatively high status it accorded to women.
In the play,
however, the institution which seems to offer such promise delivers only
the most banal of evils-an evil which would have been instantly
recognized by a young woman on her own had it not been cloaked in
religious garb. This play reverses the melodramatic pattern identified by
Peter Brooks: rather than making a previously"overlooked virtue visible,
it brings about the recognition of a hidden evil. In addition to exposing
the nature of evil, the play attempts to expand our understanding of
virtue, but it cannot offer any assurance that good will win out.
Any optimistic view of Sarah Maria Cornell must move outside the
framework of the play to look at the relationship between Mary Carr
Clarke and the play she wrote. The play was performed in New York at
the Richmond Hill Theatre in August of 1833, a mere three months after
the verdict in the Avery trial. The Richmond Hill occupied a marginal
position in the New York theatre world of the early 1830s, struggling for
survival with a variety of entertainments and featuring performers who
were not yet, or had ceased to be, or would never be regulars at the Park
or Bowery. There is some indication, however, that the Richmond Hill
served at least intermittently as a female-oriented venue, especially during
its management by Elizabeth Blanchard Hamblin (though Charles Young
See Kasserman, 2-3.
See Kasserman.
was the manager when Sarah Maria Cornell was produced there).
what must have been a welcome taste of success for both the Richmond
Hill and Mary Carr Clarke, the play attracted overflowing audiences, and
its run was extended into September. Given the history of this theatre
and the nature of this play, one must wonder to what extent the success
of this production was based on attendance by the "community of
women workers" that came into existence in New York in the early years
of the nineteenth century, forming, as Christine Stansell argues, " a city of
women with its own economic relations and cultural forms."
play's subject matter, like the actual trial, caused considerable contro-
versy. The Mirror, a weekly digest of features and reviews that catered
to New York's burgeoning upper middle class, published a September 21
review strongly condemning the play. Though pointedly admitting to not
having seen the work, the reviewer thundered:
So gross a violation of propriety and public decency has seldom
been committed in this city, and it may doubtless be classed as
an offence for which the author, his aiders and abettors, may be
presented and indicted.
The review goes on to draw on the trial's campaign of character
defamation to suggest that the murder victim should be made an object
of blame rather than sympathetic identification. Pointing to the play's
frank repudiation of the jury's decision to acquit Avery, the Mirror calls
for suppression of Sarah Maria Cornell through legal means: "We say,
then, this display of public calumny-this open breach of propriety-this
bringing into disrepute the judicial power of the country, is a nuisance
which ought to be abated by the authorities."
Considering the threats made in response to the play, its author, who
was apparently unknown to the Mirror and is not mentioned in
nineteenth-century or contemporary accounts of the trial or the play,
could have chosen to remain anonymous. However, in defiance of a
See George C. D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, Vol. Ill (New York:
Columbia, 1928).
Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860
(New York: Knopf, 1986), xi.
New York Mirror: A Weekly Gazette of Literature and the Fine Arts, Sept. 21 ,
1833; Oct. 5, 1833.
/bid., 94.
Mary Carr Clarke's Dramas of Working Women 39
possible libel suit-perhaps even inviting such a suit as a way of getting
the matter back into court-Mary Carr Clarke immediately published the
play under her own name. With this action she created an alternative to
the existing system of representation. Not only did she place Sarah Maria
Cornell, the "sister" forever enclosed within the confines of her narrative,
on stage to "speak" for herself, but also put herself forward as the author
of truth in the matter.
The ultimate effect of the play, either in performed or published form,
is unclear. It seems to have faded from sight once its performances
concluded. Avery seems not to have filed a libel suit. As far as is known,
Carr Clarke wrote no more plays. It did, however, seem to usher in a
new era for the Bowery Theatre. The Bowery's manager, Thomas
Hamblin, immediately enlisted the acting talents of Matilda Twibill Flynn,
who had played Sarah Maria Cornell, and soon had a house playwright,
Louisa Medina, turning out sensational drama written from a woman's
perspective. The Bowery subsequently found commercial success in the
style of play that had been proved viable by Sarah Maria Cornell at the
Richmond Hill.
The work which concludes Mary Carr Clarke' s writing career
suggests an intense, but ineffectual, anger in response to her own
struggles and those of other working women. The collaborative
biographical work about Hamblin, which claims to be "communicated
by" and certainly champions the viewpoint of his estranged wife, indicts
Hamblin for exploitative and brutal treatment of his first wife during their
marriage and afterward. The account also tries to cast doubt on some of
the admirable managerial actions attributed to Hamblin (such as
promoting the work of American dramatists) on which he was building
a positive reputation. The unmistakable bitterness with which Carr
Clarke denounces Hamblin can be readily understood if she did, indeed,
view him as someone who had usurped the authentic voice of working
women. It seems likely that at this point, Carr Clarke considered both
public institutions like the legal system and private ones like the theatre
to have failed her and other women in a similar socioeconomic position.
journal of American Drama and Theatre 9 (Fall 199 7)
Pioneering Theatre Managers:
Edna Kenton and Eleanor Fitzgerald
of the Provincetown Players
"I did my best, Susan, and I had the time of my life."
Edna Kenton to Susan Glaspell, May 28, 1924
Perhaps the most neglected and least appreciated members of any
theatrical organization are those who perform the myriad tasks necessary
to keep the organization functioning smoothly on a day-to-day basis.
Even so eccentric an organization as the Provincetown Players had to
deal with the usual administrative concerns: establishing operational
policies, selecting plays and making up season bills, acquiring personnel,
developing an audience, fundraising, bookkeeping, and publicizing.
Performing these tasks successfully is challenging for any arts
organization. For the Provincetown Players, given the experimental
nature of the association and its gifted, temperamental, and inexperi-
enced membership, the challenge was particularly formidable. And yet
they met that challenge with remarkable success. The Provincetown
Players survived for eight seasons, establishing and maintaining one of
the most devoted subscription audiences in the history of American
theatre. Relying almost exclusively on audience support, they stayed
afloat financially, at the same time remaining remarkably faithful to their
artistic goals.
Despite its critical significance, historians have rarely
investigated theatre management at Provincetown.
Theoretically, "conducting the business of the club" was the
responsibility of a small executive committee, comprised of the group's
The primary objective of the Provincetown Players was to encourage American
playwrights by producing "American plays of real artistic (l iterary or dramat ic)-as
opposed to 'Broadway' merit." Constitution and Resolut ions of the Provincetown
Players, in Minute Book, Cage Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center.
Pioneering Theatre Managers 41
most important members.
Throughout the history of the Provincetown
Players, however, only two prominent members devoted themselves
exclusively to this task: Edna Kenton and Eleanor Fitzgerald. This study
examines their careers.
Edna Baldwin Kenton (1876-1954) was born in Springfield, Missouri,
and educated at the University of Michigan. A writer and editor, she was
a notable figure in Chicago literary circles in the 1890s and 191 Os, a
friend to George Cram Uig) Cook, Susan Glaspell, Carl Van Vechten,
Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, and Floyd Dell. An early and
ardent feminist, Kenton was one of the first writers to define "feminism"
and to articulate its goals for a general readership.
Kenton's colleague Floyd Dell considered her an emininently
"modern" woman, an astute literary critic, and wise dispenser of
romantic advice.
Her own romantic life remains, alas, a mystery. She
never married and her gossipy correspondence fails to mention any
romantic relationships. A somewhat mystifying but intriguing note from
Dell implies that Kenton might have been a lesbian:
I know an interesting girl here who threatens to move to New
York. If she does it is a case distinctly for you. She signs "Karl
Meir" to a good review. Beautiful. Former actress. Renegade and
modern, hates women ...
Kenton arrived in Provincetown, at Cook's invitation, in Summer
1916. Although not on the list of founding members (drawn up in
September 1916), Kenton had apparently already committed herself to
Executive committee members (throughout the company's history) included the
group's founder George Cram Cook, playwrights Susan Glaspell and Eugene O'Neill,
actress Ida Rauh, and designer Cleon Throckmorton. Although they were all
influential in management, they were primarily concerned with their artistic
See Kenton,"Feminism Will Give-Men More Fun, Women Greater Scope, and
Life More Charm," Delineator, July 1914, and Kenton, "The Militant Woman-and
Women," Century 87, November 1913.
See correspondence between Dell and Kenton, 1912-?, The Harvard Theatre
collection, The Houghton Library. See also Dell, Homecoming (New York: Farrar &
Rinehart), 1933, 200.
Fioyd Dell to Edna Kenton, n. d. (1912?), The Harvard Theatre Col lecti on, The
Houghton Library.
Edna Kenton, Jack Reed and Ethel Plummer.
(From The Harvard Theatre Collection, The Houghton Library.)
Pioneering Theatre Managers 43
the Provincetown Players. She became an active member on October 5
and a member of the executive committee in February 1917.
Although she was a gifted writer, she never wrote a play for the
company; she never acted or designed. As Kenton later explained, she
was interested in "the adventure as a whole'':
My place in the group was always a rather oddly detached one
as to obvious interests .... I was interested in the experiment
itself and all of the material used in it-that of founding and
sustaining an experimental theatre.
Susan Glaspelllater substantiated Kenton's disinterested devotion: "Edna,
more than any other, loved the thing itself. She gave us freely of an
intelligence money couldn't have bought."
Kenton always argued that an amateur status was essential to the
company's experimental goals; she was in fact the only executive
committee member that voted against moving Eugene O'Neill's The
Emperor jones uptown in 1920. For Kenton, the commercial success of
The Emperor jones, which set a new standard for Provincetown produc-
tions, was the "beginning of the end."
Although devoted to the experimental, noncommercial goals of the
Provincetown Players, Kenton distrusted their notion of collectiye
creation. In her memoir, she made several references to "idealism"
versus "efficiency" or "competence," at one point commenting wryly
that "there is something to be said for the 'one-man' instead of the
'group' idea in drawing up a circular."
When Kenton reported with
satisfaction that "democracy sooner or later sifts down to a very small
Kenton, " The Provincetown Theatre and Macdougal Street," preface to George
Cram Cook, Creek Coins (New York: H. Doran, 1925), 18-19.
Susan Glaspell to Eleanor Fitzgerald, 31 May 1924, The Harvard Theatre
Collection, The Houghton Library.
Kenton, " The Provincetown Players and the Playwright's Theater," mss.,
Provincetown Players Archive, Fales Library, New York University, 169, 173-74.
Following the example of Robert K. Sarlos, I will hereafter refer to this mss. as
"History." See Robert K. Sarlos, Jig Cook and the Provincetown Players (University
of Massachusetts Press, 1982).
Kenton, " History," 65.
executive group," it is clear that she intended to become one of that
Transferring responsibilities for reading plays from all active members
to a select group was one of the first policy changes that Kenton
advocated. To some, this decision seemed a violation of the group's
collectivist principles, but Kenton reported flatly that "reading the plays
aloud was impossible. After a final plea from Hutch Hapgood for
democracy, efficiency triumphed."
A small committee that included
Kenton assumed responsibility for reading plays.
The Players were soon overwhelmed with dramatic submissions. A
newspaper article reported in February 1920 that plays were pouring in
from "east, west, north, and south."
Despite the volume, Kenton
claimed that she and Susan Glaspell read every play submitted.
Glaspell corroborated this claim by referring to "the nights Edna has sat
over there reading plays no one else would read, and this in years when
it wasn't a job for her."
Eventually reading and selecting plays became
both a primary responsibility and a paid position for Kenton.
As one who sorted "possible" plays from "musts,"
influenced play selection, most notably by consistently opposing the
production of European plays. Only twice in the history of Provincetown
were there such productions.
/bid., 15.
/bid., 37.
Unidentified newspaper clipping, dated 27 February 1920, in Provincetown
scrapbook, The Harvard Theatre Collection, The Houghton Library.
Kenton, "History," 37.
Susan Glaspell to Eleanor Fitzgerald, 31 May 1924, The Harvard Theatre
Collection, The Houghton Library.
1t is unclear precisely when Kenton began to receive a salary for playreading
and publicity, but sometime before August 1921. See jig Cook to Susan Glaspell, 27
August 1921, Berg Collection, New York Public Library.
Kenton, "History," 37.
/bid., 1 55. See also Sarlos, 161. The two plays were Arthur Schnitzler's Last
Masks, produced in Spring 1920, and Gustav Wied's Autumn Fires, produced in
Spring 1921.
Pioneering Theatre Managers 45
During Spring 1922, Kenton successfully controlled play selection.
She rejected, despite furious opposition from company members James
Light and Charles Ellis, an exotic play called Taboo. She also opposed
the suggestion by designer Cleon Throckmorton and Eleanor Fitzgerald
to revive The Emperor jones instead of producing Glaspell's Chains of
Dew: "I announced, without any counsel, to the public press, that Chains
of Dew was going on. We were committed."
Publicity and audience development also became primarily Kenton's
responsibilities. Throughout their eight-year history, the Provincetown
Players developed an audience by regularly distributing seasonal circulars
and publishing articles in newspapers and magazines. The circulars
generally reiterated the group's aesthetic policies, described their
proposed production calendar, and invited audience subscriptions. Cook
probably drafted the first of these, but the Players authorized Kenton,
along with Lucian Cary, to draft the brochure for their second season.
In April1918, Kenton published a newspaper article which provided the
most complete record of the group's activities.
Like playreading,
publicity ultimately became a paid position for Kenton.
Another task Kenton assumed was recruiting technical staff, enlisting
her sister, Mabel Reber, as a costumer and Mabel's husband, Neil, as
stage manager and head of the seen ic department.
The degree of Kenton's influence within the company shows most
clearly through the events unfolding during its last turbulent seasons.
Since Fall 1920, Cook and Glaspell had been spending more and more
time in Provincetown, concentrating on their writing projects.
gave their voting proxies (as executive committee members) to Kenton.
Edna Kenton to Susan Glaspell, 5 May 1922, The Harvard Theatre Collection,
The Houghton Library.
See Minutes, 15 March 1917.
Kenton, "Unorganized, Amateur, Purely Experimental, " Boston Evening
Transcript, 27 April 1918, 2:8-9.
Jig Cook to Susan Glaspell, 27 August 1921, Berg Collection, New York Public
Mabel joined the company in Fall 1917, Neil in Fall 1918. See Kenton,
"History," 66, 109.
After Emperor jones closed, Cook completed his full-length play, The Spring,
which opened in January 1921 . In the 1921-22 season, the Players presented three
full-length works by Glaspell: Inheritors, The Verge, and Chains of Dew.
Kenton, who credited Cook and Glaspell with the existence and
success of the Provincetown Players, was horrified at the rebellion
smoldering among the newer members of the company, apparently
fueled by O'Neill's increasing commercial success.
Kenton urged Cook
to return to New York and restore authority:
I do not believe that a "row" is inevitable at all, if you come
down .... Nothing in all this matters to me but next year's
pol icy and authority .... And let me say again that there
need not be trouble over reorganization if we decide just not
to have it.
Disillusioned by the struggle, and perhaps disappointed by the failure
of The Spring to reach a wide audience,
Cook decided to announce an
interim for the Provincetown Players, for the 1922-23 season. Six
individuals (Cook, Glaspell, Kenton, O'Neill, Fitzgerald, Cleon
Throckmorton, and attorney Harry Weinberger)
met and incorporated
as "the Provincetown Players, Inc." Kenton explained that the motive for
incorporation was "to hold the name and the idea of the Players" and the
motive for secrecy was to keep james Light out.
Cook and Glaspell sailed for Greece in February 1922, giving to
Kenton their proxies, explaining later that "she, more than any other, had
the purity of idea, the integrity. Hers was at times the only voice against
a I ien gods. "
This newer membership included James light, Charles Ellis, Edna and Norma
Millay, and Cleon Throckmorton.
Edna Kenton to Jig Cook, 8 May 1921, Provincetown Players Archive, Fales
Library, New York University.
Perhaps Cook thought he could best take Kenton's advice and "restore
authority" by duplicating O'Neill's success as a playwright, for in September 1921,
he moved his play, The Spring, into a small Broadway theatre for a brief and
unheralded run.
Eleanor Fitzgerald probably recruited Weinberger; he was an intimate friend
and had defended Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and other political radicals.
Kenton to Cook and Glaspell, 19 June 1922, in William W. Vilhauer, "A
History and Evaluation of the Provincetown Players," Ph.D. diss. (University of Iowa,
1965), 297.
Susan Glaspell to Eleanor Fitzgerald, 31 May 1924, Tile Harvard Theatre
Collection, The Houghton Library.
Pioneering Theatre Managers 47
According to Kenton, James Light attempted to seize authority as
soon as Cook and Glaspell sailed.
Kenton, however, was determined
"to take Jig's place for the rest of the season."
Perhaps because Kenton
had Cook's and Glaspell's proxies, perhaps because Light's sudden
"leave of absence" in 1921 had weakened his position,
succeeded in thwarting Light's plans.
Throughout the 1921-22 season, Kenton worked in every area of
management, including play selection, publicity, and contract and royalty
negotiations with agents, publishers, and producers. She corresponded
steadily with Theodore Dreiser concerning rehearsals of his Hand of the
Potter and supervised all aspects of the production of Glaspell 's Chains
of Dew, including textual editing, casting, and engaging a director.
Kenton, along with business manager Fitzgerald, was authorized to
sign company checks. Just as Fitzgerald kept Kenton informed of all
financial matters throughout the Players' 1921-22 season and the interim
year (1922-23), Kenton, in her turn, kept Cook and Glaspell apprised of
all financial, administrative, and legal affairs.
In June 1922, Kenton
announced to the public the company's plans for the interim.
Although Kenton and Fitzgerald shared responsibility for subleasing
the Playhouse for the interim, they differed sharply on the desirability of
potential lessees, most notably James Light. They finally decided on Alice
Kauser, a commercial producer.
Although Kenton had hoped for the return of Cook and Glaspell in
Fall 1923 and the continuation of the Provincetown Players, she
apparently considered their wishes paramount. When Cook and Glaspell
cabled their desire "for termination" of the company in June 1923,
Kenton accepted the dissolution as final; she devoted the rest of her time
with the Players fulfilling their wish " to give the theatre we love good
Kenton to Cook and Glaspell, 5 May 1922, The Harvard Theatre Coll ection,
The Houghton Library.
Kenton, "History," 205.
1.nfatuated with Provincetown playwright Djuna Barnes, he followed her to
See correspondence between Fitzgerald and Kenton, Summer 1922; see also
correspondence between Kenton and Cook and Glaspell, Spring and Summer, 1922,
The Harvard Theatre Collection, The Houghton Library.
See Susan Glaspell, The Road to the Temple (New York: Frederick A. Stokes,
1927), 309-310.
Meanwhile, O'Neill had been negotiating with Kenneth Macgowan
and Robert Edmond Jones to reorganize the Provincetown Players with
"new blood and lots of it" and to abandon completely the Players'
methods of operation.
In November 1923, Kenton, Fitzgerald, and
Weinberger granted Macgowan power as director of the Playhouse for
the 1923-24 season.
For Kenton, the "good death" of the Provincetown Players required
the sharp distinction, in the minds of the public, between the two
companies. Such a distinction must, most significantly, include a new
name for the new group. Reserving the name Provincetown Players to
the older group became a sacred miss ion for both G laspell and Kenton,
especially after the death of Cook in January 1924.
The zeal with which Kenton discharged this mission parallels the
growing resentment against her from Macgowan and O'Neill. O'Nei ll
was willing to drop the use of Provincetown Players ("in spirit and
intention we had nothing in common with [the old corporation or the old
name]") but insisted on retaining the Provincetown Playhouse as the
name of the theatre building: "I don't see where sentiment can enter
where the name of a building is concerned." O'Neill blamed Kenton for
the friction: "if you had been willing last fall to be generous and turn over
the theatre without strings to it to the new organization ... there would
have been no need for [the conflictJ,"
During the meeting at which the
name Experimental Theatre, Inc., was finally chosen, Macgowan accused
Kenton of being "a thorn in his side" and objected to giving her a share
in the common stock of the new corporation.
Kenton's account of this event suggests that she rather enjoyed the
confrontation: "I did my best, Susan, and I had the time of my I ife."
Despite Kenton's assurance, the events of this meeting sparked an
arigry letter from Glaspell to Fitzgerald in defense of Kenton:
Edna stood out for the name Provincetown Players because she
wanted to hold something for Jig to return to, if he wanted to
See Arthur Gelb and Barbara Gelb, O'Neill (New York: Harper and Row,
1960), 513-14.
0'Neill to Kenton, 26 May 1924, The Harvard Theatre Collection, The
Houghton Library.
Kenton to Glaspell, 28 May 1924, The Harvard Theatre Collection, The
Houghton Library.
Pioneering Theatre Managers 49
return .. .. She felt that if he recovered from exhaustion, the
deep spiritual exhaustion from working with people who did
him dirt at every turn, people with whom you are now hand in
glove, that he would want to come back. She was trying to save
something for him to come back to. Always she was his friend!
Fitzie, and all of you, for this letter is for all of you, from very
deep down, I am through.
The Provincetown Players had finally, officially, ceased to exist, but
Edna Kenton had one more important task to perform, one in which she
was not successful. She resolved to write and publish a history of
Provincetown Players in which its unique character (distinct from that of
The Experimental Theatre, Inc.) would be made clear. Although she
published an article on the company's history in 1922,
she was unable
to find a publisher for her book-length work, completed sometime around
Kenton was never again affiliated with a theatre company. She
published a biography of her ancestor, Simon Kenton, in 1930 and a
novel in 1933. In 1950, Kenton edited a well-received collection of
stories by Henry James. She died in 1954.
Excepting Kenton, the individual most responsible for managing the
Provincetown Players during those last few difficult seasons was Mary
Eleanor Fitzgerald ("Fitzie" to her colleagues).
Fitzgerald {1877-1955), a tall, striking redhead of Scotch-Irish
descent, grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. The daughter of a farmer, she
began working at sixteen, first as a teacher, then as a nurse at the famous
Battle Creek sanitorium. For a while, she was quite. successful booking
Chatauqua tours, but she resigned after hearing one of the lectures. After
meeting anarchists Ben Reitman, Emma Goldman, and Alexander
Berkman in Chicago, Fitzgerald became passionately devoted to the
anarchist cause. She became Berkman's lover and an intimate friend to
Giaspell to Fitzgerald, 31 May 1924, The Harvard Theatre Collection, The
Houghton Library.
See Kenton, " The Provincetown Players and the Playwright' s Theater"
Billboard, 5 August 1922, 6-7, 13-15.
Kenton's manuscript, edited by Travis Bogard and Jackson R. Bryer, is
scheduled to be published in a 1998 issue of the Eugene O'Neill Review.
Goldman, who remembered her as " . . . very efficient, but a real friend
.. . a beautiful soul."
Fitzgerald served as assistant editor for both Blast and Mother Earth,
spoke on behalf of labor unions and conscientious objectors, and raised
$150,000 for political prisoners. Through her work in amnesty for
political prisoners, Fitzgerald met Ida Rauh, who invited her to join the
The appearance, in Fall 1918, of an individual sympathetic to radical
art and politics, with fundraising and organizational skills, was fortuitous.
The Players had lacked such a person since their first secretary, Margaret
Nordfeldt, resigned in March 1917. Fitzgerald accepted a part-time, paid
position, taking over the bookkeeping, records, box office., and a "few
other odds and ends. ''
Given her background, it is not surprising that Provincetown's
mixture of art and anarchy appealed to Fitzgerald. As she later explained:
Then I went with the Provincetown Players full time, feeling that
perhaps on a smaller stage (I had been reaching out for the
whole wide world)-a few could be made conscious of decency,
justice, and truth.
Goldman also saw a connection between Fitzgerald's radical political
activities and her theatrical aspirations:
. .. she attached herself to the theater not merely as a means of
livelihood, but because she hoped she could continue advanced
ideas by means of the drama and that she could make her life
Emma Goldman, Living My Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931 ), 532. See
also 518-20.
See M. El eanor Fitzgerald, "Valedictory of an Art Theatre, " New York Times,
22 December 1929, 8: 1. Rauh was one of the company's most important members.
Fitzgerald may have met other members through her association with Goldman.
Goldman's niece, Stella Commins Ballantine, and her husband, E. } . Ballantine, were
Helen Deutsch and Stella Hanau, The Provincetown: A Story of the Theatre
(New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1931), 81-82.
Eieanor Fitzgerald to Erwin Piscator, 1 January 1950, reprinted in "In Memory
of Fitzie," compiled by Pauline Turkel, in Margaret Wycherly scrapbook, New York
Public Library at Lincoln Center.
Pioneering Theatre Managers
Eleanor Fitzgerald. (From Papers of Djuna Barnes, Special Collections,
University of Maryland at College Park Libraries.)
count for something, for something that would fill the gap your
loss [Berkman' s deportation] had created in her soul.
During Fall 1918, Fitzgerald divided her time between the Playhouse
and the political prisoners' office. In 1919, after Berkman and Goldman
were deported, Fitzgerald accepted a full-time position and a place on the
executive committee. Although her official title was Secretary-Treasurer,
Fitzgerald was commonly referred to as "Business Manager. " Her duties
included fundraising, financing, bookkeeping, answering telephones,
selling tickets, negotiating contracts, hiring support personnel, and
supervising equipment installation. So extensive were Fitzgerald's
responsibi I ities that, by 1921, she had two assistants, both unpaid, who
seem to have operated chiefly out of a sense of loyalty to Fitzgerald.
just after her arrival in 1918, Fitzgerald, along with Cook, raised
$1000.00 in small sums (meeting a challenge for matching funds from
philanthropist A. C. Barnes) to finance the remodelling at 133
In 1920, Fitzgerald conducted a fund drive among
subscribers to pay a $5000.00 tax bill. Fitzgerald herself once recalled
her efforts to keep the company financially afloat:
I carried the burden of financing and seeing through that last
season of 1921-22 .... I saw that The Hairy Ape was carried
through. Edna and I, The Chains of Dew, and I stayed on the job
seeing that the bills amounting to about $4500. or more were all
paid and the slate clean so far as debts against the organization
of the Provincetown Players was concerned.
Friends and colleagues attempted to explain Fitzgerald's success at
fundraising. e.e cummings reported that "no one to whom she appealed
Emma Goldman to Alexander Berkman, 4 September 1925, in Richard and
Anna Maria Drinnon, eds., Nowhere at Home: Letters From Exile of Emma Goldman
and Alexander Berkman (New York: Schocken Books, 1975), 132.
See Susan Jenkins and Pauline Turkel interviews with Louis Sheaffer, 1960 (?),
Sheaffer Collection, Shain Library, Connecticut College.
in the Fall of 1918, the Players moved from 139 to a slightly larger space at 133
Macdougal, commonly referred to thereafter as the " Provincetown Playhouse."
Fitzgerald to G laspell, 1 May 1929, Provincetown Players Archive, Fales
Library, New York University.
Pioneering Theatre Managers 53
could doubt her good sense or her competence."
James Light agreed:
"Fitzie made people feel it was a privilege to help the Provincetown
Players. "
In addition to her multiple official functions, Fitzgerald contributed
in an intangible but indispensable manner to the esprit de corps of the
[Fitzie] seemed miraculously to be everywhere-in the box
office, on Macdougal Street with The Spring, at the Princess with
The Emperor jones, at the Selwyn with Diff'rent, busy, smiling,
capable ... mothering her three casts ... . Fitzi was official ly the
secretary of the players but she was really business manager,
financier, general factotum and everybody's confidante ... . the
Provincetown was Fitzi's foster child.
Nilla Cram Cook confirmed Fitzgerald's contribution to company
[Fitzgerald] saw everyone's side with equal sympathy ... [she
possessed] a delicate courtesy, a warm appreciation of the other
person-without which I doubt if a single season of the
Provincetown Players could have lasted!! !
Fitzgerald was a particularly trusted confidant of O'Neill , who "told
Fitzie all his troubles"
and Djuna Barnes, who described Fitzgerald as
"an eternal Eliza crossing the ice, and by main strength and gift of a
pioneer right arm, has so far kept the baby [the company] from
e.e. cummings, in " In Memory of Fitzie. "
James Light interview with Louis Sheaffer, 21 May 1960, in Sheaffer Collection,
Shain Library, Connecticut College.
Deutsch and Hanau, 81-82.
Nilla Cram Cook to Robert K. Sarlos, 5 February 1975, Sarlos Collection,
University of California Davis.
Light interview with Sheaffer, 21 May 1960.
Djuna Barnes, "Days of Jig Cook," Theatre Guild Magazine, January 1929, 32,
in Papers of Djuna Barnes, Special Collections, University of Maryland at College Park
Devotion to Fitzgerald, however, was not universal. Notably missing
from her band of admirers, particularly during the Players' last two
seasons, were Cook, Glaspell , and Kenton. One company member
attributes Cook's cooling toward Fitzgerald to her wide-ranging generos-
ity: "Jig got sore because [Fitzie] wanted to take care of everybody, not
just him."
By this time the conflicting factions within the company had
emerged, and Fitzgerald's allegiance was in question. As late as August
1 921, Kenton apparently sti II hoped for Fitzgerald' s support, reporting to
Cook with satisfaction that "Fitzi is outraged by several with whom she
sympathized .. . " Kenton even suggested that Cook and Glaspell go to
London with the Emperor ]ones tour, assuring him that "Fitzi and I are in
Relations between Fitzgerald and Kenton deteriorated, however,
during the last, most contentious season of 1921-22. During Spring and
Summer 1922 Kenton's correspondence with Cook and Glaspell
overflowed with allegations of Fitzgerald's incompetence and disloyalty:
Fitzie has been a great mistake. She was the business manager
and she hasn't the first qualification for the job . . .. her whole
spirit is that of pleasing all. ..
A significant source of conflict was the rental of the theatre during the
interim. When it became clear to Kenton that Fitzgerald intended to
remain at the Playhouse during the interim no matter who rented it, it
seemed to Kenton the worst kind of betrayal. If James Light (or one of his
faction) presented a season at the Provincetown Playhouse, with
Fitzgerald as business manager, Kenton believed their efforts would be
perceived by the public as the work of the Provincetown Players. For
Kenton, who considered Light's career aspirations a violation of
Provincetown ideals, that possibility was appalling. Hence the struggle,
secrecy, and animosity involved in finding a suitable lessee.
When, in fact, Fitzgerald did stay on, helping the Kauser Company
with business and promotion and referring to "the Provincetown spirit"
in a promotional letter, Kenton was outraged, and Fitzgerald was
Light interview with Sheaffer, 21 May 1960.
Kenton to Cook, 5 August 1921, The Harvard Theatre Collection, The
Houghton Library.
Kenton to Cook and Glaspell, 3 May 1922, The Harvard Theatre Collection,
The Houghton Library.
Pioneering Theatre Managers 55
mystified and hurt by her reaction: "-why should the Provincetown
Players not want to give this new group a bit of mutual sympathy?"
Cook's resentment toward Fitzgerald, encouraged by Kenton,
increased. A drunken telegram ("Fitzie is a goddamn Irish beauty I iar")
was followed by a somewhat more coherent letter of rebuke:
You subconsciously accepted the superiority to us of financially
successful Broadway producers. When the tear- the rip-came,
you were on the wrong side . . ..
You should have been loyal to me because I was more loyal than
others to our purpose. . . .
Where was your inner light?
What caused the irrevocable rift between Fitzgerald and Kenton was
Fitzgerald's failure to distinguish between the original group and the
group that eventually organized as The Experimental Theatre, Inc. When
Fitzgerald officially joined the new company, Kenton saw her action as
betrayal. Fitzgerald was a traitor; the rupture would never be healed.
The controversy accompanying both the dissolution of the
Provincetown Players and the organization of The Experimental h e a ~ r e
drained Fitzgerald:
.. . the theater gave her little else but responsibility, worry,
everybody's trouble. She spent her time and substance in
separating feuds, in explaining everybody's pettiness and
jealousies. Until finally she became a nervous wreck.
Whatever distress Fitzgerald suffered because of her professional and
personal relationships with the Provincetown Players, however, she
maintained her position as business manager (eventually "executive
Fitzgerald to Kenton, 24 October 1922, Provincetown Players Archive, Fales
Library, New York University.
Cook to Fitzgerald, n.d., from Greece, 1922-23(?), Berg Collection, New York
Public Library.
Goldman to Berkman, in Drinnon and Drinnon, 132.
director") of the Experimental Theatre at the Provincetown Playhouse
unti I 1929.
Throughout her tenure, Fitzgerald consistently promoted artistic
experimentation and stressed the continuity of purpose and achievement
at the Playhouse. She infuriated Glaspell in Spring 1929 by inviting her
to contribute "a few lines" to a promotional brochure celebrating the
company's "fourteen year existence."
With or without Kenton's or Glaspell's endorsement, Fitzgerald
refused to relinquish her heritage as a Provincetown Player or her belief
in the consistency of her Provincetown career:
If I needed any proof of the truth and vitality of what I must call
the Provincetown idea, I would find it in the fact that my belief
in this kind of theatre, the theatre of opportunity for new talent,
is as strong today [in 1929], after the curtain has dropped for the
last time
as it was when I first joined the group. This was in
November 1918.
To have seen this spirit, to have lived with it, has been worth all
the difficulty, all the obvious sadness at closing the book and
writing "finis."
Fitzgerald continued her career in theatre management through the
1940s, working for Broadway producer Robert Rockmore, the Theatre
Union, the Group Theatre, and the New School for Social Research. She
died in Wisconsin in 1955.
Both Edna Kenton and Eleanor Fitzgerald were consistently and
significantly involved in managing the Provincetown Players. As
influential as they were in developing and running this theatre company
throughout its history, they were equally influential in determining the
time and manner of its dissolution.

The first phase of The Experimental Theatre' s existence, under the leadership
of O'Neill, Macgowan, and Jones, essentially ended in 1925, when those three moved
operations to the Greenwich Village Theatre. The Experimental Theat re continued at
133 Macdougal under the leadership of James Light and Fitzgerald until 1929, when
they expanded and moved uptown to the Garrick Theatre under the official and (as
Glaspell commented) " architecturally clumsy" heading "The Provincetown Playhouse
in the Garrick Theatre"). This venture lasted only one season.
See Fitzgerald to Glaspell, 6 April 1929; Glaspell to Kenton, 30 April 1929;
Provincetown Players Archive, Fales Library, New York University.
F itzgerald, "Valedictory," 1,4.
Pioneering Theatre Managers 57
Kenton was instrumental in effecting early policy changes (most
notably from the collective ideal to the more practical individualism) and
maintaining important artistic goals (amateur experimentation and the
production of American, rather than European, drama) . Fitzgerald
dominated fundraising and finances and was largely responsible for
company morale.
Both Fitzgerald and Kenton, lacking any special theatrical gift or
experience, relied on skills acquired in other pursuits to create for
themselves secure positions within the company. Kenton carved out a
niche suitable to her literary talents, pioneering the theatrical practice of
literary management. Fitzgerald, employing fundraising and organizing
skills acquired in her political work, created not just a position with the
Provincetown Players but a career in theatrical management that lasted
for more than two decades, making her a pioneer, as a woman, in that
Although both women gained important positions within the
company, they achieved influence in quite different ways and manifested
strikingly different managerial styles.
Kenton was, from beginning to end, confident, opinionated,
outspoken. By the last season Kenton had expanded her influence
considerably, even intruding on Fitzgerald's financial responsibilities.
Secure in her ability, protective of her authority, and, perhaps, overreach-
ing it, Kenton relished power, seeming to enjoy even the conflicts. She
was perceived by her allies as constant ("the only voice against alien
gods"), by her adversaries as contentious ("a thorn in the side").
Fitzgerald, on the other hand, achieved her influential position
through more conventionally "feminine" avenues. For one thing, her
responsibilities included many traditionally female (secretarial) tasks.
Beyond that, her personality, despite her radical political leanings, seems
conventionally "feminine." Company members consistently described
her as nurturing and sympathetic and employed maternal metaphors to
describe her connection to the company, her "foster child." Although
Fitzgerald performed admirably in her position (Kenton is surely
somewhat prejudiced in her accusations of inefficiency), she did not
seem to assert, or relish, her authority. Confrontations that stimulated
Kenton merely confused and dismayed Fitzgerald.
The complex relationship between Kenton and Fitzgerald showed a
considerable degree of collaboration between these women, not always
harmonious. They shared lofty ideals for the theatre, but differed in the
nature of those ideals and the methods by which the ideals should be
For Fitzgerald, the "Provincetown spirit" was applicable to any
theatre that provided opportunities for artistic experimentation (particu-
larly for new talent). For Kenton, the Provincetown spirit could exist only
within a specific community of like-minded individuals. Integral to this
spirit was pure amateurism, a selflessly-motivated desire to enrich, yet
remain totally independent of, the commercial theatre. Perhaps most
importantly, for Kenton, the Provincetown spirit could not exist without
Jig Cook and Susan Glaspell.
The ideals of spiritual community and amateurism had, of course,
been seriously compromised throughout the group's history, but the
degree to which the company could compromise these ideals and still
call itself the Provincetown Players was the critical issue. For Fitzgerald,
abandoning those ideals represented merely reorganization; for Kenton,
it was sacrilege.
journal of American Drama and Theatre 9 (Fall 7 99 7)
Making the Grave Less Deep:
A Descriptive Assessment of
Sam Shepard's Revisions to Buried Child
After twenty years Sam Shepard has revised his Pulitzer Prize-winning
Buried Child. The rewritten version premiered in October 1995 at
Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre under the direction of Gary Sinise. After
further revisions the production was transferred in April 1996 to
Broadway where it was nominated for a Tony Award as "Best New
Play." That production also marked the Broadway debut of Shepard,
often cited as one of America' s leading playwrights since his off-off-
Broadway days in the 1960s. The revised playscript was published this
year by Dramatists Play Service, which will no longer offer its original
text for performance. This article will take a descriptive survey of the
changes and analyze the effectiveness of revisions in plot, character,
language, and imagery.
A tantalizing mystery lies at the core of Sam Shepard's Buried Child:
a mystery about paternity, parenting, childhood, identity, and murder.
In his original version, Shepard provides clues but no definite answers.
The core questions remain in the new version: Who was the father of the
"buried child"? Who is the "buried child"? Why isn't Vince recognized
by his family? Based on the textual clues in the original script, the answer
to the first question is that Tilden fathered the "buried child" through an
incestuous union with his mother Halie. The most explicit clue comes
in Act II when Tilden tells Shelly, "I had a son once but we buried him"
(orig. 31 ).
Other evidence comes from Dodge's testimony about
Tilden's closeness to the baby and to his being "the one who knew.
Better than any of us," as Dodge charges (orig. 59). In the final clue at
the end of the play, Shepard makes stunning use of visual imagery and a
homonym as Tilden walks the infant's muddy corpse up the stairs to its
mother, while she muses, "Maybe it's the sun. Maybe that's it. Maybe
1n this article, quotations from the original script published by Dramatists Play
Service in 1978 are marked " orig."; from the revised script, a 1997 DPS publication,
are marked "rev."
it's the sun" (orig. 66). The responsible "sun" is Tilden, the son. In his
revision of the script Shepard makes the parentage of the "buried child"
much more apparent, adding references to Tilden and eliminating lies
that formerly pointed elsewhere. The net effect is that the mystery is no
longer as enigmatic: the corpse is not buried nearly so deeply.
In Act I of the revision Dodge still jabs at Hal ie, "My flesh and
blood's buried in the back yard!" But Shepard has added a line to a line
to Halie's response: "That's quite enough. You've become confused"
(rev. 21 ). What has Dodge become "confused" about? In another
addition Tilden provides the answer: "Why'd you tell her it was your
flesh and blood? (rev. 22; italics are Shepard's). Tilden is questioning
Dodge's claim to ownership of the corpse in the back yard. Even as a
grandfather, Dodge would be the "flesh and blood" of the buried child,
but Tilden's posture-in light of the child's true paternity-is a defensive
one. In Halie' s earlier accusation that Dodge is confused, she too
challenges Dodge as to whose child it really was.
More additions are made in Act II along the same lines. In response
to Vince's claim to being Tilden's son, Dodge says, " Tilden's son Vince,"
adding, "He had two I guess" (rev. 32; again, the ita! ics are Shepard' s).
"Two sons" clearly sets up the possibility that Tilden is the father of both
Vince and the buried child (if in fact they are separate people). Also in
Act II Vince now asks whether his not being recognized is due to his
betrayal of "some secret ancient family taboo" (rev. 40)-which
appropriately categorizes the buried child as an incestuous offspring.
Shepard also eliminates several lines that contained intentional lies
which could misdirect audiences. In Act II when Tilden tells Shelly, "I
had a son once but we buried him," Dodge no longer responds with the
claim "that happened before you were born. Long before" (orig. 32) . It
did not, of course. Also deleted is the lie Tilden tells Shelly, naming
Dodge as the father: following his line, "We had a baby," Tilden no
longer adds, "He did. Dodge did" (orig. 41 ). He did not, of course. Lies
serve to confuse, so Shepard omits them. With these omissions and the
new inclusions, the playwright makes plainer what he considered to be
"gratuitously mysterious" in the original text.
In addition to the clarification of the buried child's parentage,
Shepard uses the new text to make several major structural revisions to
the plot, to extend or adjust characterizations, and to enhance language,
themes, and imagery.
Stephanie Coen, "Things at Stake Here: An Interview with the Playwright,"
American Theatre, September 1996, 28.
Making the Grave Less Deep 61
Plot Revisions
In the most significant structural adjustment, Shepard delays until Act
Ill the revelation that Dodge murdered and buried a baby. The original
script has Tilden make that revelation in Act II to Shelly in no uncertain
terms: "Dodge killed it ... . Dodge drowned it .. .. He's the only one
who knows where it's buried" (orig. 41-42) . In the revision Ti I den
reveals only that the baby was "so small that nobody could find it. Just
disappeared. We had no service. No hymn" (rev. 47). He clearly
implies that the child is dead, and one might surmise a murder but there
is no clear statement of the terrible deed as previously. In the revised text
Tilden implicates Dodge to the extent that he is "the only one who
knows where it is" (rev. 47). No longer is there a direct statement in Act
II that the baby was buried. Believing that the child is dead, one might
logically assume so. Shepard also retains a simile from the original
edition that suggests a burial: "Like a secret buried treasure" (rev. 48).
By omitting this horrifying revelation in Act II, Shepard reduces the
dramatic impact of the Tilden-Shelly-Dodge scene. No longer does
Tilden spew forth a repetitive series of accusations about Dodge's actions;
no longer does he reveal anything about Bradley's role in trying to force
the truth out of Dodge. Twenty-two sentences, most of which are quite
short, were lost in the playwright's editing of Tilden's revelation. Dodge
still rises from the couch to silence Tilden, still collapses in a coughing
fit, and still falls silent. However, he has been successful in preventing
the now less forthcoming Tilden from telling Shelly the full secret.
In the opening scene of Act Ill, immediately prior to Halie's return
home, Shelly still asks Dodge about the information Tilden revealed to
her about a baby, but she is no longer asking for verification of "the
truth" (orig. 49). Instead she seeks clarification: "What was Tilden trying
to tell me last night?" (rev. 55) . Dodge continues to evade her questions
by focusing on the whereabouts of Tilden (who, even as they speak, is in
the back yard unearthing the corpse) .
When Shelly continues to prod about the family's secret, Dodge
works his way to a decision to tell her the unvarnished truth. Shepard
has added three sentences to Dodge's decision-making process: "(You'd
like to] look the beast right dead in the eye?"; "I wouldn't mind hearing
it hit the air after all these years of silence."; "I'd sooner tell it to the four
winds" (rev. 65). The playwright has also deleted three of Shelly's lines
expressing her newly found reluctance to hear the truth and two of
Bradley's lines, one casting aspersions on Dodge's memory and one
expressing frustration that Shelly has his wooden leg. Also edited out is
Dodge's response, "she's got your leg. (laughs) She's gonna keep your leg
too" (orig. 59)-a line that invites audience laughter. With these cuts,
Shepard presents Dodge's revelation in a more headlong manner without
interruptions from other characters or shifts in mood.
The text of the revelation itself remains unchanged with the excep-
tion of two minor deletions and the inclusion at the end of the speech of
three new sentences: "There was no struggle. No noise. Life just left it"
(rev. 67). Shepard also alters Shelly's response near the end of the story;
instead of saying, "so you killed him?", she says, "so you ... ?"(rev. 67).
Thus, with Shelly's new reticence and the elimination of Tilden's explicit
revelation in Act II, it is left to Dodge to actually name and claim his
crime: "I killed it" (rev. 67). Accordingly, the impact of the confession
is maximized. One might question, however, whether the new coda
adds to the impact of the moment. The speech originally ended with a
minimum of information: "I killed it. I drowned it. Just like the runt of
a litter. Just drowned it" (orig. 59). The three new lines focus on the
event itself and seemed designed to characterize the murder as-under
the circumstances-nonviolent: no struggle, no noise, life just leaving it.
Thus, the act itself may seem slightly less brutal and Dodge, slightly less
In addition to this change in the revelation of the murder, three other
areas of the script have undergone significant structural revision in terms
of additions, deletions, and rearrangements: Halie's monologue to
Dodge and Tilden as she descends the stairs, Vince and Shelly's entrance
scene on the porch, and Vince's decision to get Dodge a bottle.
Shepard has shortened Halie's lengthy monologue about Ansel and
has included more verbalized responses from Dodge and Tilden. In the
original version Halie spoke for two full pages with only Tilden's single
response, "Ful lback" (orig. 14), interjected into her ramblings. As
revised, Dodge scolds Tilden for this interjection (which has been
changed to "Halfback"-none of the men in this family are full or
whole): "Don't make a peep. Just let her babble" (rev. 1 7). Dodge
himself soon interjects "Bookoos" in response to Halie's revelry about
Ansel's potential for earning lot of money, "bookoos" being a reference
to Halie's earlier use of the word as related to her racetrack winnings. All
of these interjections serve primarily as laugh lines to bring comic relief
from Halie's endl ess droning.
Three more pointed interjections-all from Tilden-follow in the
second half of the monologue. Twice, as his mother waxes on about
Ansel's heroic stature, Tilden asks, "Ansel was a hero?" (rev.18). Later
when she recalls Ansel's wedding, Tilden interjects, "I don't remember
that. I must've been gone somewhere" (rev. 18). While there might be
some comic effect in Tilden's new responses, the major result is the
undermining of Halie's memories of Ansel and indeed of her grasp on
reality. The same schizophrenogenic mother who will soon be holding
Making the Grave Less Deep 63
an ear of corn in his face and telling him there is no corn, is now telling
him that his deceased brother was a hero. Tilden knows better. There
is corn. His brother is no hero.
In addition to breaking Halie's monologue up with these interjec-
tions, Shepard deletes 179 words from the end of the lengthy speech,
omitting the suggestive references to her assessment of Ansel's kiss and
her dislike (jealousy?) of his new bride. This cut is the most sizeable of
any that Shepard made in his revised text. The deletion removes not only
information and innuendo but also a shift in mood which turns Halie
introspective, angry, and melancholy. Those notes are lost in the wake
of a more streamlined scene. In addition, by making Halie's relationship
with Ansel less physically suggestive, Shepard decreases the possibility
that audience members will seize upon Ansel as a possible father for the
buried child.
Heavy editing of 115 words has also tightened the entrance of Vince
and Shelly at the top of Act II. The quantity of Shelly's laughing hysterics
has been reduced as has her elaboration on the idea that Vince's
childhood home looks picture-book perfect. One "Dick and Jane and
Spot" is enough; gone are references to Mom, Dad, Junior, Sissy, Tuffy,
Toto, Dooda, Bonzo, Mr. Marshall , and his pussycat. Without this
indulgence Shelly seems less silly-and perhaps less stoned. Also deleted
are two extended exchanges between Vince and Shelly: one a repetition
of his insistence that she pull herself together and the other a discussion,
undermined by another of Shelly's laughs, of what is "wrong" with Vince
in this situation. Nothing significant has been lost in these cuts, and an
overindulgent scene has been trimmed to a more manageable size.
Shepard not only has given Vince a number of new lines in Act II to
insist upon his being recognized, but also has sped up Vince's decision
to leave Shelly at the house while he goes out to buy a bottle of whiskey
for Dodge and to think. Shepard has cut thirteen lines from pages 35-37
of the original text and transferred several other speeches to new
locations. The result is a more linear progression for the scene.
Previously Vince says he'll get Dodge a bottle but then reiterates his
demand for recognition before going into the kitchen for the money.
Now once his frustration over not being recognized reaches its climax in
his "Boy! This is amazing" monologue (rev. 40), Vince is ready to go out
for a bottle, makes his case to Shelly, gets the money, and leaves.
Character Revisions
Many changes have also been made to enhance or reshape character-
izations. In the original script Father Dewis is first mentioned by Halie
in Act I on the pretext of a meeting about a commemoration for Ansel.
It is not until Act Ill, after Halie has been away all night and as she returns
in a completely different outfit, that Dewis emerges in a context other
than professional. Their flirtatious interactions heighten suspicions about
the sexual/romantic possibi I ities of the relationship. In his revision
Shepard has given Dodge a statement in Act II that clearly identifies
Father Dewis for the audience in advance of his appearance with Halie:
"Halie is out with her boyfriend. The Right Reverend Dewis. He's not
a breeder-man but a man of God" (rev. 32). Thus, the audience is no
longer surprised in Act Ill when Dewis and Halie enter arm in arm.
The additions that Shepard has made to Dewis' lines serve mainly to
highlight a trait already well established in the original version: that
Dewis is ineffectual in dealing with what he encounters at Halie's home.
Among the new lines that emphasize his helplessness are: " I' ve been so
busy with the choir"; "I'm in the quiet part of town"; "I'm completely at
a loss." He is at his most helpful when he now has advice to offer Halie
on keeping her roses fresh: "A little sugar sometimes helps" (rev. 62).
His exit I ines have been revised to eliminate the possibly comic "I just
came in for some tea" and to include a more extensive attempt to make
sense of the violence and devastation he has just witnessed: "I'm quite
out of my depths. I'll be the first to admit it. I thought, by now, the Lord
would have given me some sign, some guidepost, but I haven't seen it.
No sign at all . Just-" (rev. 72) . The minister-the pastoral father-is
helpless to the end.
While Shepard's revisions on Dewis extend what was previously
there, the playwright intensifies Bradley's weakness to the point of total
emasculation. The Act I additions show a loss of power. After falling
down as he enters by the porch door, Bradley now says, "Always some
obstacle!" (rev. 26)-a seemingly unnecessary verbalization of what the
fall itself conveys and what the actor can establish in subtext. Next, the
authoritative "What in the hell is this?" (orig. 22) has been replaced by:
"Corn. (Pause.) Harvest' s over, Pops" (orig. 26)-a more flip, more
contemporary Bradley rather than the one whom we have been led to
expect, the one who "doesn't like to see the house in disarray" (rev. 20).
In Act II Bradley loses two heartless lines about drowning Dodge,
presumably because Tilden no longer refers earlier in the act to Dodge's
drowning of the baby. Shepard has added a line for Bradley that seems
to spring not from any characterization but from the playwright's further
development of a motif: the lack of wholeness of the men in the family.
Bradley now refers to the collapsed Dodge, "When he was a whole man.
Full of himself" (rev. 49). So now Dodge is identified as not whole, just
as Bradley, with his one leg, was clearly identified by Halie as not being
a whole man in Act Ill. Even Tilden, in Shepard's revision, has become
a halfback rather than a fullback in his childhood memory.
Making the Grave Less Deep 65
In the new Act Ill Bradley suffers the most significant line losses, thus
diminishing his personal power, including: " ... I'm the only one in the
family who remembers ... And I' ll never tell you!"; "If I had my leg you
wouldn't be saying this. You'd never get away with it if I had my leg"; "If
I had my leg I'd rectify it! I'd rectify him all over the goddamn highway!
I'd pull his ears out if I could reach him!" Also deleted is the stage
direction which has Bradley sticking his fist through the screen porch in
an attempt to get at the bottle-wielding Vince. Vince is to be the
conqueror; it will be he not Bradley who makes the first penetration.
Instead of lines and actions of frustrated assertiveness and violence,
Bradley is given more lines about Shelly: "she's lying through her teeth";
"she's a devil, Mom"; "she's not my type"; "she's trying to torture me."
The net effect is an emasculation which leaves Bradley as a whiny,
unwanted mama's boy. His only power is over the stranded Shelly and
the easy-to-spook Tilden.
The character of Tilden, in the revision, is given a more definite past
in New Mexico with Vince naming his father's town, Bernalillo, and
Shelly identifying his home as a trailer. As revised, Tilden himself has
gained twice as many words as he has lost, with the most losses coming
from the heavily edited revelation scene. The additions serve to make
him a more aware, more articulate person. For example, he no longer
arrives at a dead end in his "It's a mystery to me" speech: "And I saw this
stand of corn. In fact I was standing in it. So, I was standing in it" (orig.
1 7). Instead of the repetitive last sentence, Shepard substitutes
"surrounded. It was over my head" (rev. 20). Likewise, when Dodge
asks him in Act I, "What's there to figure out?," his response is not the
one sentence "I don' t know" but eleven sentences full of memories,
observations, and images-all leading to his return (rev. 23).
The additions in Act II also show a more alert Tilden. In response to
Vince's question about Hal ie's whereabouts, he adds after "she left":
"Church or something. It's always church. God or jesus, or both" (rev.
36). Similarly when a frantically frustrated Vince leaves in Act II, Tilden
stops him with the question, "You drove all the way from New Mexico?"
(orig. 38). It is a pitifully funny, disturbingly cryptic communique in the
circumstances. As revised, Tilden now asks the same question but adds
a three-sentence reflection on his own driving across that "long, lonely
stretch of road" (rev. 43) .
One might question whether a more articulate Tilden is consistent
with Shepard's own stage directions that "something about him is
profoundly burned out and displaced" (rev. 13). Perhaps the dead ends,
the repetitions, and the crypt ic fragments are more consistent with other
actions and lines in Tilden's role. One might raise this concern in
particular about an addition to the Shelly-Tilden bonding scene in Act
11-an addition that seems to spring more from Shepard's own special
mythology than from Tilden's experience with driving:
I would drive through it and I would stop and I would look
around and I would see things sometimes. I would see things I
wasn't supposed to see. Like deer. Hawks. Owls. I would look
them in the eye and they would look back and I could tell I
wasn't supposed to be there by the way they looked at me. So
I'd drive on (rev. 46).
Perhaps imagistically Shepard is trying to link this memory to an added
line he has given Dodge about "looking the beast right dead in the eye"
when he tells the truth about murdering the baby (rev. 65). But how does
that relate to an experience Tilden had while driving in the desert? The
new lines suggest that man is out of sync with nature, yet with the return
of Vince, man victorious, comes the full abundance of nature in the form
of bumper crops.
No such character inconsistencies are evident in the revisions made
for Shelly; rather, they add I ittle to the characterization but serve other
ends. Six of her new lines serve to bolster Vince's increased insistence
that this is his home and that Tilden is his father. By giving Shelly and
Vince more lines expressing confusion over his not being recognized,
Shepard is trying to make the situation more rea.listic and more certain.
No longer does Shelly simply ask, "You're Vince's father, right?" She
adds as well, "His real father. I'm just asking" (rev. 37), thus making a
more concerted effort. After Vince's departure she now clearly sides with
Vince when she tells Tilden and Dodge, "I mean it's not really possible,
is it, that he's not related to you at all? ... He seems so sure about it"
(rev. 44). Even definite support for Vince comes from Shelly at the top of
Act Ill when she now reassures Dodge that Vince will return: "This is
where he's from. He knows that. He's convinced. And so am I" (rev.
Shepard has also added one factual detail to Shelly's vita: she is a
vegetarian. As such, she can reassure Tilden that she does indeed like
carrots. Her announcement of being a vegetarian also sets up a new
laugh tine for Dodge: "Hitler was a vegetarian" (rev.37). Being a
vegetarian also sets Shelly at odds with Dodge who knows that the world
is not only carnivorous but cannibalistic: "You never seen a bitch eat her
puppies" (rev. 55). Echoing the same cold perspective is a newly added
line for Dodge who warns against " laying down for a while" because
"They'll eat you alive"-in addition to stealing your bottle, cutting your
hair, and murdering your children (rev. 37-38).
Making the Grave less Deep 67
The playwright has made a major substitution for Shelly in her
speech after breaking a cup and saucer to get Halie's attention. She no
longer justifies her action by saying she has never li ked to be ignored.
Instead she says, " I am here! I am standing right in front of you. I am
breathing. I am speaking. I am alive! I exist. 00 YOU SEE ME?" (rev.
62) . Her rationale for receiving attention is less concerned with
individual psychology (not liking to be ignored) than with a central theme
of the play: recognition of the I iving in their current, immediate form.
Other revisions for Shelly also seem to stem more from a need to
reiterate themes, motifs, and images rather than to illuminate character.
For example, Shelly now gives her "scout's honor" to Vince that she' ll
control her laughter (rev. 29) . Being a Scout seems to be more a piece of
Shepard's Americana mosaic (along with Norman Rockwell, Dick and
Jane, apple pies and turkey dinners) than of Shelly's personal experience.
Similarly, Shelly no longer departs with a simple, personal , "Bye Vince."
She now adds, " I can' t hang around for this. I'm not even related" (rev.
72). In so doing, she, like the other outsider, Father Dewis, seems to be
distancing herself from this particular family. While the inclusion of the
two new lines does stir thematic reflection, it lacks the economy and the
dramatic impact of "Bye Vince."
Three additions in Act Ill are problematic in various ways. At the
opening of the act, Shelly reassures Dodge of Vince's return: "He'll be
back." Now she adds, "He always comes back" (rev. 51). If this is meant
to be a fact about their personal relationship, one wonders under what
conditions has Vince left her overnight in the past. Perhaps again we find
the playwright using the character for thematic purposes to suggest that
inevitably the son returns to claim his birthright. A seemingly unneces-
sary addition comes on the next page when Shelly, rather than simply
saying she was "just scared the night before," now states, " It was your
son, Bradley. He scared me" (rev. 53) . Certainly that should be evident
in light of Bradley' s actions at the end of Act II; certainly any capable
actress can play the subtext without needing to state the name. A thi rd
Ad Ill addition also seems unnecessary. Now after scolding Bradley w ith
"You stuck your hand in my mouth and you call me a prostitute!", she
adds, "What kind of weird fucked-up yo-yo are you?" (rev. 62). The
diction is awkward; the effect, jarring; the humor, muddied; the purpose,
As with Shelly, Halie undergoes no real change or even sharpeni ng
of character as a result of the revisions-other than the i mpact of losing
179 words of suggestive musing on the newlywed Ansel. Many of the
additions to her lines seem to be actual or synonymous repetitions of
already existing lines. Two added lines show anew how protective she
is of Tilden: "We don't want to lose him" (rev. 22) and " He wanders.
You know how he wanders" (rev. 62). Her dislike for Bradley is more
pronounced in several additions, including the barbed "Especially when
one's own shortcomings are so apparent" (rev. 59). She calls Bradley's
behavior shameful and complains of his whining.
Shepard makes two adjustments to Halie's lines in which the
revisions are the exact opposite of the originals. Instead of saying, "It's
no wonder people turn to Christ," Halie now says, "It's no wonder
people have turned their back on jesus" (rev. 13). In response to Dodge's
cynical comments, the revision seems more appropriate. Halie's next
line undergoes a similar reversal: "It's no wonder the messengers of
God' s word are shouted down in public places" becomes" .. . shouting
louder now than ever before" (rev. 13). While suffering the largest block
of cut lines, Halie is also given some of the least significant additions.
Many of Dodge's newly added lines are sarcastic barbs which invite
laughs: "You betcha a breeder man"; "scream. Men don't scream";
"Just let her babble"; "Crazy. Crazy, crazy, crazy"; "Like chalk and
cheese"-among others. Buried Child has always been a play that, when
properly directed, has a great deal of character comedy, with Dodge
always drawing the majority of the laughs. The revisions by Shepard (and
as directed by Gary Sinese and played by James Gannon in the
Steppenwolf production) significantly increase the comic impact, making
it less likely that a misguided director will darken the play too much.
However, one might question what impact the increased comedy has on
the audience's perception of Dodge once the truth comes out. Does the
loveability of that irascible old curmudgeon who has made us laugh so
often mitigate the guilt he must own for a horrifying act, regardless of the
circumstances of the child's birth?
Some of the lines added for Dodge show his flair for colorful word
choices: "The boondocks" (characterizing the location of their farm);
"for a little soiree" (in guessing Halie's purpose for going out in the rain);
"she's absconded" (also of Hal ie); and "she's a pistol, isn't she?" (of
Shelly). A number of the additions also further establish his propensity
for using cliches (perhaps to root him in the linguistic soil of midwestern
Americana): "a red cent to his name," "a smart cookie," "ready to jump
ship," "running off at the mouth," "fair and square," "sure as shooting."
Particularly with the revisions to Dodge, Shepard has made some
decisions that seem to alter the quality of the language. For example, in
the original version, the opening dialogue between Dodge on the sofa
and Halie offstage upstairs had a Pinteresque quality filled with repeti-
tions, with Dodge answering "No" to a question and having to repeat the
same "No" louder because Halie could not hear him. The same
repetitive pattern occurred with both "They don't race on Sundays" and
"All right" (stated three times in a row) . As revised none of these direct
Making the Grave Less Deep 69
repetitions are retained. To Dodge's second "No" is added the redun-
dant "I'm not watching baseball" (rev. 8). "They don'race here on
Sundays" is now his first response to Halie, followed by the same line
without the here. The second "All right" is now followed by the
redundant "I'll ask Tilden" and the third is eliminated altogether and
replaced with a laugh line, "scream? Men don't scream" (rev. 11). With
the additions to Dodge's speeches, as with those of the other characters,
the speech rhythms of the original often seem to be broken.
In addition, one might question the linguistic value of some of the
substituted words or phrases Shepard has given Dodge. For example,
Dodge no longer suggests to Shelly that she give him "a little massage,"
but rather "a little backrub" (rev. 52). Massage is a more suggestive word
choice and a more musical word for an actor to play with. In addition,
backrub simply does not match with the adjective little as well as
massage does. As another example of less effective substitutions, Shepard
no longer has Dodge scold Halie for making Tilden cry when she
confronts him about the corn: "Why'd you have to go and tell him that?"
(orig. 17). That line is a simple, strong challenge. Now, instead, Dodge
says, "Why'd you have to go and threaten him with expulsion?" (rev. 20)
Again the rhythm is clumsy. The new line seems inappropriate for the
character of Dodge responding immediately in the moment. It sounds
more like a distanced, omniscient third party speaking-perhaps the
One of the most highly acclaimed passages in the play, Dodge's
"will" speech in Act Ill, has undergone significant editing at a great
sacrifice to the power of its poetry. No longer included in the will are:
the shed and gasoline powered equipment (tractor, dozer, hand tiller plus
attachments and riggings-namely spring tooth harrow, deep plows, disk
plows, automatic fertilizing equipment, reapers, swathe, seeder, John
Deere Harvester), post hole digger, jackhammer, lathe, hinges, cattle
gates, barbed wire, self-tapping augers, and horse hair ropes. Twenty
three items have been deleted while twenty-eight remain, thus maintain-
ing some of the poetry but losing in particular the implements that tilled
the earth and harvested the crops-the very images that dominate Buried
On the positive side, the elimination does streamline the scene and
reduce the amount of time that Vince and Bradley play chase with the
artificial leg. It also seems that with a funnier characterization of Dodge,
audiences would expect more of the same in Act Ill and thereby find
humor in Dodge's legalistic word choices and in the excessive details of
his I ist. A shorter wi II sti II allows some humor, but an overall darker tone
seems more consistent with Dodge's elegiac wish for cremation.
In the interview in American Theatre, Shepard acknowledges that his
earlier version gave greater focus to Dodge because Dodge was "a lot
more fun" than Vince. The playwright says that the major accomplish-
. ment for him in his revision was deeper exploration and better under-
standing of Vince, thus making his predicament "clearer in retrospect."
While Vince's line load has certainly increased, so has Dodge's. Shepard
gives Dodge over 500 new words of dialogue and removes some 250 (a
fifth of them in the will); Vince gets 761 new words and loses nearly 300.
It should also be noted that a lot of Dodge's new lines serve to increase
the fun of the character, thereby increasing audience appeal. If Shepard
had wanted to significantly shift focus to Vince, perhaps he could have
done less to enhance and enlarge Dodge's role.
Additionally, in analyzing Vince's new lines, it should be noted that
many of them are variations of lines in the original Buried Child, most of
which in some way demand an answer to the questions: "Why don't you
recognize me? What's the problem here?" These are perfectly valid
questions for Vince to be obsessed with. If one is to believe Vince at the
top of Act II when neither his grandfather nor his father recognize him,
one must believe that the character is flabbergasted at not being
recognized. While the original Vince was insistent about his identity, he
had a number of short responses and many long periods of silence. Now
by increasing his line load, Shepard makes him persistent and adamant.
Among Vince's new lines are: "You've got to remember me"; "Of
course he knows who I am. . . . I don't know what's happened here,
but-"; "Grandpa, look-look at me for a second. Try to remember my
face"; "I can't believe you don't recognize me. I just can't believe it. It
wasn't that long ago"; "He is my grandpa! .... He always will be my
grandpa." All these new lines come prior to Tilden's entrance in Act II.
After Tilden enters, Vince is given thirteen additional new lines express-
ing variations of these same concerns.
One new tactic that Shepard uses to establish for the audience the
validity of Vince's claim is the inclusion of a memory about a big family
reunion and dinner. He recalled that Dodge and Bradley were making
fun of Tilden's fastball-names and activities that clearly link Vince to this
family. When Shelly suggests that they are at the wrong address, Vince
still says he recognizes the yard then adds: "The porch. The elm tree.
The house. I was standing right here in this house. Right in this very
spot" (rev. 34). Details are also added to the childhood tricks Vince tries
to recreate to jar Tilden's and Dodge's memories. After bending his
thumb behind his knuckles, Vince reminds Dodge that he had warned his
Coen, 28.
Making the Grave Less Deep 71
grandson, "one day it would get stuck like this and I' d never be able to
throw a baseball" (rev. 39)-again the use of baseball lends support to
Vince's claim. After "playing piano on his teeth," he reminds Tilden of
the names of two specific songs that he once played. Vince reiterates his
reiterations: "It's the same old me. Same old dependable me. Never
change. Never alter one iota" (rev. 40).
As revised, Vince demonstrates even more annoyance toward Shelly
as she copes with Dodge and Tilden. Five times Shepard has added
"Shelly!" as a line of rebuke, particularly in response to her involvement
with Tilden in peeling carrots. The repeated "Shelly!" serves to heighten
his frustration at her not dealing with the situation as he wishes: "The
carrots aren't going to help. The carrots have nothing to do with the
situation here" (rev. 38). The failure of his relentless pursuit for recogni-
tion from Tilden and Dodge and for cooperation from Shelly again leads
to his "Boy! This is amazing!" monologue, but gone are his references to
a time warp, to an unpardonable offense, to not being married or
divorced, and even to plunging "into sinful infatuation with the Alto
Saxophone" (that cut must have been painful for Shepard since the
saxophone is part of his iconology). Instead Vince speculates on having
been banished, on "betray[ing] some secret ancient family taboo, way
back when" (rev. 40). Several deletions of exchanges between Vince and
Shelly at this point in the action result in a more straightforward decision
on Vince's part to leave. Also deleted is Vince's final exchange seeking
reassurance from Shelly that she'll be all right while he is away. His need
to get out of the house pushes his concern for her aside.
As he exits, rather than a simple stare and shake of his head, Vince
now responds verbally: " ... while I'm gone, try to remember who I am.
Try real hard to remember. Use your imagination. It might suddenly
come back to you. In a flash" (rev. 43). The question remains whether
the increased quantity of Vince's lines clarifies that characterization in
any significant way-or does it present the actor playing Vince with the
challenge of finding fifty different ways to play the same intention?
The new lines Shepard provides for Vince in Act Ill are more clearly
focused on thematic concerns of the play and less on Vince's being
wildly imaginative in his terrorization of the family. Deletions include:
"I'm the Midnight Strangler!"; "Maybe I should come in there and break
them!"; "Our lines have been penetrated!"; "such a sweet young thing
too"; and "Off limits! Verboten!" The additions include more of Vince's
pretending not to recognize his grandparents: "Who's speaking? Whose
voice is that?" (rev. 68). When Dodge responds that it is his grandfather,
Vince plays with the concept: "Grandfather? You mean the father of my
father? The son of my great-grandfather? That one? When did this
start?" (rev. 68). Vince also unknowingly strikes directly at his family's
secret crime in his response to Halie's suggesting that she thought he was
a murderer when he broke through the door: "A murderer is a living
breathing person who takes the life and breath away from another living
breathing person. That's a murderer. You've got me mixed up with
someone else" (rev. 68). The real murderer, Dodge, is only a few yards
In addition to his revisions in plot and character, Shepard also has
made additions and substitutions that affect the language and imagery of
the play. The main result of these revisions is a repetition of language
already in the play and a reiteration of imagery already explored: "flesh
and blood," standing, breathing, smells, independence, identity,
outsiders, and burial. He also creates an interesting "echo" effect by
having characters now repeat words and phrases used by other characters
elsewhere in the play.
Final Assessment
If a real work of art is supposed to be greater than the sum of its parts,
have the revisions to Buried Child increased its sum? The answer is no.
Indeed, it could be argued that the sum is now less, mainly because
Shepard's new clarifications have thrown light onto the question of the
paternity of the "buried child" when the question may have been richer
in the shadows of ambiguity. The new text does offer several revisions
that one may appreciate: the editing of Halie's long monologue and of
Vince and Shelly's entrance on the porch, the more tightly focused Vince
in Act II, and (for some) the delay in releasing the fact of the infanticide
and burial until Act Ill as the climax of Dodge's confession. While these
revisions may have resulted in some additional clarity, many will miss the
material that has been edited. The many revisions in characterization
have little significant impact, with only Vince coming out ahead, but not
by much. Bradley in particular suffers in the revised text, becoming less
of a menace and more of a flip whiner. Tilden does not need to be more
aware and articulate, nor does Dodge need to be funnier. The changes
given to Halie and Shelly seem less related to these characters than to the
playwright's themes. Other revisions in language and imagery often
enrich the play's themes, but these themes were already rich to begin
with. In the final analysis, the revisions do not have any significant
impact on what has always made Buried Child work so well. If the
corpse is not buried as deeply, it is sti II buried and its incestuous origins
and terrifying murder remain the dramatic truths of the play.
journal of American Drama and Theatre 9 (Fall 199 7)
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence
At the time of the Republican sweep of the 1994 Congressional
elections, Newt Gingrich, the new Speaker of the House of Representa-
tives, claimed that the "American people are clearly fed up with what
they see as the decay of American society."
Gingrich blamed what he
perceived to be the decline of the preceding thirty years on "left wing
elitists" and "counterculture McGovernicks." In his AIDS memoir, Close
to the Knives (1991), David Wojnarowicz exclaims: "WHEN I WAS
Despite the opposed political stances of these two men, both
comments rely on a metaphor of morbidity in the body politic that is a
commonplace of political philosophy. Edmund Burke, for example,
Our political system is ... a permanent body composed of
transitory parts; wherein, by the disposition of a stupendous
This paper is dedicated to Frank Weatherford, who has wrestled with the angel.
An earli er version of this essay was presented as part of a panel, The Postmodern
Apocalypse: The Millennium in Walter Benjamin and Tony Kushner, organized by
Daniel Boyarin for the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association in
Chicago, 28 December 1996.
I would like to thank Professor Lori Clark for her help in developi ng this essay
and to Trent University for the award of a Faculty Research Fellowship in 1994-1995,
which gave me time to write. I am especially grateful in view of the fact that, for
budgetary reasons, the Fellowship program has subsequently been canceled.
Maureen Dowd, " G. 0 . P.'s Ri si ng Star Pledges to Right Wrongs of the Left,"
New York Times, 10 November 1994, B3.
David Wojnarowicz, Cl ose to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration (New
York: Vintage Books, 1991), 114.
wisdom, moulding together the great mysterious incorporation
of the human race, the whole, at one time, is never old, or
middle-aged, or young, but in a condition of unchangeable
constancy, moves on through the varied tenor of perpetual
decay, fall , renovation, and progression.
In this sub I imating presentation, decay does not imply decadence since,
within the limits of constitutional monarchy and an established Protestant
religion, it occurs within an organic entity whose overall equilibrium
remains intact.
The analogy of "incorporation" upon which Burke relies refers to
plant life.
But when he turns to the political order of post-revolutionary
France, the bodily metaphor becomes that of a diseased female prostitute:
All other people have laid the foundations of civil freedom in
severer manners, and a system of a more austere and masculine
morality. France, when she let loose the reins of regal authority,
doubled the license of a ferocious dissoluteness in manners, and
of an insolent irreligion in opinions and practices; and has
extended through all ranks of life, as if she were communicating
some privilege, or laying open some secluded benefit, all the
unhappy corruptions that usually were the disease of wealth and
At this point, Burke's vision may be described as at once decadent and
apocalyptic. The novelty of conditions in France destroy the country's
living connection with its past. Forfeiting Christian belief as well, France
becomes subject to Divine wrath. As in the Revelation of St. john,
revolutionary I iberty represents the prophesied advent of the Whore of
As spectres of cultural memory and conscious figurations of
right-wing polemic, these tropes continue to haunt the representation of
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Buffalo: Prometheus
Books, 1987), 38.
Burke, 35.
Burke, 42.
Mary Wilson Carpenter, "Representing Apocalypse: Sexual Politics and the
Violence of Revelation," Postmodern Apocalypse: Theory and Cultural Practice at the
End, New Cultural Studies Series (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 75
gay men such as Wojnarowicz who are infected with the HIV virus.
They are made thereby into figures of the onset of the complete dissolu-
tion of secular and rei igious order.
Somewhat paradoxically, the trope of decadence belongs yet more
explicitly to classical republican political theory and its liberal democratic
descendants. Burke was a conservative Whig, who defended the existing
British constitution. Like him, republican theorists such as N iccolo
Machiavelli, Jean Sismondi, and James Madison customarily rely on the
analogy of the "social body" to refer to civil society.
But while the
constitution and preservation of this body are their objects, their attention
more often focuses on the infections that threaten it. In this essay, I focus
on two issues within republican theory-namely, the threat of i nfection
posed by male effeminacy and the threat posed by fact ional politics-as
both are restaged in Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Kushner's play
participates in while attempting to redirect current debates.
There is a long tradition within Anglo-American political theory of
formulating major issues within aesthetic contexts-from which they then
migrate to specifically political ones.
In the Reflections, Burke uses
theatrical metaphors to speak about events in France;
but he doesn't
stop there. He also suggests that his readE;!rs should attempt to imagine
the Revolution as though it were an Aristotelian tragedy. Why? because,
according to Burke, a theatrical representation of pol it ical scenes can
communicate moral truths with an intuitive directness missing from
reports in the press.
John Charles Leonard de Sismondi, Italian Republics: or the Origin, Progress,
and Fall of Italian Freedom, a new edi tion (Paris: A. and W. Galignani and Co., 1841),
3. J. G. A. Pocock establishes the context within this tradi tion of political theory in
the United States of the Federal period; see The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine
Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Pri nceton: Princeton
University Press, 1975), 462-552 .
1n addition to the immediate contexts in current cul tural politics, Kushner is
familiar with these terms and with the theorists whom I mention, especially Freud and
Marx, as a result of his experience while an undergraduate at Columbia University
(Arthur Lubow, "Tony Kushner's Paradise Lost, " New Yorker 30 November 1992, 61).
This is the topic, for example, of joseph Childers's study, Novel Possibilities:
Fict ion and the Formation of Early Victorian Culture (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1995).
Burke, 14.
B urke, 85-86.
Many of those who have seen Angels in America in the theatre have
responded with a sense of spontaneous conviction to Kushner's defense
of claims by gay men and women to equal rights under the law. Yet
working within the theatre also exposes Kushner to critici sm since, within
rep ubi ican theory, aesthetic practice traditionally has been regarded as
a cause and effect of decadence. For example, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
argues that primitive manners were corrupted by the invention of song
and dance.
Michael Warner points out that, in a classic essay from the
early years of the Ameri can republic, Fisher Ames argued that the
development of artistic genius will be one effect of the decline of the
republic into a two-class society: "After some ages we shall have many
poor and a few rich, many grossly ignorant, a considerable number
learned, and a few eminently learned. Nature, never prodigal of her gifts,
will produce some men of genius, who will be admi red and imitated."
As an artist working in the theatre, Kushner opens himself to similar
criticism-as he does by emphasizing the Jewish identity that he shares
with Roy Cohn, the villain of the piece, and the gay identity that he
shares with Prior Walter.
For Ames, the emergence of artistic genius signifies a deadening
In debates over the definition of citizenship and the republic,
the effeminatus or devirilized man is an especially charged figure. For
Machiavelli and Rousseau, he signifies the " luxury" and "corruption"
that threaten the very existence of the Republic.
Often this figure is
mobilized within a trope of political sodomy, the exchange of favors,
usually between an older and a younger man, in political or other
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755), in Basic
Political Writings (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1987), 64.
Michael Warner, The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public
Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990),
147, 148.
1n his childhood, Kushner was "mesmerized" by the "venal l ittle monster
by . . . [Senator M cCarthy's] side, a Jew and a queer." Lubow says, "Writing the
character of Cohn offered Kushner what he calls 'a mal iciously exuberant expression
of my own dark side. I think I have a great deal of self-hatred, a profound feeling of
fraudulence, of being detestable and evil. It' s only part of me, but it's there, and i t's
act ive" (60).
Warner, 147.
Linda Dowling, Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1994), 8.
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 77
privileged circles.
Sodomy in this context may be metaphorical; but it
can also be literal.
In contrast to the effeminatus, classic republ ican
theory poses the figure of the citizen-warrior, upon whose virtue the
welfare of the republic depends. As both Machiavelli and Friedrich
Nietzsche note, however, this antithesis is problematic since, as
Machiavelli argues, republics tend to become expansive military states or
empires, a tendency that, in turn, renders them subject to dissolution as
a result of internal faction. For his part, Nietzsche argues that masculine
strength, contrary to theory, produces not progress but stasis-ultimately,
death-the end, both decadent and apocalyptic, that Prior Walter refuses
in Angels in America.
Republican Effeminacy
Kushner turns the rhetoric of effeminate degeneracy against men such
as President Ronald Reagan and, in particular, Roy Cohn, the play's
negati ve protagonist.
Chief Counsel of the Senate Investigating
Committee of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s, Cohn became
a powerful political insider in New York City and Washington until his
death in August 1986 . .In classic republican discourse, the devirilized
man or effeminatus has a special place as signifier within a corrupt
political system. The use of this type today, in order to target men who
fall short of an imaginary standard of masculine adequacy, has implica-
tions that are particularly negative for gay men, even more so those with
HIV-infection. Kushner inverts the customary allegation of effeminacy
made against them by suggesting that it is political wheelers and dealers
who are, soi disant, the real effeminates. Adapting the reversal of gender
that characterizes Nietzsche's philosophy of decadence, Kushner reverses
decadent stereotypes. With the Spartan military man in mind, Nietzsche
Cf. Lee Edelman, Homographesis: Essa ys in Cay Literary and Cultural Theory
(New York: Routledge, 1994), 129-137.
See, for example, Linda Dowling, Helleni sm and Homosexuality in Victorian
Oxford (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 9n. See also Jonathan Goldberg,
Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 1992), chapter 4; and Rousseau, 64-65.
Jonathan Freedman, in a compelling study, has demonstrated the extent to
which Kushner's representation of Cohn draws on tradit ional stereotypes of Jewish
conspiracy and power. However, in emphasizing Kushner' s ambivalence about
Jewish identity, Freedman overl ooks the significance of Cohn as a fi gure of
R/republican decline. ("Monsters, Angels, and Jews," panel, The Postmodern
Apocalypse: The Millennium in Walter Benjamin and Tony Kushner, annual meeting,
Modern Language Association, Chicago, December 28, 1996.)
argues that the virtues of the strong man, far from enabling progress, lead
to inertia and, eventually, death. He contends that it is the existence of
weak and hysterical personality types that makes possible the forward
movement of the human race. Effeminacy, then, though it denotes
decadence within republican theory, in Nietzsche's fin de siecle view is
necessary to human regeneration.
Within classical republican discourse, the representation of male
sodomy figures the general corruption of the commonwealth by
A sodomite may be a giver or receiver in anal intercourse;
alternatively, a sodomite may give or receive political favors. The
significations are reversible. Opposed to this term in republican theory
is that of "the virtus or virility" of the male citizenY Kushner operates
within this tradition in making Cohn one of the two leading figures in the
Political sodomy is a tautology for Cohn although his words are
different, describing the exchange of benefits in a mentor-protege
relationship as the practice of "loyalty." In Cohn's autobiography,
"disloyalty" is the leading term of abuse. Interestingly, these are the
same two words that he and McCarthy used to intimidate those under
investigation. Witnesses were compelled to submit to loyalty oaths and,
at times, to disavow the "disloyalty" with which they had formerly
worked on behalf of the anti-Franco forces in Spain, blue-collar workers,
the unemployed, or African Americans at home.
Dowling, xv, 9n.
Dowling, xv.
At least for this viewer, Ron Leibman's performance in the New York
production drives the action of Millennium Approaches as much as Richard Ill's in
Shakespeare' s play. Leibman next appeared on the New York stage as Shylock in The
Merchant of Venice at the Public Theatre early in 1995. Brent Carver, the Canadian
actor who received a Tony award in 1993 for his role as Molina, the homosexual
window-dresser in the U.S.-Canadian production of Kiss of the Spider Woman,
followed up with appearances as Cyrano de Bergerac and Richard Ill in productions
at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta.
Ross Posnock's unconvincing proposal that Kushner's Cohn should be regarded
as an exemplar of "postmodern heroism" ignores the obvious linkage between
Kushner's play and classic villains in Shakespeare (Ross Posnock, "Roy Cohn in
America, " Raritan, 13 [Winter 1994]: 77). As the connection suggests, monstrosity
such as Cohn's, far from being novel , is the opposite face of the humanist coin.
Posnock also ignores the fact that Cohn's machinations are politics as usual-writ
large. (For the latter view see "King Cohn, " unsigned editorial, The Nation, 5/12 July
1986, 4-5; and William A. Reuben and Alexander Cockburn, "Why Roy Cohn Was
Disbarred," The Nation, 19/26 July 1986, 33, 48-51) .
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 79
In the context of the autobiography, the disloyalty of those under
investigation exists in having disavowed Cohn's identification of
governance with a system of personal favors. In choosing Cohn as a
subject, Kushner makes the disturbing but necessary acknowledgment of
the place of male-male desire within an oligarchic order. For Cohn, it is
the ability to represent the exercise of power-in dramaturgical terms, by
means of the "very elaborate phone system" (MA, 11) of scene two-that
constitutes political representation.
In the phrase of Daniel Fischlin,
based on a formulation made familiar by Michel Foucault in The Order
of Things, the "representivity of representation" validates what might
otherwise be characterized as Cohn's abuse of power.
Political sodomy does not have to be literal, but Cohn came to assert
it in a defiant display of sexual dominance that likewise validated his
"clout" (MA, 45). Sidney Zion, who collaborated on the autobiography,
mentions that when they first met to discuss the book, Cohn "showed up
an hour late, which was par, and with his boy friend, also par."
always denied he was gay, but Zion says: "He lived in a closet that was
the oddest in history-a closet with neon lights-but he maintained it
fiercely ... . The public didn't know he was homosexual until the end,
when Jack Anderson broke the hospital records that showed AIDS."
Cohn's double-think is not so mystifying if one thinks in the terms I have
just described. Cohn asserts the virile normalcy of the giver in sex-
ual/political sodomy. In a scene in Part One, he explains to his doctor
why he is not a homosexual-and therefore cannot have AIDS-despite
the fact that he has sex with men:
All labels ... tell you one thing and one thing only: where does
an individual so identified fit in the food chain, in the pecking
order? Not ideology, or sexual taste, but something much
1 use the abbreviation MA and P, respectively, to refer to the two parts ofT ony
Kushner' s Angels in America: A Cay Fantasia on National Themes, Part One:
Millennium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika (New York: Theatre
Communications Group, 1993 and 1994, respectively) .
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences
(1970; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 65; Daniel Fischlin, '"The Sovereignty
of Words' : The Sovereign's Body, Absolute Power, and the Disintegrating Text,"
conference, Michel Foucault and Literature, University ofT oronto, 15 October 1994.
Sidney Zion, The Autobiography of Roy Cohn (Secaucus, N.J.: Lyle Stuart Inc. ,
1988), 9.
Zion, 12.
simpler: clout. Not who I fuck or who fucks me, but who will
pick up the phone when I call, who owes me favors. This is
what a label refers to. Now to someone who does not under-
stand this, homosexual is what I am because I have sex with
men. But really this is wrong. Homosexuals are not men who
sleep with other men. Homosexuals are men who in fifteen
years of trying cannot get a pissant antidiscrimination bill
through City Council. Homosexuals are men who know nobody
and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout. Does this
sound like me, Henry? (MA, 45)
But Cohn protests too much. Affirming that he is a fucker, he confesses
he may be a fuckee. Moreover, in the autobiography he points out that,
as a young man, he was repeatedly the beneficiary of much older
This dependency rendered him an effeminatus, the young
male (un)made by political/sexual sodomy.
Cohn compensates for his dependence by proclaiming the virtue of
"loyalty" in political patronage and by the flamboyant display of his
social and (sexual) power over younger men. If Cohn is a sodomite, he
is a masculine sodomite, even when he is the receiver in anal intercourse.
Cohn turns these scenes into performances of family romance. He sees
himself as the "son" of his prime mentor, Joe McCarthy: " He valued me
because I am a good lawyer, but he loved me because I was and I am a
good son in a continuing series. He was a very difficult man, very
guarded and cagey; I brought out something tender in him. He would
have died for me. And me for him." (MA, 56). In Part Two of Angels in
America, Cohn attempts to enlist Joe as his son in a continuing series (P,
82). Cohn and McCarthy became celebrities by accusing others of
Zion, 84-86.
" The effeminatus in classical republican theory is ... a composite or protean
figure, the empty or negat ive symbol at once of civic enfeeblement and of the
monstrous self-absorption that becomes visible in a society at just the moment at
which ... private interest has begun to prevail against those things that concern the
public welfare" (Dowling, 8).
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 81
political treason and sexual perversion.
They presented themselves as
signal examples of the male citizen-warrior upon whose bravery the very
survival of the city depended. It is this culturally archaic, Greek model
that gave the Army hearings of the Senate Investigating Committee their
extraordinary symbolic hold on the popular imagination. For what
McCarthy and Cohn proposed to do was to protect the Army from being
perverted. The situation of these two men-in the heyday of the Cold
War and at a time when the dominance of the United States was most
pronounced-placed them at the cusp of American history. Yet
McCarthy's attacks on World War II heroes such as General Ralph
Swicker sent a confusing message to listeners. If the Army was the chief
bulwark against Communist expansion, how could attacks on it for being
soft on Communists be patriotic? The Army embodied patriotism, and
the former Commander in Chief, Dwight Eisenhower, was the new
resident of the White House. McCarthy's attack on the Army dictated the
need for moderate Republicans (in concert with Democrats) to take him
down. None of this would have surprised Machiavelli, who contends
that civic virtue is necessarily compromised by the same imperial
expansion that it requires.
America's post-War ascendancy created the stage for McCarthy and
Cohn; it also dictated that their corruption would lead to their defeat.
The moment of this fall occurred during the Army-McCarthy hearings of
1954, when Cohn, while serving as chief counsel of the committee, was
subjected to extensive cross examination on the basis of allegations that
he and McCarthy had pressured the Army to give preferential treatment
to a young man named G. David Schine-a close friend of Cohn and
another of McCarthy's proteges. In the allegation, the terms of sexual and
Seejohn D'Emilio, "The Homosexual Menace: The Politics of Sexuality in Cold
War America," in Passion and Power: Sexuality in History, ed. Kathy Peiss, Christina
Simmons, and Robert A. Padgug (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989), 226-
240; Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in
the United States, 1940-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); Robert
j. Corber, In the Name of National Security: Hitchcock, Homophobia, and the
Political Construction of Gender in Postwar America (Durham: Duke University Press,
1993); and David Savran, Communists, Cowboys, and Queers: The Politics of
Masculinity in the Work of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1992).
Maurizio Viroli, "Machiavelli and the Republican Idea of Politics," in
Machiavelli and Republicanism, ed. by Gisela Bock, Quentin Skinner, and Maurizio
Viroli (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 157-161.
political sodomy coalesce since word on the Hill was that Cohn and
Schine were fuck buddies.
"Senator, may we not drop this? Let us not assassinate this lad
further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency,
sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?"
This riposte, from
Army counsel Joseph Welch, destroyed McCarthy. The "lad" in question
was Fred Fisher,
a young Harvard Law School man who worked at Welch's Hale
and Dorr firm in Boston. Fisher had been a member of the
National Lawyers Guild, an organization on the Attorney
General's list as a Communist front. This may not have been fair
to the National Lawyers Guild, but in 1954 knowledge of such
a connection could make it next to impossible for a person to
earn a living.
In yet another permutation of Washington deal-making, Welch had
provided Cohn with this information in exchange for a pledge not to
make use of it during the hearings. On 9 June 1954, McCarthy, provoked
by Welch's needling of Cohn, interrupted cross examination to allege, on
nationwide television, that Welch had a "young man" in his law firm
who was a member of a "Communist organization." Welch pounced,
and McCarthy was finished. McCarthy had intervened in order, as Cohn
contends, to "protect" him.
In the event, the attempt was McCarthy's
undoing. In a contest of loyalties, Welch's loyalty to his protege
outmatched McCarthy's to Cohn. And what about Cohn's loyalty to his
mentor? Cohn's reckless harassment of Army officials to secure favors for
Schine provoked the Army-McCarthy hearings, during which McCarthy
met his nemesis. Moreover, Cohn concedes that in the succeeding days
Nicholas von Hoffman, Citizen Cohn (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 188-190;
229- 231 . McCarthy was an alcoholic not a homosexual (176). Although Roy may
have had a crush on Schine, Murray Kempton believes that Schine was straight
(quoted in Von Hoffman, 189-190).
Quoted in Von Hoffman, 237.
Von Hoffman, 236.
Zion, 145.
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 83
he and others close to McCarthy let him hang himself on television
without intervening to save him from himself.
In Angels in America, Kushner conflates McCarthy and Cohn's
republicanism with that of the Reagan years. The independent self-
reliance of the traditional farmer/citizen/soldier has been transformed into
the rampant pursuit of desire, whether political or otherwise. Inverting
the traditional opposition between virile citizen and the "luxury" and
"corruption" of political patronage, Kushner projects onto Roy and joe
the "mere personal egoism or self-interest" traditionally condemned by
republican theorists.
When Roy urges joe to leave his wife to go to
Washington, for example, he says: "You do what you need to do, joe.
What you need. You. Let her life go where it wants to go. You'll both
be better for that. Somebody should get what they want" (MA, 54).
Machiavelli sees the degeneration of the city-state as part of a
"cyclical history" that includes the possibility "of the last-minute moral
regeneration of a society otherwise rolling to the brink of destruction."
Kushner satirizes the parodic invocation of this possibility in the "Good
Morning, America" theme of Reagan's campaign for a second term.
Trying to persuade Harper to go to Washington with him, joe waxes
America has rediscovered itself. Its sacred pos1t1on among
nations. And people aren't ashamed of that like they used to be.
This is a great thing. The truth restored. Law restored. That's
what President Reagan's done, Harper. He says "Truth exists
and can be spoken proudly". . . . I mean, six years ago the
world seemed in decline, horrible, hopeless, full of unsolvable
problems and crime and confusion and hunger and ... . (MA,
This awakening, however, is a mirage. The true image of the body politic
of these years is Roy Cohn's AIDS-wracked body, spilling HIV-infected
body fluids onto Joe in Perestroika. The atavistic image of the Sovereign's
Zion, 149.
Dowli ng, 5, 7. Similarly Karl Marx projects the vice of "egoism" onto Jews.
I discuss the implications of the allegation in " Judaism, Sodom, and Genealogical
Inheritance," a l ecture delivered at Brown University on 7 November 1996.
Dowling, 5.
body, which once incorporated the well-being of the entire community,
occupies the stage in Roy's monstrous, pathetic guise.
Routes of Desire
Kushner poses against the narrative of national decline an apocalyptic
counternarrative of perverse desire. Having represented political
sodomy, he faces the question whether it is possible to represent relations
of male-male desire that can enable rather than corrupt the body politic.
Kushner frames this question in terms of an array of apocalyptic
discourses, some Christian, some Jewish, some secular (Freudian and
Marxist), and others sacred.
In Millennium Approaches, Joe Pitt, the young Republican and
closeted homosexual who, as chief clerk of an appellate judge in New
York City, writes ultra-conservative legal decisions on behalf of the court,
recalls his obsession with the image of Jacob wrestling with the angel:
I had a book of Bible stories when I was a kid. There was a
picture I'd look at twenty times every day: Jacob wrestles with
the angel. I don't really remember the story, or why the
wrest I i ng-j ust the picture. Jacob is young and very strong. The
angel is . .. a beautiful man, with golden hair and wings, of
course. I still dream about it. Many nights. I'm .. . It's me. In
that struggle. Fierce, and unfair. (MA, 49).
In context, Joe's words are a virtual confession of homosexuality to his
wife, Harper. But more is in question. The dream is a representation of
desire between men: its attraction and obsessiveness, its refusal to
become part of I ife's normal narratives, even the sense of election that
accompanies it. But the sentence, "The angel is ... a beautiful man,"
reads in two directions. Not only does it disclose Joe's investment in
male beauty; that investment is also seen as something sacred and
apocalyptic. Joe forgets what follows in the biblical narrative, namely
that Jacob's encounter transforms him and his posterity. After the pair
wrestle, the angel gives Jacob a new name, Israel, signifying his role in
the emancipation of his people.
The implication is that male-male
desire need not function only within the decadent political order of
Reagan and Cohn; it can function within one in which a people are
Daniel Fischlin, "The Sovereign's Body."
Cenesis 32.24, 28.
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 85
constituted and find their destiny. The work assigned joe by the play is
to remember this other possibility of desire.
In the Marxist tradition, the language of angels in the play refers-as
does Prior Walter's name-to the "angel of history" that Walter Benjamin
describes in his "Theses on the Philosophy of History." About this angel,
whose wings are caught in a "storm ... blowing from Paradise," more
in due course.
Concerning jacob's angel, Kushner remarks that he was
impressed by Harold Bloom's reading of the story. In Bloom's account,
what jacob seeks from the angel is "the Blessing, which in every sense
primarily means more life."
Kushner echoes this statement in the play.
For the moment, however, I am more interested in another comment,
which helps explain the destructive operations of desire in characters
such as Joe. Bloom writes:
Freud interprets every investment of libido as a transaction in the
transference of authority, which always resides in figures of the
individual's past and only rarely survives in the individual
proper . . . . [This situation results in the subject's] vacillat[ing]
between the need to be everything in oneself and the anxiety of
being nothing in oneself, ... [a process that] helps account for
what Freud calls repression or defense, the flight from forbidden
representations of desire. (8)
Within the family romance of Kushner's play, Joe's transference originates
in his relationship with his father, who, we are told, refused him his love
(MA, 76). This loss helps explain Joe's fascination with Cohn and the
confession of homosexuality that he makes to him later in Perestroika.
Moreover, the strength of the transference testifies to the best decision
that joe makes in the play: namely, his refusal to accept Cohn's offer to
send him to Washington to be his eyes and ears at the justice Depart-
ment. The fact that at the end of Perestroika Joe is "sitting alone in
Brooklyn" (144) is, in this context, not a bad point at which to arrive.
Kushner, though, takes Bloom's point in a more general way. In
Angels in America, passionate attachment to a single other individual is
Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt and trans. Harry Zohn
(New York: Schocken Books, 1976), 257. Benjamin's angel also draws on Jewish
hermetic tradition; see Robert Alter, Necessary Angels: Tradition and Modernity in
Kafka, Benjamin, and Scholem (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991).
Harold Bloom, "Introduction," in Musical Variations on jewish Thought, by
Olivier Revault D'AIIonnes and trans. Judith L. Greenberg (New York: George
Braziller, 1984), 27.
portrayed as a form of addiction. It can be overcome only through
separation and loss. Prior Walter undergoes this experience when Louis
leaves him because he cannot face Prior's illness. joe's pill-popping wife,
Harper, confesses to him: "In the whole entire world, you are the only
person, the only person I love or have ever loved. And I love you
terribly" (MA, 50). When Harper leaves joe at the end of Perestroika and
flies to San Francisco (Heaven, in one scene of the play; in post-Stonewalf
history, the gay mecca; likewise, the end point of westward settlement),
her choice of exile is appropriate because it means reclaiming authority
from the object of her desire. These passages are important to the politics
of same-sex desire in Kushner's play since they set it against "the family"
as heterosexual norm and "the couple" as regulating principle of gay and
lesbian attraction, a point especially worth making since the sexual
transmission of HIV has led to an exaggerated emphasis on the monoga-
mous couple as the proper form of gay relationship.
If gay existence does have a telos, Kushner represents it at the end of
the play in the group who form at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.
This group includes sexual and emotional ties between men: Belize and
Louis, who has returned to Prior but not been permitted to live with him,
are both former intimates of Prior although Belize's own lover lives
"uptown" (P, 96). The group also includes a Mormon, Hannah, who
saved Prior's life earlier in the play and successfully makes the transition
to life as a single woman in New York City. Her family, joe and Harper,
are gone. Sociality involves an affective, collaborative group beyond the
limits of the couple and the nuclear family. It is in this "movement
beyond" that the practical terms of gay existence and its more general
political significance lie.
The "transference of authority/' however, does not lead easily to
such an outcome. For joe and many other homosexuals, it is more likely
to take the shape of an abject service to the powers that be. When
Nietzsche refers to the "strong man," he conjures the figure of the
soldier/citizen of Sparta, who more likely than not had a male beloved.
Accordingly, Nietzsche's contrast is not between a (heterosexual) strong
man and an effeminate (homosexual). The weak, hysterical type need not
be homosexual; and, in some contexts, strong men regularly had male
lovers. It's in the Cold War battles of Republicans and Democrats that
the distinction is recoded in terms of a binary difference between
heterosexual and homosexual. The implication of desire between men
in political patronage poses an ethical challenge to Kushner since it
Richard Del Iamora, Apocalyptic Overtures: Sexual Politics and the Sense of an
Ending (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1994), chapter two.
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 87
clearly demonstrates that the moral significance of sexual and emotional
ties between men depends upon the systematic relations within which
they are made. Traditionally, the "system" has been that of oligarchic
privilege and preference.
In the opening scenes of Part One, the characters provide a number
of apocalyptic images of contemporary existence: Marxist, Hegel ian,
Jewish, Christian, and American. Interestingly, it is those who prove to
be most cowardly or duplicitous who are optimistic. Those who will
show themselves capable, before the end, of disinvesting in the object of
their desire, begin with visions of destruction. Harper says: "Maybe the
troubles will come, and the end will come, and the sky will collapse and
there will be terrible rains and showers of poison light, or maybe my life
is really fine, maybe joe loves me and I'm only crazy thinking otherwise,
or maybe not, maybe it's even worse than I know, maybe ... I want to
know, maybe I don't" (MA, 18). After the funeral of Louis's grandmother,
Sarah lronson, Prior reveals to Louis the first signs of Kaposi's Sarcoma:
" K. S., baby. Lesion number one. Lookit. The wine-dark kiss of the
angel of death" (MA, 21 ).
The angel of death. The phrase brings us back to jacob's angel and
to Benjamin's, which looks backward upon "the past" as "one single
catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in
front of his feet."
Following Nietzsche, Bloom emphasizes "the
Hebraic esteem for time." Unlike the Greeks who, like the succeeding
nations of the gentile West, including the United States "strove for
excellence, for occupying the foremost place," the jews are "the people
that honored their father and their mother. . . . To honor one's
parents ... is to contend only for the Blessing, which is temporal." The
Hebrew word olam has an apocalyptic resonance, referring not only to
the life time of an individual but to a "time without boundaries":
When jacob wrestles all night with a nameless angel, the struggle
is not for a place, but to delay the angel, whose temporal anxiety
is overwhelming: "Let me go, for it is daybreak!" The angel
is ... perhaps the Angel of Death, and jacob's victory depends
upon the angel's refusal to confront the dawn . . .. Blessed by
the new name of Israel, jacob limps away from Penuel, with the
sun rising upon him, but not upon the supernatural being who
has fled. Israel's limp testifies to having been crippled at a
Benjamin, 257.
particular place, but the far more vital testimony is to the
triumph of having prevailed into a time without boundaries.
Bloom's interpretation may be described as Oedipal in a modified way.
Jacob rebels successfully against the law of primogeniture; nevertheless,
as his limp indicates, he remains an Oedipal and, therefore, normal
Near the end of Perestroika, the angel, whom Prior has
wrestled successfully, prophesies the death of the universe. He replies:
But still. Still . Bless me anyway. I want more life. I can't help
myself. I do . . .. Death usually has to take life away. I don't
know if that's just the animal. I don't know if it's not braver to
die. But I recognize the habit. The addiction to Qeing alive. We
I ive past hope. If I can find hope anywhere, that's it, that's the
best I can do. It's so much not enough, so inadequate but. ...
Bless me anyway, I want more I ife. (P, 135, 136)
In the Old Testament, jacob achieves his identity by accomplishing
a swerve in the order of patri I ineal succession: he steals the blessing
owed of right to the first-born son. Doing so, he becomes the progenitor
of the people of God, Israel. The fate of a people hangs on the success
of his struggle. In the perverse family romance of gay existence, Prior
Walter wrestles as the lover of other men. In the play, he wrestles with
a hermaphroditic angel. She participates in the politics of effeminacy
since, in an apparent throwback to turn-of-the-century third-sex theory,
she identifies herself as Walter's female soul or, in her words, his
"Released Female Essence Ascendant." The angel's gendering otherwise,
however, is not limited to a representation of sexual inversion.
"Hermaphroditically Equipped" with "eight vaginas" and "a Bouquet of
Phalli/' she figures autosexuality plus possibilities of male-female, female-
male, male-male, and female-female sexuality (P, 48). This multiplication
interrupts the lines of male filiation and affiliation that belong to
patriarchal authority. Kushner connects Prior's struggle too with that of
Bioom, 12, 13.
Jacob's limited (and sanctioned) revolt falls within the apocalyptic tradition of
conventional male succession that Jacques Derrida describes in The Post Card. I
analyze Derrida's account of the phenomenon of "buggery" within this line in
Apocalyptic Overtures, 17-23.
Christopher Craft, Another Kind of Love: Male Homosexual Desire in English
Discourse, 7 850-7 920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 35-36.
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 89
a people, not those of a single blood line but those who can be called
Queer Nation, if we use the term in the wider sense that Kushner makes
avai I able at the end of the play.
He contrasts this alternative to other, ironic aspects of the Angel's
message, which can be called decadent since they call for Prior's
narrative to end with death, the first of the last four things of apocalypse,
and to dispense with the other three: judgment, Heaven, or Hell.
At the
end of Part One, as he awaits the arrival of the Angel, Prior imagines that
it carries "the Book of Life" (MA, 115). In a flashback in Act Two of
Perestroika, the angel descends, naming Prior "Prophet" and command-
ing him to open the Book concealed in "a very dusty ancient leather
suitcase" (P, 46) buried under the kitchen floor. Ironically, however, the
Book is a Book of Death. The angel is in despair since God abandoned
the angels in Heaven in order to pursue the wandering progress of the
human beings whom he has created. In the angel's eye, the only remedy
is "STASIS" (P, 54). Prior must accept, must become "the End" by
yielding to suffering, illness, and death. In a scene in Act Five, set "in the
Council Room of the Continental Principalities," the Continental Angels,
panicking, deplore the coming end of the world. They beseech the
absent Creator to return to save mankind. But it is Prior and his Angel,
not God, who appear in response to their appeals. Prior now carries "the
Book." Returning it to them, he says: "We desire. Even if all we desire
is stillness, it's still desire for. Even if we go faster than we should. We
can't wait. And wait for what? God .. . . " (P, 132). Prior answers his
question by telling the angels: "He isn't coming back" (P, 133). He isn't
coming back because there is no single cause, book, answer, or system
that can explain the meaning of time. He isn't coming back because, as
figure of the authority invested in desire, there is no object outside
ourselves that provides an ultimate ground, norm, or telos of desire. We
are left with ourselves and our histories, which now include the realities
of AIDS.
It is the insistence on reading the Book, teasing out its significance,
that Bloom argues has enabled jewish tradition to survive the past two
millennia. But it is the continual deferral of the fulfillment of the Book's
promise, the continual blowing of the storm from Paradise, that leaves
jewish history open. Were the Messiah to come, the Book would be both
fulfilled and at an end: "'For the Jew, having a place means finishing a
Dellamora, Apocalyptic Overtures, 31.
See Peter Dickinson's commentary in '"Go-go Dancing on the Brink of the
Apocalypse': Representing AIDS: An Essay in Seven Epigraphs," i n Postmodern
Apocalypse, ed. Dellamora, 219-240.
book. /The unfinished book was our survival."'
Kushner sees a tension
in Jewish thought between the desire for a time when apocalyptic hope
wi II come to rest in a particular place and the need for that day to be
continually postponed. The history of Jewish immigration to the New
World, memorialized at the opening of Millennium Approaches,
indicates the reality of the latter as well as implicitly placing the author
of the play and his family in contemporary jewish history. The dream of
the "The World's Oldest Bolshevik" at the beginning of Perestroika for
a "True Praxis" married to a "True Theory" testifies to the opposed
tendency within Jewish messianic thinking, here in the guise of the Soviet
appropriation of Marx's texts, to demand, at whatever price in bloodshed,
the establishment of the new order in a new state (P, 14). In contrast,
Benjamin's Marxism positions him in two times, historical and apocalyp-
tic. The theory of class struggle makes the "Angelus Novus" turn back
in horror as it sees in history the accumulated debris of "one single
catastrophe." At the same time, Benjamin's parable suspends the
metonymic trope of history as the succession of classes. The "storm
blowing from Paradise" impels the angel into a future that it cannot see. 5
The implication of this situation, for Benjamin, for Bloom, for the
Jewish people-and for Prior's flock-is one of perpetual exile; but this
exile has its benefits. In Bloom's words, "The wandering people has
taught itself and others the lesson of wandering meaning" (6). Embedded
as it is in Jewish tradition, Kushner's play exemplifies wandering as a part
of both Jewish and Gentile culture-for Belize, for example, whose
antecedents came from Africa to a Spanish-speaking part of the New
World and, from there, to New York City. For Prior, from an old WASP
family. And for Harper, who is called upon to become one of the
"nomads eddying across the planet" (MA, 17). Kushner extends his
apocalyptic trajectory to include people of diverse colors, ethnicity, and
The Feverish Body Politic
From one perspective, decadence and apocalypse belong to different
modes of thought. Understood in historicist terms, decadence negates
apocalyptic awareness. Like individuals, societies have a time of birth,
growth, maturity, decline, and death. In this narrative, death really is
"the end." Decadence in this sense is associated in particular with
imperial expansion, for instance, the transformation of Rome from a
Edmond Jabes, cited by Bloom, 21.
1n the Introduction to Postmodern Apocalypse, I discuss the meditation upon
thi s passage by the postmodern Jewish cultural theorist, Jonathan Boyarin (3, 5).
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 91
Republic into an Empire. Kushner's materials indicate the possibility of
reading American history in this way. In these terms, the effort by
McCarthy and Cohn to ferret out traitors in the Army, the Reagan
Administration's attempt to expel gays and lesbians from the armed
services, and the overwhelmingly negative reaction of white males to the
effort made at the outset of President Clinton's first administration to
revoke that policy are all part of a morality drama in which warrior virtue
must be preserved so that the American conquest of space won't turn into
a death knell. In classic rep ubi ican theory, it was argued that "even if
empire must ultimately corrupt, there was a historical anaku/6sis whereby
liberty-loving warriors-Greeks, Romans, and Goths-won empires by
their virtue and held them so long as it lasted."
For Machiavelli, decadence is a dialectical term. He believes in the
possibility of a reversal whereby virtu, once lost, can be recovered and
the commonwealth restored. Belief in such a possibility-and mecha-
nisms aimed at securing it-has been a recurrent feature of republican
A similar reversal occurs in Angels in America, but it occurs
only after Kushner, like Nietzsche, abandons confidence in terms such as
virtu or, even, virtue. Rather, a decadence compatible with embracing
the dawn from which Jacob's angel flees depends upon displacing the
meaning of the word. If the spectacle of Roy Cohn's failing body
provides a powerful image of imperial decline, the spectacle of Prior .in
drag, Prior ill, Prior resilient provides an image of reversal in which
sickness opens the possibility of health. Framed in Neitzschean terms,
Prior as effeminatus means something very different from Roy or Joe as
Nietzsche's reflections on decadence grew out of personal experi-
ence. Given his long, debilitating illness, he was in the position of one
"who knows the value of health for having been sick and who, therefore,
cannot fail to recogni ze the philosophical value of sickness itself, without
which health would be unable to achieve self-consciousness."
makes a similar observation when she tells Prior: "Deep inside you,
there's a part of you, the most inner part, entirely free of disease. I can
see that" (MA 34) . In terms of the play, this refl exiveness helps one
understand why, even when the angel invites Prior to become the
Prophet of STASIS, the angelic visitation prompts mutual orgasm.
Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment, 511.
Pocock, 519.
Matei Calinescu, Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Carde,
Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1987), 179.
When Nietzsche uses the "metaphor" of gender difference, he argues
that masculine strength produces not progress but stasis-ultimately,
death. To the contrary, it is the weak, feminine aspect of human behavior
that keeps time moving ahead. In The Cay Science, he writes:
The weak and quasi feminine type of the dissatisfied has a
sensitivity for making life more beautiful and profound; the
strong or masculine type, to stick to this metaphor, has a
sensitivity for making life better and safer ... . [If the feminine]
type had not been super-abundant in Europe since the Middle
Ages, the celebrated European capacity for constant change
might never have come into existence, for the requirements of
the strong among the dissatisfied are too crude and at bottom so
undemanding that eventually they can surely be brought to rest.
Nietzsche continues:
Europe is sick but owes the utmost gratitude to her incurability
and to the eternal changes in her affliction: these constantly new
conditions and these no less constantly new dangers, pains, and
media of information have finally generated an intellectual
irritability that almost amou':lts to genius and is any case the
mother of all genius.
"Europe is sick," Nietzsche says; and so is America. In Kushner's
narrative, it is the subjects of illness who bring "blessing" upon them-
selves and others. Matei Cal inescu argues that Nietzsche regards
decadence as "a phenomenon of the order of the will-decadence is a
loss of the will to live, which prompts an attitude of revengefulness
against life" (181-182). But decadence can also be regarded as a perverse
mode of action: namely, willing refuge in illusion. In Angels in America,
Reaganite optimism exemplifies willful (self-)deception. Joe claims that
Reagan has restored "Law" and "the truth," but Harper tells Prior:
"When we think we've escaped the unbearable ordinariness and, well,
untruthfulness of our lives, it's really only the same old ordinariness and
falseness rearranged into the appearance of novelty and truth" (MA, 32).
False consciousness is both cause and effect of decadence. In this
context, catastrophes can motivate an ethical recovery by exposing the
fictive character of ideology. "There is a great difference," Calinescu
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Cay Science: with a Prelude in Rhymes and an
Appendix of Songs, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), 98, 99.
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 93
says, "between the perspective from which one can realize that truth is
a fiction (a creation of life meant to help life achieve its purposes) and the
perspective from which the decadent ascribes a character of truth to a
fiction which as fiction, and under particular circumstances, might even
have been justified in the name of life" (185). Finally, the "purpose of
life" for Nietzsche, and for Prior is-more life.
As the subtitle A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, indicates,
Kushner's people exist within the limits of U. S. nationality. I have
already argued both that classical republican discourse continues to play
an important role in American ideology and that American history tends
to be framed in apocalyptic terms. 5
Since meaning in the play tends to
expand to universal terms (desire, life, justice, love), tension needs to be
maintained between the drive towards a universal representation and the
assumption that America can somehow constitute a universal. The latter
view is, of course, imperial, and, implicitly, xenophobic. Is it possible to
credit the national character of the play without converting it into a moral
To do so, one has to consider how the agency that characters like
Prior, Harper, and Hannah achieve comes about. American nationality
has often been construed within terms that are both apocalyptic and
Protestant. These are the terms, for example, within which Harriet
Beecher Stowe demanded that Northerners respond to the injustice of
slavery. In Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), she writes:
An atmosphere of sympathetic influence encircles every human
being; and the man or woman who feels strongly, healthily, and
justly, on the great interests of humanity, is a constant benefactor
to the human race. See, then, to your sympathies in this matter!
Are they in harmony with the sympathies of Christ?' or are they
swayed and perverted by the sophistries of worldly policy?
But what happens when, as in Angels in America, God has gone away
and there is no given set of sympathies, correct alignment with which
guarantees either one's virtu or one's virtue? On what basis is the
expansive "sympathy" of the final scene of Kushner's play to be
grounded? Let me make a number of suggestions: first, on the basis of a
Cali nescu, 188.
See Ernest Lee Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America's Millennia/
Role (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968).
Quoted in Tuveson, 190.
desire that is neither relinquished nor lodged in an authoritative other but
for which individuals take responsibility; second, on interpersonal
relations that include active, mutual care; third, on group commit-
ments-for which individuals take responsibility; fourth, on a sense of
"the great interests of humanity"; fifth, in a continuing contest over the
significance of gender and sexuality since those who gather at the
Bethesda Fountain continue to invert the values of the citizen/military
man. Struggle continues over the ethics of male-male desire within a
politics that is at once public and private-personal, interpersonal, social,
and national.
Kushner frames the play in ways that draw into question the
metalanguage of American nationality. Both republican and apocalyptic
aspects of this discourse shape his thinking, but he uses them in a spirit
of mutual and self-reflexive criticism that sustains his vision of the
possibilities of contemporary democracy. The concept of decadence
likewise is important because of the ways in which it is already deployed
in debates about who can or cannot beaU. S. citizen in the full sense of
the word (P, 148).
In the 1980s and early 1990s, conservatives such as Gingrich based
their attacks on legal remedies for discrimination. against members of
particular groups upon the doctrine of Illiberal formalism," according to
which the authors of the Constitution intended solely to protect individ-
ual rights. 5
Those who take this view class the protections and remedies
made available to classes of persons through legislation such as the
Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a cause and effect of the politics of faction.
Claims to the contrary notwithstanding, however, Madison in the
Federalist Papers contends that liberty in the United States depends upon
the continual struggles of groups with different and conflicting interests.
Kushner's concern with gaining civil liberties for gay men and lesbians
makes him more than a disinterested bystander to such discussions. In
affirming the rights of individuals belonging to different groups and in
demanding full rights of citizenship for gays and lesbians, Angels in
America articulates the relationship between individual and group
identity in terms familiar within American republican theory.
In The Federalist Papers, Madison recognizes that the United States
had outgrown the possibilities of both pure democracy and a republican
constitution based on that of Rome and the ancient Greek city-states.
Accordingly, he relinquishes the classic republican ideal of a state
Bruce E. Cain and W. T. Jones, "Madi son's Theory of Representation," in
Bernard Grofman and Donald Wittman, jt. ed., The Federalist Papers and the New
Institut ionalism (New York: Agathon Press, 1989), 30.
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 95
constituted by citizen/soldiers in favor of a federal republic.
In the tenth
number, he uses the same metaphor for the Union as Kushner does.
Madison describes the body politic as a diseased " body" susceptible to
the "vices" of factional interests
In going on to propose the checks and
balances of the federal Constitution as the only way of regulating the
negative effects of faction, his view differs from republican theory in
acknowledging that government operates not on the basis of the direct
participation of individual citizens but of continually changing factions.
As "interests," factions do have a rational aspect, but Madison defines
them primarily in relation to "some common impulse of passion."
Madison's confidence that the federal framework can maintain ever
shifting patterns of interest in a dynamic equilibrium makes his model
liberal democratic. It is at this point that Kushner parts company with
Madison. The realization that justice for America's queer citizens is
continually deferred propels Kushner beyond the limits of liberal thinking
and demands, in effect, the apocalyptic terms within which the play is
Madison's theory is decadent insofar as faction, a vice that communi-
cates "mortal diseases" to "popular governments," when regulated by
1n his own terms, Madison contrasts the espousal of a federal republic to what
he refers to as the "pure democracy" of ancient Greece (Frederick Quinn, ed., The
Federalist Papers Reader, preface by Warren E. Burger and foreword by A. E. Dick
Howard [Washington, D. C. : Seven Locks Press, 1993], 74-hereafter cited as
Madison). As he describes the Constitution in the tenth number of the Federalist
Papers, however, the federal republic has the elements of what today would be
characterized as liberal democracy. Pocock remarks:
Because "the people" is now undifferentiated [by virtue], it is not
circumscribed by definition and distribution of specific qualities. It is of
unknown mass and force, and can develop new and unpredicted needs,
capacities, and powers. [For Madison] all of these can be received and
coordinated within the structure of federalism, so that the classic rhetoric
of balance and stability is still appropriate, but this structure can be
proclaimed capable of indefinite expansion, since there is no need to insist
in advance that the new social elements which will seek representation be
those previously conceived as part of the harmonics of virtue. They are not
perceived rationally as elements in the architecture of the common good,
but as interests conceived and pursued in passion; the federal structure,
however, is capable of absorbing new passions and grows by absorbing
them. If the people are perpetually constituent, therefore, this is because
they and their republic are in perpetual and kineti c growth. (523)
Madison, 77, 70.
Madison, 71.
the processes of representative government, nonetheless provides the sole
actual basis on which decisions can be made, including those that protect
the rights of individuals and minorities while attempting to foster "the
permanent and aggregate interests of the community."
The health of
the Union depends, then, on a body that is, by definition, always
feverish. The characters of Angels in America have seen the state of the
Union embodied in Roy's infectious body, a trope of the triumph of
faction as a result, in Madison's words, of "an attachment to different
leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to
persons of other description whose fortunes have been interesting to the
human passions. "
Prior's body is a second trope of the feverish body politic, animated
by the "passions" of the particular minority known as gay men. On the
one hand, this faction demands that government extend to it the same
protections from the effects of majority "passion" that Madison recog-
nized to be a primary function of representative government. On the
other hand, Kushner presents the passion of gay men as one important
basis in formulating a sociality that is capable of indefinite expansion and
variation. This is the promise that the alliance of sexual with group
politics offers to democracy. Through the perspective of his Gay
Fantasia, Kushner poses the possibility of renewal out of decadence that
Madison sees as the necessary ground of democratic existence. Prior and
hi's friends come to recognize that, contrary to Madison's theory, the
Constitution does not protect members of particular minorities from the
vicious results of faction and interest. This recognition impels Kushner's
vision beyond the limits of liberal democracy. In face of discrimination
against persons with AIDS (PWAs), apocalypse again becomes the
necessary mode of political expression.
The /'Not Yef
of Cay Existence
Thus far, f have considered Kushner's play in relationship to the place
of decadence within republican political theory and in Jewish apocalyptic
tradition. What about its place in Christian tradition? Criticizing the
scene at the Bethesda Fountain, jonathan Freedman has argued that the
end of the play regresses to the genre of comedy as described by
Madison, 70, 71.
Madison, 72.
Douglas Crimp and Adam Rolston, AIDS Demographics (Seattle: Bay Press,
1990); Douglas Crimp, ed., AIDS: Cultural Analysis, Cultural Activism (Cambridge,
Mass.: MIT Press, 1989).
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 97
Northrop Frye. In this particular apocalyptic mode, Kushner affirms a
redemptive renewal-but at the price of effacing queer and, in particular,
Jewish difference. In Frye's words: "The crudest of Plautine comedy-
formulas has much the same structure as the central Christian myth itself,
with its divine son appeasing the wrath of a father and redeeming what
is at once a society and a bride."
In contrast, Linda Hutcheon sees the
relationship of the play to Christian myth as wholly negative. She argues
that Kushner stages the fundamentalist Christian myth of AIDS as God's
revenge on sodomites in the shape of the bigotry expressed in joe's self-
hatred and his mother's initial disavowal of his confession of homosexu-
The relationship of queer nationality and gay identity to Christian
apocalypse, however, is different and more complex than either
Freedman or Hutcheon suggest. First of all, as Emmanuel Levinas has
said, jews in the West "breathe an atmosphere completely impregnated
with Christian essence."
Second, Christian apocalypse is strongly
characterized by Jewish tradition through the medium of St. Paul, who
insists both on the efficacious drama of personal conversion and on a
redemption that takes the shape of universal justice.
Moreover, the
characteristic structures of thought and feeling within gay liberation in the
years following Stonewall are saturated with Christian attitudes. For
example, the experience of coming out of the closet, central to gay
liberation, is a conversion experience, and in the 1970s the ethos of Gay
Liberation was egalitarian and democratic. Gay Liberationists contended
that they were struggling not only for individual or group rights but for
general emancipation. In the much different atmosphere of the AIDS
epidemic, the tendency to see PWAs as salvific figures bearing the burden
of both general guilt and the cynical exercise of political power has been
at times inescapable, as, for example, in the ACT UP "die-in" held at St.
Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral in New York City in December
Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (New York: Atheneum,
1968), 185.
Linda Hutcheon, '"Life-and-Death Passions': ' Operatic' AIDS and the Stage,"
Essays in Theatre 13 (May 1995): 118-119.
Eiaine Marks, Marrano as Metaphor: The Jewish Presence in French Writing
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 131 .
Daniel Boyarin, A Radical jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1994), 3, 8.
Finally, not all forms of Christian apocalypticism are quietist or
conservative as in Frye. Unlike Frye's, the apocalypse at Bethesda
Fountain is not heterosexual nor does it validate, much less glorify, either
the couple or the family as the basic units of human sociality. And
Freedman is wrong, I believe, to think that Kushner believes redemption
is achieved at this moment in the play. To understand the gathering at
the Fountain, it is more useful to understand it with reference to the
double temporality of apocalypse in Liberation Theology, the conflation
of Marxist theory and Roman Catholic apocalyptic thinking associated
with community activism in Latin America since the 1960s.
During the 1980s, the epidemiology of AIDS resulted in a demand
for justice that feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza sees as a
leading aspect of the message of the final book of the New Testament.
Schussler Fiorenza argues that time in Apocalypse is not historical, as
most scholars and theologians have argued, but eschatological. The key
aspect of this eschatology is a double temporality, which positions
Christians as subjects who exist between two moments in the coming of
Christ's Kingdom: the moment in which it has been realized in His
Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection; and the moment which Christians
will enter only at the end of time. In that same moment, in which justice
is not realized, it is the responsibility of Christians to bear witness to the
existence of injustice and to work towards the future, already realized but
still anticipated, in which all will live fully. The act of witness demands
participation in efforts to validate individual and group existence but
requires the disavowal of the logic of dominance that the language of
binary inversion leaves unquestioned. In Schussler Fiorenza's words:
Against the forces of economic, political, and religious oppres-
sion within the Roman empire the mythopoeic vision of Rev.
shows that God's and Christ's reign and salvation are different
from those of the dominant culture. The last chapters of Rev.
portray a world free of evil and suffering in order to give hope to
those who are suffering and oppressed because they will not
acknowledge the death-dealing political powers of their time.
Crimp and Rolston, AIDS Demographics, 130-142.
Tom Moylan, "Mission Impossible? Liberation Theology and Utopian Praxis,"
in Utopian Studies Ill, ed. Michael S. Cummings and Nicholas D. Smith (Lanham,
Maryland: University Press of America, 1991), 20-30.
Eiisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment
(Phi !adelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 24-25.
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 99
In the history of gay and lesbian emancipation, the mythical moment
in which community is at once incarnated and redeemed took place
when "in 1969, lesbian and gay street people, Puerto Rican drag queens,
and bar gays fought back against a routine police raid at the Stonewall
Tavern in New York City."
Within the terms of Gay Liberation in the
1970s, the instant of individual redemption occurs at the moment when
the individual decides to "come out" of the closet. Nonetheless, the
entry of the individual and collective subject into a fully transformed
existence is deferred to the moment when "the holy city," the "New
Jerusalem," comes "down out of heaven"/
that is to say, to the time
when gay and lesbian Americans become citizens in every sense of the
word. At Bethesda, Prior testifies to this moment when he says: "We will
be citizens" (P, 148). As an ethical demand, however, justice can never
coincide with the time and place in which it is called for: justice exists
within an apocalyptic dimension.
The Bethesda Fountain is usually regarded as a typical example of
Victorian moral rhetoric:
At the Esplanade's center was the large double-basi ned Bethesda
Fountain, surmounted by the winged bronze statue of The Angel
of the Waters, who, in the Gospel of John, troubled the Bethesda
Pool in Jerusalem, giving it healing powers. Under the figure .of
the Angel, four cherubs-Purity, Health, Peace, and Temper-
ance-further echoed the churchly ambiance of the Victorian
Underlying the moral rhetoric, however, is a drama of national sacrifice.
The sculptor, Emma Stebbins, has chosen the highly charged concept of
a miraculous touch that could restore the injured fabric of the body
politic: North and South, Black and White, at the close of the Civil War.
Gary Kinsman, The Regulation of Desire: Sexuality in Canada (Montreal : Black
Rose Books, 1987), 179. Thanks to Danise G. Hoover (Hunter College Library) for
this reference and to Chris Dunham (Douglass Library, Rutgers University) for a chill
winter walk in Central Park.
Revelations 21.2.
Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of
Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge,
1994), 32-33.
Eugene Kinkead, Central Park: 7857-1995: The Birth, Decline, and Renewal
of a National Treasure (New York: Norton, 1990), 37.
The special appeal of this monument, symbolic center of Central Park
and New York City, has long been felt. And its memorial character has
been repeatedly reinscribed. Kushner memorializes it in the name of
Kushner could not choose a more apt site for Prior to gather with his
friends. What place in what city and what biblical narrative is more
timely than that of the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem? There Christ finds
lying "a great multitude of the sick, blind, lame, and those with shrivelled
I imbs, waiting for the moving of the water."
When he speaks to one
who is without help to place him in the pool after it is stirred by the
angel, Christ urges him: "Rise, take up thy pallet and walk."
does-as have Prior and many others. At the end of the play, Hannah
says: "The fountain of Bethesda," which ceased to flow at the time of the
destruction of the Temple by the Romans, "will flow again .. . . We will
all bathe ourselves clean" (P, 147). Prior responds:
This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all,
and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with
the living, and we are not going away. We won't die secret
deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be
citizens. The time has come. (P, 148)
Although I share Kushner's disbelief that the federal structure can
accommodate the full range of "new and unpredicted needs, capacities,
and powers"
generated within the body politic, the view that "the
people" keep producing them provides a national frame of reference for
such phenomena as AIDS activism and the demand by gays and lesbians,
fiercely contested in the 1990s, that they be permitted to serve in the
armed forces. This continual innovation means that no particular label,
style, agenda, or combination thereof can adequately circumscribe the
significance of sexual and emotional ties between men and their
associated politics. Moreover, such ties are continually articulated in
connection with other relations-as in Kushner's friendship with a straight
woman named Kimberly Flynn, whose near fatal automobile accident
and long, incomplete convalescence inform the play.
Today the epithet
}ohn 5.3.
}ohn 5.8.
Pocock, 523.
Lubow, "Tony Kushner's Paradise Lost," 61.
Tony Kushner and the "Not Yet" of Gay Existence 101
"queer" attempts to capture this fluidity in personal and political alliance.
The changing body politic that Madison envisages is one way of
imagining a numerical infinity that includes space for individuals,
relationships, and groups existing in an America that is infinite but not
universal since such infinities can exist elsewhere as well. In Kushner's
apocalypse, this dynamic situation briefly achieves equilibrium at the end
of the play. This is the situation at the fin de millennium in which
individual agency-even when defined as the ability to lose with grace,
as Prior suggests-acquires meaning and where ever-changing sets of
interpersonal relations witness both to loss and the demand for justice.
journal of American Drama and Theatre 9 (Fall 1997)
Book Notes
From time to time, as space permits, we will be publishing notes about
books in the field that have been brought to our attention and that should
be of interest to our readers. There is no intention to present a critical
review of these works. The notes are informative only.
McNamara, Brooks. Day of jubilee: The Great Age of Public Celebration
in New York, 1788-1909 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press,
Lavishly illustrated, with several items in color, from the collection of the
Museum of the City of New York, this book presents accounts of public
celebrations as planned performances-loosely scripted, stage managed,
and performed by enormous casts with the entire city as stage. It
describes in detail events from the Federal Procession of 23 July 1788 to
the Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909, then adds an "Epilogue" of
comment on the years after 1909. A "Prologue" explicates "Public
Celebrations as Performance" and a useful listing of selected sources is
appended before the Index.
Pereira, John. Opening Nights: 25 Years of the Manhattan Theatre Club
(New York: Peter Lang, 1996).
This is a detailed and interesting history of one of the outstanding
successes of the non-commercial theatre world. In addition to the
chronologically arranged text, the volume includes a season-by-season
listing of all plays produced, with the names of the author and director of
each play, a general index, an index of theatrical productions, and forty
pages of illustrations. This is a welcome and now indispensable addition
to theatre studies.
McDonough, Carla J. Staging Masculinity: Male Identity in Contempo-
rary American Drama Uefferson, MC: McFarland & Co., Inc., 1997).
Arguing that gender, unlike biological sex, is a construct equally
applicable to men and to women, this interesting new book explores the
performance of masculinity in selected American plays. It begins by
exploring certain "canonical forefathers"-O'Neill, Williams, Miller, and
Baraka-then the author goes on to consider at length various works of
Sam Shepard, David Mamet, David Rabe, and August Wilson, concluding
with a brief mention of several other playwrights. There is an extensive
bibliography and, of course, an index. The volume should prove useful
in the emerging field of men's studies, as a corollary to women's studies.
Proehl, Geoffrey S. Coming Home Again: American Family Drama and
the Figure of the Prodigal (Cranbery, NJ: Associated University Presses,
Using as a paradigm the New Testament story of the Prodigal Son, the
author explores the concept of loss and recovery, of malfeasance and
response, finding parallels in a variety of contemporary plays, and
drawing examples from the long history of associations accruing to the
original story and its various mutations. In presenting excessive drinking
("riotous living" in the original) as an almost universal trait, he point to
nineteenth century temperance drama as a precursor to twentieth century
family drama, and explicates the role of other characters in the central
DIANE ALMEIDA is on the faculty of the division of
Communication and Theatre Arts at the University of
Massachusetts, Boston, where she has directed several
productions, the last being Fog by Louis E. Roberts. Dr.
Almeida has published several articles on Latino and Spanish
theatre and literature. She is currently working on a book,
Ramon del Valle-Inc/an and the Esperpento Tradition in the
Films of Luis Bunuel, Carlos Saura, and Pedro Almodovar.
CHERYL BLACK is a doctoral candidate in Theatre History,
Theory, and Criticism at the University of Maryland College
RICHARD DELLAMORA, Acting Director of the Graduate
Program in Methodologies at Trent University and a former
Visiting Fellow at Princeton and the University of Western
Ontario, is the author of Apocalyptic Overtures: Sexual
Politics and the Sense of an Ending (Rutgers, 1994) and
Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheti-
cism (University of North Carolina Press, 1990) and co-editor
of The Work of Opera: Genre, Nationhood, and Sexual
Difference (Columbia University Press, 1997). Dellamora
lives in Toronto, Canada. He wrote this essay while a Trent
University Research Fellow.
AMELIA HowE KRITZER, currently an independent scholar, has
taught at West Virginia University and Indiana University.
She has published Plays by Early American Women, 1775-
1850 (University of Michigan Press, 1995) and The Plays of
Caryl Churchill: Theatre of Empowerment (Macmillan,
London, and St. Martin's Press, 1991), as well as essays and
reviews in numerous journals and edited collections. As a
specialist in women dramatists, she has directed plays by
Caryl Churchill, Tina Howe, and Grace Livingston Furniss.
jAMES R. STACY, an assistant professor of theatre at Northwest-
ern State University of Louisiana, has directed two produc-
tions of Buried Child, one at NSU and one at Northern
Kentucky State University. The latter was selected for
regional presentation in the American College Theatre
Festival in 1981. Stacy holds a Ph.D. from New York
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