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Monday, February 15, 2010

THE FINAL THREE


“The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekov
translated by Laurence Senelick


“The Truth”
by Clyde Fitch

“The Great Divide”
by William Vaughn Moody


Okay. I had a gig yesterday. It was a job that came in since I pledged to read every play in the book my buddy Spats gave me for my birthday by Valentine’s Day. So, I gave myself an extra day and I cheated – a bit.

First the cheat – I’ve read “The Cherry Orchard” before. I’ve read a lot if not all of Chekov’s plays and short stories. Chekov and I share the same birthday. Lauren Bacall once compared me to Chekov on national television. (Boy, those were the days.) Anyway, last year some one gave me a copy of “The Complete Plays” translated by Laurence Senelick (W.W. Norton, 2006) and instead of reading the cramped print in The Book, I read the new version. Senelick’s is an excellent read. (I skipped all the footnotes.)

I could go on about Peter Brook’s production of “The Cherry Orchard” at the BAM Majestic Theater twenty odd years ago. But I won’t. I’ve forgiven him. Actually, I forgave him that night – for the memory of The Mahabarata in that same space was still fresh in my mind, and that was a brilliant time at the theater, one of the most brilliant ever.

So, next up is “The Truth” by Clyde Fitch. Wikipedia describes him as the first American playwright to be taken seriously. He once had five shows running at the same time on Broadway, and he made a pile of money for his time. He wrote thirty six original plays of various genres, and twenty four adaptations from other literary material.

“The Truth” is about a woman who tells lies as second nature. She’s implicated in an affair she isn’t having. Her husband and she part ways and she goes to her father’s lodgings, which is a big step down. Her father sends a telegram to the husband with the lie that the daughter/wife is dying. The husband rushes there. She refuses to cooperate with her father’s lie, which endears her to her husband even more than the love that arose in his breast upon hearing that his wife was dying. They are ruinted.

It starts out as a pretty snappy comedy and then sort of devolves into moralism. I hope it wasn't meant to be funny after the first act.

Clyde Fitch died at the age of forty four.

Finally, there’s “The Great Divide” by William Vaughn Moody. It’s a classic sort of melodrama, which starts out West with gold mines, desperadoes, a kidnapped woman who strikes a bargain for her life and becomes the wife of her strongest captor. It ends in Boston. The whole story is obvious in retrospect but moved along as I read it so it wasn't noticeable.

Plays read from "Chief Contemporary Dramatists" (Cambridge, Mass 1915):

"The Rising of the Moon" by Lady Gregory

"Lady Windemere's Fan" by Oscar Wilde

"The Hourglass" by William Butler Yeats

"Riders to the Sea" J. M. Synge

"The Scarecrow -- a tragedy of the ludicrous" by Percy Mackaye.

"The Witching Hour" by Augustus Thomas

"The Weavers" by Gerhart Hauptmann

"The Vale of Content" by Hermann Sudermann

"The Red Robe" by Eugene Brieux

"Beyond Human Power" by Bjornstjerne Bjornson

"Pelleas and Melisande" by Maurice Maeterlinck

"The Second Mrs Tanqueray" by Arthur Wing Pinero

"Michael and his Lost Angel" by Henry Arthur Jones

"Strife" by John Galsworthy

"The Madras House" by Granville-Barker

“Know Thyself”by Paul Hervieu

“The Father” by August Strindberg

“The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekov

“The Truth” by Clyde Fitch

“The Great Divide” by William Vaughn Moody

And there you have it -- 20 plays by the chief contemporary dramatists of 95 years ago, if you don't count Shaw and Ibsen. Some of them I'd never heard of before. So, I read them all and now I've made a big deal about. That's kind of strange. I'm a playqwright. Reading plays -- isn't that something I'm supposed to do?

-- Uke Jackson

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