Greek Tragedy Finds an American Audience
By the end of the nineteenth century, American commercial theater was becoming increasingly entrenched in stereotypical modes of production and a limited repertoire that was largely generated in New York before moving on established circuits to other parts of the country.Although twentieth-century scholarship on early American theater has defended a number of nineteenth-century plays and playwrights, Edgar Allan Poe, commenting as early as 1845 on one of the better new American plays, Mrs. Mowatt's Fashion, reflected a stream of later critical opinion when he remarked: "It is a good play-compared with most American drama it is a very good play"; in the United States "the intellect of an audience can never safely be fatigued by complexity." In any case, two developments began to liberate artists interested in performing a larger range of serious poetic drama from dependence on the theater syndicates that dominated the late nineteenth-century theater world and to invite new audiences to attend Greek tragedy: the growing success of Greek tragedy on college campuses from the 1880s to the 1930s and the establishment of new venues for performance that permitted theatrical experimentation in stagecraft with strong links to Greek theater in the minds of major theorists and practitioners. Outdoor performances across the country, including those in sports stadia and in new amphitheaters often built on college campuses, here complemented the founding of small, innovative regional theaters.
Part 1 of this chapter first considers why nineteenth-century native efforts at presenting Greek tragedy on the professional stage, and especially translations of the original plays, met with an uninspiring reception. It then looks at how a growing number of university productions, along with small touring Anglo-American and American professional groups who primarily performed on college campuses and at other local venues, paved the way for remarkably successful productions in the second decade of the twentieth century. In 1915, the prominent visiting British director H. Granville Barker took advantage of this trend by staging Euripides' Iphigeneia in Tauris and Trojan Women in eastern college stadia.
Part 2 focuses on four U.S. artists/theater groups that began to put a stronger American imprint on the reception of Greek tragedy, and to win audiences for the original plays in translation that were not merely respectful yet skeptical-often the standard critical reaction-but positively enthusiastic. As leader of the American branch of the International Theosophical Society, Katherine Tingley built the earliest important outdoor amphitheater in the country in San Diego, where she staged performances of Aeschylus's Eumenides in 1899-1927 in order to establish a new spiritual and cultural agenda for American theater. In 1910-15 the noted actress-director-producer Margaret Anglin produced innovative Greek tragedies in the outdoor Hearst Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California, before she won a place for the Greek classics on the larger professional stage of major American cities in 1918-27. In 1912, Maurice Browne and his wife, Ellen Van Volkenburg, founded the Chicago Little Theatre, which aimed to establish the place of serious poetic drama including Greek tragedy on the U.S. stage. Their touring performance of Euripides' Trojan Women in 1915 was timed to coincide with Barker's and to advocate peace. Barker, Anglin, and Browne/Van Volkenburg attracted enormous audiences that have not been equaled since. These directors increasingly turned away from efforts at "historical authenticity" in the production of Greek tragedy popular on college campuses and in some early professional performances in favor of making the plays resonate with contemporary audiences. All were particularly attracted to creating "total theater" works that imaginatively united words, music, and dance. Although thematic issues were of interest to them, their most important contribution was to communicate the Greek originals through fresh modes of performance and aesthetic vision. Finally, the Provincetown Players, founded by the enthusiastic Hellenist George Cram Cook, staged Eugene O'Neill's famous remakings of Greek tragedy, the 1924 Desire under the Elms and the 1931 Mourning Becomes Electra. Cook brought his passion for Greece to Provincetown and New York from the Midwest, where he had experienced the Chicago Little Theatre's early efforts at Greek tragedy. By fostering ambitious new plays by American playwrights, the Players ultimately made the creation of new, American versions of Greek tragedy inviting.
1. Setting the Stage
Nineteenth-Century Commercial Efforts
Part 2 of this chapter explores one of the two most fertile periods for American productions of Greek tragedy in the United States. The context out of which these important early twentieth-century productions arose is critical to understanding and evaluating them. In contrast to university performances of the original plays, which developed in the United States after the 1880s, nineteenth-century professional productions of Greek tragedy that visited or derived from Europe typically adapted or transformed the originals. The earliest American professional performance known to me was a pantomime, Medea and Jason, performed in 1798, 1880, 1801, and 1805; the 1801 performance featured a spectacular Euripidean ascent by Medea with her children (alive or dead?) at its close. Medea and Jason was followed by multiple, often compelling new Medeas staged by both European and American artists in a number of major cities, which will be addressed in chapter 5. In 1836-77 radically new versions of Euripides' Ion also proliferated; at least seventeen probably represented the new British version by Thomas Noon Talfourd. Talfourd's adaptation, which drew on a number of Greek tragedies, apparently appealed to U.S. audiences because of its republican sentiments, which were also central to other plays (including "heroic melodramas") on the American stage in this period. In Talfourd's new version, Ion, a foundling fostered by the priest of Apollo at Argos, discovers that the plague-ridden city's oppressive king, Adrastus, is his father. Adrastus is assassinated, and Ion, following Apollo's command to establish a republic, commits suicide to assure the success of his new constitution, which transfers sovereignty from the monarchy to the Argives themselves. One enthusiastic admirer, Cornelius C. Felton, the Eliot Professor of Greek at Harvard, was oddly reminded, not of Euripides' very different original, but of an unnamed long-lost work of Sophocles.
We know very little about most other early, often European-derived, commercial performances of plays related to Greek tragedy, however. An 1850 New York burlesque of Francis Talfourd's Alcestis, or the Original Strong-Minded Woman at Burton's Olympic Theater and Brougham's Theatre, an 1858 New York version of Electra at the Academy of Drama, an 1876 Helen in Egypt staged at Philadelphia's Chestnut Street Theatre in 1876, an 1887 version of Electra at the Arch Street Opera House in Philadelphia, and a production of Goethe's Iphigenie auf Taurus at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia in 1867 and 1869, and in New York in 1867, starring the noted Czech actress Francesca Janauschek, remain mere titles.
By contrast, Franklin H. Sargent's better-documented three native performances of Sophocles' Electra in March 1889 at New York's Lyceum in collaboration with the famous producer David Belasco and H.C. De Mille served as a vehicle for students from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the first acting school in the United States (see chapter 3). Sargent's graduating American Academy students also performed three scenes from Oedipus Tyrannus and odes from Antigone onFebruary 21, 1893. His Aeschylus's Libation Bearers with the American Academy students in 1908 moved George Odell to remark that "Sargeant's staging of Aeschylus was the most beautiful, the most moving play I have ever attended." Sargent also helped with the 1882 Harvard Oedipus discussed below, and supervised student productions at Smith and Vassar. The pioneer settlement worker Jane Addams staged Sophocles' Electra with Greek immigrants at Hull House in Chicago in 1892, followed by a better-documented Ajax in 1904, discussed in chapter 3. Yet none of these pioneering American productions fall under the rubric of standard commercial performances.
Three native European-influenced attempts at performing Sophocles' Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannus on the professional stage in the nineteenth-century United States best illuminate why Greek tragedy failed for both theatrical and thematic reasons to continue attracting the support of American producers even though the plays themselves were gaining a broader readership and beginning to attract university audiences at the end of this same period. On April 7, 1845, George Vandenhoff, as producer, director, and chief actor for a performance financed by a New York investor, William E. Dinneford, attempted to copy for the opening of Palmo's Opera House on New York's Chamber Street a fairly successful London production of Antigone in Covent Garden in the same year. The English original derived from a faithful translation by W. Bartholemew of the play done at Potsdam in 1841 with music by Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Although George's father, John Vandenhoff, and his sister Charlotte had succeeded in making the play upstage the music in London, the uneven New York production closed after a few weeks to largely bad reviews, with a consistent exception made for Mendelssohn's score. Odell pronounced the production "a colossal failure"; attendance dropped radically after the first performances. Edgar Allan Poe's review among several others lambasted the small stage; the design, with its "authentic" colonnaded palace facade, three doors, and flaming altar on a raised stage; its inadequate acting; and the unrehearsed chorus of forty, who poured over challenging musical scores sporting ridiculous gray wigs, beards, and, in some cases, glasses. To the delight of the audience, one "wag" hit the center of the black and white rings on a messenger's shield with a "quid plumb" of chewing tobacco. Some other reviews praised the appropriate classical-style costumes of the actors but agreed on the weakness of the acting (Vandenhoff excepted), which relied on classical poses. Worst of all in Poe's view, however, was the imperfection of Antigone's plot, which could not be expected to appeal to the tastes of modern audiences. The review in the Anglo-American (April 12, 1845, 595; see also New World, April 12, 1845, 233), like many reviews to come, found the themes of Greek tragedy, especially the inexorability of fate, incompatible with the contemporary ethos.
The play was promptly parodied to far greater success at the nearby Mitchell's Olympic Theatre in an "entirely original and unquestionably novel version of the celebrated Lyrical Tragedy, adapted from the Greek to the American stage ... under the title of ANTIGONE." With the front of Palmo's Opera House as a backdrop, the ever-popular "William Shakespeare" delivered a prologue followed by a chorus of "un-employed Artistes of the Italian Opera" who made quizzical comments on an action that travestied Vandenhoff's Creon and Miss Clarendon's Antigone (the unemployed Italian artistes apparently objected to the importation of English drama into the United States); a horn player deliberately upstaged his fellow musicians in the orchestra. Such parodies could enhance the popularity of a serious production but apparently did not in this case.
An earlier, little-documented Oedipus or the Riddle of the Sphinx, a native (but probably British-inspired) production starring the former British actor Tom Hamblin as Oedipus was performed twice at New York's Bowery Theatre in October 1834 along with two farces, The Roman Nose and Beulah Spa, or Two of the B'Hoys. Peabody's Parlour Journal (November 1, 1834, 141) pronounced this "melo drama" "founded on an event of exciting interest, and though the plot (the usual case with such productions) is rather common place, the general effort is good. Mr. Hamblin presented the chief character Oedipus, for which his commanding figure well adapted him. The dress he wore on the occasion was one of the most splendid we ever beheld, and throughout he planned his part with ease, judicion, and dignity. He was well supported by Mr. Ingersoll and Mrs. Flynn-we wish we could say as much for all others concerned." This effort also failed to find favor or make money. A retrospective piece in the New York Clipper (February 4, 1882, 758) pronounced such efforts "curiosities." The audience for the Bowery Theatre, a mix of working-class men, women, and wealthier patrons, interestingly suggests an unsuccessful attempt to popularize a classical tragedy with an audience anything but exclusively elite.
Finally, the relative failure of the Broadway version of the influential and successful 1881 Harvard Oedipus a half century later, in January 1882, ensured the near impossibility of staging native commercial productions of Greek tragedy for many years.
Although performances on college campuses began at least as early as 1838 with an all-male Philoctetes at St. Louis University in St. Louis, the Harvard Oedipus, performed indoors at the college's Sanders Theatre, was the first of many important late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century college performances in the United States. The production was lavish, and rehearsals extended for an entire college year. At least six thousand spectators attended the five nights of performance, including such luminaries as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and William Dean Howells, to say nothing of college presidents and professors from all over the country, magistrates, the editors of leading journals, and most of the instructors at Harvard. Ticket scalping was rampant, and the production was financially lucrative.
Oedipus was chosen for "being typical of so many elements of Greek thought," for "the significance of its plot to a modern mind, and the adaptability of its scenic details to modern and local conditions." In an approach that was later imitated in other university performances, as well as on the professional stage, the production put the chorus in an orchestra below the main stage that was connected to it by a flight of steps. The set represented a Greek palace with frieze and columns painted on canvas. The walls were gray marble, the central door imitation bronze. Small altars were set before two side doors, and larger ones in the center stage and in the orchestra. The original music, by Prof. J. K. Paine, used modern harmony and was later distributed by a Boston publisher. A chorus of seven tenors and eight basses from the Harvard Glee Club sang in unison (with the exception of one solo), accompanied by an orchestra of forty and a supplementary chorus of sixty. Great efforts were made to create brilliant costumes "authentic" to fifth-century Athens, since "historical accuracy to the period of the mythical figures was not possible" (fig. 4). The play received extensive laudatory reviews; the female students of Smith College paid it the homage of a parody the following year. [Place figure 4 near here.]
Producers Daniel Frohman and F. H. Ober decided on the basis of this success to restage the play at New York's Booth's Theatre (following a preview at Boston's Globe Theatre) in the winter of 1882. George Riddle, Harvard class of '74 and an instructor in elocution from the college, reprised his role as Oedipus in ancient Greek, while the remainder of an entirely new cast performed in English. This "polyglot" performance, an experience from which one reviewer begged to be spared in the future, met with a respectful but largely unsympathetic reception. Some critics admired the elaborate production, including Riddle's Greek (if not his "pump-handle style"), and approved the performance of a nevertheless far-too-youthful Georgia Cayvan as Jocasta as well as Lewis Morrison as Creon. Yet they universally criticized the translation; deplored the execrable singing; gave mixed reviews to Paine's "pretentious" music, which was in one case described as "Wagner diluted"; lampooned the chorus's Boston accents and the mix (following the Harvard model) of Grecian costume for the actors and swallowtail coats for the chorus, who were ranged in front of the footlights; questioned the production's "authenticity"; and found the play, overall, undramatic and boring. The New York Spirit of the Times review (April 4, 1882) was devastating: "Whatever it may have been when the Harvard College boys performed it at Sanders' Theatre, the Greek play at Booth's is no more like an ancient Greek play than Barnum's Roman races are like the circus of the ancient Romans." Many spectators left the opening performance after the first hour (New York Times, January 24, 1882); fairly sparse later audiences were reportedly heavy with professors, schoolboys, and women who pretended to follow the Greek (New York Tribune, January 31, 1882), although the New York Mail and Express (February 2, 1882) claimed that the play continued to attract audiences.
The play's repellent moral content and its pessimistic, decidedly un-American view of human fate were also critical to this reaction. In contrast to Britain, whose censor did not permit a commercial performance of Oedipus until 1910 because of its incest theme, U.S. critics confined their disgust at its content to paper: "In Sophocles' time, such trifling matters as a man's committing homicide, marrying his mother, and putting out his eyes afterwards was merely an indication of culture, taste and artistic appreciation of the Athenian public to which his pen was devoted." Even famous visiting European versions of Oedipus faired less well in this period in the United States than in Europe. Neither Jean Mounet-Sully's by-then-famous French performances of Jules Lacroix's version of Oedipus, which visited New York's Abbey's Theatre along with Antigone in March 1894, nor Ermete Novelli's Italian-language production of Oedipus at New York's Lyric Theatre in 1907 met with much enthusiasm at the time, although in later years critics sometimes held up Mounet-Sully (who had famously inspired Freud) as a standard against which U.S. performances of Greek tragedies fell short. The New York Times (March 28, 1894) viewed the music for Mounet-Sully's production as "modest" and the chorus (mostly female) reminiscent of the graduation exercises at a young ladies school. Although Mounet-Sully's bloodstained appearance in the final scene won some favor, William Winter typically found that "he did not rise to the high level of the tremendous subject of 'Oedipus,' either in imagination, mind, spirit, or the capability of suffering." The New York Daily Tribune (March 28, 1894) attributed the low attendance to the horrific content of the play.
The enthusiastic Harvard Oedipus, Professor Riddle, went on to give staged readings of Greek tragedy in the New York area, directed a college Medea at Bryn Mawr in 1908, and later served as "director" of Margaret Anglin's far more important Antigone at Berkeley in 1910 (see below). Yet the New York commercial stage was apparently not yet ready for more native versions of the plays; at best, critics expressed their respect for Greek tragedy as a form that could no longer attract an engaged audience except for scholars. "Oedipus in Greek is a beautiful example of the accomplishments of the ancient poets, but in English it is stupid, tedious and utterly wanting in action and picturesqueness, two absolute essentials in modern playwriting" (New York Dramatic Mirror, February 4, 1882). Frohman's failure was not lost on his younger brother Charles, who helped found the Theatrical Syndicate, which dominated the entire country's professional stage until 1915.
In 1914, however, Rudolph Christians starred in and directed a native adaptation of Oedipus by Adolf Wilbrandt in German at New York's Metropolitan Opera House. The production used a chorus of three augmented by students from Columbia University and a score by Felix von Weingartner that intensified the action; the set was unusually modern. The nearly sold-out production grossed $6,000. Christians's success probably provides some clues as to the relative failure of these other early efforts. Significantly, "the outstanding merit of the performance was the clear rational tone of human action, without the deterrent emphasis of the academic spirit usually noticeable in an approach to the classic drama." Almost certainly inspired by Max Reinhardt's famous and innovative 1910 Oedipus in Munich (also influential in Margaret Anglin's productions), the choral role was aggrandized by extras, and the ensemble scenes were noted for their realism; Oedipus exited through the audience. The performance anticipated the visit to New York in 1923 of the Covent Garden version of Reinhardt's production, translated by Gilbert Murray and starring Sir Martin Harvey i, which again met with a far more ambivalent reaction from critics in the United States than in London. Christians's German-speaking audience was probably more receptive to the play than American critics and audiences more generally, who were uneasy about the play's content and repeatedly preferred their Greek tragedy on the page. Probably because of World War I, this was the last German production of Greek tragedy in New York, and German theater, like that of other ethnic groups in the United States, did not necessarily inspire mainstream performances. Nevertheless, one critic thought that the Irving Place Theater Company, which performed Christians's Oedipus, was superior to its contemporaries because of its intelligent, intensive, and exacting rehearsal process. From this perspective, the fresh, nonantiquarian spirit of Christians's Oedipus served as a harbinger of later successes by the central artists discussed in part 2 of this chapter.
The Catalytic Role of University Traditions
Despite the failure of the Harvard Oedipus to secure a place for Greek tragedy on Broadway, much of the impulse for performing Greek originals in the post-Civil War United States stemmed from colleges and universities, especially from their classics and speech (precursors to later theater) departments. The curriculum in most private colleges up to this time had emphasized theology, mathematics, and classics as training for future ministers and statesmen. The need to generate interest in Greek after colleges began to drop Greek admissions requirements in the 1880s, and to expand elective curricula and organized sports in order to prepare students for work in a competitive industrial society, was an important motivation for on-campus productions of Greek plays. The renaissance in college productions of Greek drama begun at Harvard almost certainly enabled the first successful professional performances of Greek tragedy, such as Margaret Anglin's Antigone at Berkeley in 1910, which played at least in part to an audience already primed by student productions such as Oedipus Tyrannus in the same year, and set the stage for numerous and important early crossings between professional and academic worlds.
U.S. productions of Greek tragedy in schools and colleges began to proliferate at almost the same time as they became popular in England. Aeschylus's Agamemnon at Oxford in 1880, Sophocles' Ajax at Cambridge in 1882, and the Bradfield College school plays closely coincided with the Harvard Oedipus of 1881. Although Harvard's production was inspired by Oxford's, the college's Professor Goodwin had already hoped to do a Harvard Antigone in 1876. One reviewer, who had also seen the Oxford Agamemnon, found the Harvard play far more lavishly produced, archaeologically self-conscious, and "studied." Within ten years, plays (one-third in Greek) were performed at widely different locations, including Notre Dame, Beloit, University of Pennsylvania, Smith, Grinnell, and Swarthmore; the University of Nebraska did Antigone in 1892, and the University of the South at Sewanee Alcestis in 1893; Albion and Olivet colleges followed with plays in 1895. The number of productions went up 350 percent over the next ten years, and in 1926-36 the number of productions was greater than ever before and took place in more schools. August Pluggé, writing in his dissertation at Columbia's Teachers College in 1938, counted 349 performances in 143 institutions in forty-one states between 1881 and 1936; even more productions have been identified since his account. Among the colleges with productions, Beloit, Bates, Randolph-Macon Woman's College, and UCLA gave the largest number of performances, and women's colleges were unusually well represented. After the turn of the century, speech departments began to produce Greek plays and overtook Greek departments in the period 1926-36, when the former staged 128 plays in contrast to the latter's 62. The use of Greek gradually decreased. Although Antigone, Iphigeneia in Tauris, and Alcestis remained the most frequently presented, followed in the 1920s by Trojan Women, a larger range of plays began to be performed; after 1904 more productions were done outdoors. Moreover, as chapter 3.1 will show, nineteenth-century interpretations of Antigone generally found the play, despite Poe, compatible with American ideals; the plots of Iphigeneia in Tauris (a favorite in schools) and Alcestis offered a release from fatality that may have assured their popularity.
Despite the more adventurous views of some major European classical scholars like U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff and Gilbert Murray, who did not support historical fidelity in modern performances, the early college productions of Greek tragedy tended to aim at what was (often mistakenly) viewed as archaeological correctness, with stereotyped illusionistic scenery and costumes that imitated (unlike productions in classical Greece) clothing from fifth-century Athens; only in the late 1920s and 1930s did some college productions begin to be influenced by modern stage techniques (see below) that proved successful in professional productions.
Universities nevertheless shared a number of conditions and goals with independent theater producers in the early twentieth century, since both groups often relied on minimal financing and technical support and aimed to enrich the cultural environment of their audiences. Other early college productions besides the reworked Harvard Oedipus kept the bridge between the college and professional worlds open by being staged in commercial theaters; moreover, since major newspapers often reviewed them, university productions continued to register in the public world. For example, an ambitious Vassar production of Antigone was put on at the Opera House in Poughkeepsie in 1893, and in 1903 the University of Pennsylvania performed an elaborate all-male Iphigeneia among the Taurians for two performances at the Philadelphia Academy of Music. Both campuses apparently lacked an adequate indoor performance space at the time and reached out to the larger community for support. The all-male Penn performance used professional costumers and scene designers with music composed by Professor H. A. Clarke; the Orpheus Club of Philadelphia assisted the chorus. As at Harvard, the audience included eminent members of the university administration, enthusiastic members of the local Greek community, and classics professors from other universities, including the eminent Basil Gildersleeve of Johns Hopkins. H. T. Parker of the Boston Evening Transcript (May 2, 1903) remarked on Euripides' (and this play's) relative modernity among Greek tragic writers and praised the performance (Iphigeneia excepted) as appealing to its "picked" audience.
The Role of Outdoor Performances
A growing fashion for a range of outdoor performance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century led to the construction in the United States of amphitheaters, often loosely based on Greek and Roman models, that started in 1901 but proliferated in the 1920s and 1930s. Outdoor performance also created new bridges between universities, where many amphitheaters were built, and professional theater groups that toured to communities off the regular theatrical circuit. Women's groups and private individuals on the East Coast, and private clubs such as the San Francisco Bohemian Club, also sponsored outdoor performances of Greek tragedy, in the first case on the lawns of private homes and in small theaters on estates. New amphitheaters modeled closely on Greek or Greco-Roman theaters, such as that at Bradfield College in England, rather than the restoration of older Mediterranean ones for performances (as in France), were rarer in Europe.
In the view of Sheldon Cheney, an important critic and the founding editor of Theatre Arts Magazine, outdoor performances ideally served to democratize theater audiences and build community spirit through productions aimed at large groups; professional theater was in private hands and driven by commercial goals, whereas outdoor theater had the potential to reach out to and create a larger audience. "The drama of the indoor stage is unavoidably the art of the few-although designed, perhaps, to stir the many emotionally-whereas outdoor drama is distinctly social, communal and national. In one particular of community participance, the indoor theatre fails to meet the outdoor theatre-and the inspirational possibilities of the latter are infinite... . One may see therein the possibilities of making the drama a significant force in the life of every citizen who retains the primal religious and dramatic instincts." Similarly, Frank Waugh argued for a "direct relation to the redeeming of the country and industrial districts through constructive leisure" and "the founding of outdoor theatre [especially performances of Greek tragedy] for the people." Since Greek tragedy was originally developed for outdoor performance, those interested in reproducing "authentic" or archaeologically correct productions naturally gravitated outdoors, despite serious acoustical problems in some cases. For example, although Sarah Bernhardt's performance of Racine's Phèdre in 1906 and 1911 at the Berkeley Greek Theatre profited from its excellent acoustics, the fact that the great French diva was barely heard beyond the front rows in other outdoor venues on her cross-country tour does not seem to have dampened her audience's enthusiasm. Finally, as another contemporary critic enthusiastically put it, "Tragedy out of doors is helped tremendously by the elements: all nature conjoins to give it a weird, eerie atmosphere."
In California, the exquisite Greek theater built at Point Loma in 1901 under the aegis of the International Theosophical Society (founded in New York by Madame Helena Blavatsky in 1875) anticipated the building of the ambitious Hearst Greek Theatre at Berkeley by two years (fig. 5). It served as the site for a number of Greek revival productions, such as Katherine Tingley's simple-stage production of Eumenides (to be discussed below). Professors and students were the first to produce plays at Berkeley, with an opening three-day festival that included a performance of Aristophanes' Birds in 1903. Over the next ten years, before Anglin's productions at the Hearst Theatre (to be discussed shortly), Sophocles' Ajax (1904), Aeschylus's Eumenides (1907), and Aristophanes' Birds were performed in Greek, and Oedipus Rex (1910) in English. Other colleges, initially on the East Coast, successfully used sports stadia to stage outdoor performances. Harvard's 1906 Aeschylus's Agamemnon, for example, twice attracted an audience of around five thousand to the university stadium before the more famous productions of Barker (discussed below). Outside of California, however, the weather often proved problematic for the development of outdoor performances.[Place figure 5 near here.]
Democratizing Greek Tragedy Outdoors through Touring Groups
Several professional groups, which often included British or European actors, paved the way for Anglin's and Barker's successful efforts in university settings by collaborating with colleges and universities to present Greek tragedy outdoors, although some of these groups offered a limited number of performances in professional theaters as well. The success of the Ben Greet Players, headed by an Englishman, Philip Ben Greet, anticipated other groups that staged productions of theatrical classics, especially Shakespeare, at colleges, clubs, and private homes on the East Coast in 1902-18, sometimes in multiple companies. Greet shared with many early producers and enthusiasts of outdoor theater an opposition to commercial theater monopolies and drama lacking serious thematic concerns, as well as a taste for minimalist stage decor, aesthetic purity, and lack of artificiality. He directed Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for the opening of the Hearst Greek Theatre in 1903 but did not include Greek drama in his touring repertory.
A rival American theatrical group, Charles Douville Coburn's Coburn Players, brought outdoor productions of Shakespeare and several Greek tragedies, especially during the summers of 1911-17, to colleges, schools, and clubs particularly in the Midwest and South. Many of the venues on these tours had yet to build indoor theaters, and the Coburn Players apparently had a direct influence on the development of midwestern amphitheaters. The productions generally played before small audiences without music or scenery, with little stage action, and uneven acting. In New York City itself, the Coburn Players got a relatively positive reception for Gilbert Murray's translation of Euripides' Electra (accompanied in the first case by Blanche Shoemaker Wagstaff's version of Alcestis) in the winter of 1910, which followed an outdoor version in the summer of 1910 at Columbia University under the auspices (as was also typical elsewhere) of the English Department; Isadora Duncan's brother Augustin directed. Theatre Magazine's review approved the venture more for its value as "an educational cult" than as a gripping theatrical venture, although the actors received some sympathetic reviews for their diction, naturalness, and freedom from "theatrical claptrap."The Coburns' stunning Hudson Theatre set, with its four enormous ivy-clad Ionic columns, almost dwarfed the production of a company more accustomed to simple outdoor venues as the Players' attempted to reproduce the newly fashionable sculptural or "plastic" stage set thought to be appropriate for Greek drama (see below). Both Electra and, after 1913, Iphigeneia in Tauris (IT) became a stable part of the Coburns' touring repertoire. A review (New York Dramatic Mirror, August 6, 1913) of Murray's translation of IT before a large audience at Columbia University in 1913 appraised the play as an "ancient thriller" and noted the splendid diction and "poesy" of the production. Other Coburn actors formed spin-off groups whose productions also aimed to introduce new theatrical techniques to the provinces. Thomas Mitchell and Frank Peters's Art Drama Players mounted a Medea on August 2, 1915, and John Kellerd went on from his role as messenger in the 1910 Electra to play Oedipus for four New York performances in August 1911 and with a different cast in February 1913.
Harley Granville Barker's Tour of Eastern College Stadia
England's noted actor/director Harley Granville Barker, however, outshone all the native East Coast efforts discussed so far (but not those in part 2) with a single touring production of Euripides' IT and Trojan Women in 1915 that was staged for enormous audiences in the often newly built stadia at Yale, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, City College in New York, and Princeton. (An additional performance at the Piping Rock Country Club on Long Island had a smaller audience.) An estimated 60,000-100,000 people saw the plays. H. H. Asquith, the British prime minister, encouraged Barker's American winter season sponsored by the Stage Society of New York at Wallack's Theatre as part of the war effort. Barker and his wife, the noted actress Lillah McCarthy, who had played Jocasta in the celebrated 1912 production of Max Reinhardt's Oedipus Rex at London's Covent Garden, and Iphigeneia in Barker's London IT the same year, organized the subsequent campus tour partly to promote interest in Greek tragedy and partly to experiment with choral performance, which had up to this point frustrated Barker. He wanted to create tragedy on a scale unavailable to him before, with monumental performances in the large outdoor spaces for which the plays were originally designed.
In May 1915 Barker performed his close friend Gilbert Murray's translation of IT before 15,000 people at the Yale Bowl in New Haven; indeed it was a visit to the Bowl that initially inspired the tour. A committee of professors and administrators had been established to coordinate the tour, with Harvard's George Pierce Baker, noted for his important playwriting workshops, as chair. Yale's Professor David Stanley Smith wrote music played by an orchestra of fifteen to support ambitious choreography; the Yale Classics Department's Thomas D. Goodell was called on to praise the translation; and the university went to great lengths to attract and prepare an audience thought to be unfamiliar with staged Greek tragedy, using press releases, pictures of the beautiful McCarthy, and comparisons between Greek drama and football. (In fact a track meet took place directly outside the stadium during the performance; at Harvard a baseball game interrupted the play.) As noted earlier, IT was one of the most performed Greek tragedies on college campuses in the early twentieth century and may have been more familiar to its audience than Trojan Women, which was produced with it on the rest of the tour specifically to make an antiwar statement. Trojan Women was first established as the quintessentially antiwar Greek tragedy on both sides of the Atlantic around this period. For once the choice of plays received critical praise: "There are passages in Euripides that are utterly modern in spirit, discussions of war and feminism that might have been written today."
For IT, the stage was marked out in the center of the Yale stadium, facing one end, with a 100-foot circular ground cloth laid out before an austere monumental set of wood and canvas 100 feet wide and 40 feet high; later used for both plays, this set had a narrow wooden skene (stage) reached by five steps and three sets of doors; the central door was gold with black markings. The acoustics at Yale were perfect, and the play was timed to close at sundown as a gold and crimson statue of Athena rose spectacularly above the temple wall (her lines were intoned through a megaphone from the central door below). Barker aimed not at historical authenticity (though many aspects of the production did draw on Greek sources), but at an innovative nonnaturalistic theatrical effectiveness that appealed to many, if not all, critics. His attempt to treat Euripides in many respects as a playwright of the modern theater coincided with those of Margaret Anglin and Maurice Browne.
The cast mixed British and American actors. Reviews praised Murray's translation and the recognition scene, questioned the production's inconsistent tone, and noted stately formal performances by McCarthy as Iphigeneia and Ian Maclaren as Orestes; Claude Rains as the herdsman "bounced a good deal, but the real fire was there," while the barbarian king Thoas "rumbled thunderously" (New York Times, May 16, 1915). A chorus of twenty dressed in black and orange and led by the American Alma Kruger took advantage of the geometrical designs on the drop cloth to establish their positions and employ circular rotations, and "sang to the accompaniment of simple melodic music of very ancient flavor"; "their movements were rhythmical and intelligently ordered" (S. W., Nation 100, June 3, 1915, 634). The Yale program describes the music as "mostly melody, slow and chant-like, through which the lines may be declaimed with greater emotional intensity and effect than would be possible if they were merely spoken. The melodies are based on ancient Greek scales that were later adopted by the Christian Church and called Gregorian modes. For support of the voices an orchestra of violins and instruments is used." For some critics, however, the musical accompaniment was viewed as thin, the choral chants meager, and the choruses insufficiently visually arresting.
The British designer Norman Wilkinson's "wildly decorative" and colorful costumes, especially those for the barbarian characters, disconcerted many, however. Soldiers wore "union suits of black and white adorned with whisk-brooms of the hue of tomato bisque. There is no describing Thoas himself with his ornithological scepter [ten feet tall], his checkered robe, and his scarlet beard," which provoked laughter from the audience (New York Times, May 16, 1915). Iphigeneia's dishabille was considered by the same critic inappropriate for her virginal character (in fact her costume imitated statues of maidens on the Acropolis).
Barker's Trojan Women, despite its timely topic, fared somewhat less well as a production. The double bill met with worse acoustics and mixed weather at the other stadia, especially at City College, where the two plays served to inaugurate the Lewisohn Stadium for an audience of five thousand on May 29, 1915, that included students from city high schools who were required to attend. Francis Hackett (New Republic, June 5, 1915, 127) lamented the behavior of the professors, "who spent much of their time ruminating mournfully on the piled up spectators behind them, as if feebly contemplating an escape." The play itself was praised not only for its treatment of war, but for its theatrical modernism, its choral movement, and its creation of powerful female roles. The New York Times (May 30, 1915) found Chrystal Herne as Cassandra and Edith Wynne Matthison (see chapter 2.1) as Andromache moving but criticized McCarthy, despite "a certain heroic quality," for her "inflexibility, the formalism, and the intense artificiality of her delivery"; the Nation (June 3, 1915, 634) found her unheroic and lacking in the grand manner. McCarthy's elaborate, richly colored costume, including a tiara, certainly emphasized her youth and queenly status, not her humiliating woes. The Nation (633) also criticized the opening scene, where invisible voices spoke for wooden statues of Poseidon and Athena, but the symbolic final scene, with flaming braziers issuing dark smoke to indicate the fall of Troy and the chorus huddled in misery before them, impressed many. The inspiring program note by Gilbert Murray described the play's conclusion in optimistic terms that have not always met with agreement among classicists and may not have reflected the ending of the performance itself: "No friend among the dead, no help in God, no illusion anywhere, Hecuba faces That Which Is and finds somewhere, in the very intensity of Troy's affliction, a splendor that cannot die. She has reached in some sense not the bottom but the crowning peak of her fortunes. ... But they [the Trojan women] have seen in their nakedness that there is something in life which neither slavery nor death can touch."
2. American Theater Makes Greek Tragedy Its Own
Barker's productions, despite their Anglo-American cast, represented a European effort to initiate new theatrical approaches to Greek tragedy in outdoor American settings. Part 2 deals with important native efforts in a similar vein. The International Theosophical Society's outdoor Greek theater at Point Loma, California, served as the site for a number of Greek revival productions that included Aeschylus's Eumenides and philosophical "symposia" along with performances of Shakespeare. While less well known to the theater world than those of Barker, Anglin, and Browne, Katharine Tingley's more amateur productions anticipated all three in appropriating avant-garde European theatrical approaches to Greek tragedy. (The theosophical movement had in fact influenced the development of avant-garde theater in Europe.) In addition, she alone represented the views of an innovative religious and educational movement that developed its own American identity. Her Eumenides, staged earlier in New York City at the Carnegie Lyceum and at the Music Hall in Buffalo, New York, in 1898, was performed twice outdoors at Point Loma in 1899, with a cast of two hundred, and possibly several times before 1922 (with revivals in 1925 and 1927), including at San Diego's Fisher Opera House in 1901. The choice of Eumenides was clearly linked to the Theosophical Society's interest in the "revival of the lost mysteries of antiquity."
Tingley served as leader of the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society from 1896 to 1929; at Point Loma she established the School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity in 1897 and in 1901 dedicated an outdoor theater seating 500 people in which performances offering insight into these mysteries were to be presented. In 1901 she also purchased the Fisher Opera House in San Diego (renamed the Isis Theatre), which had a seating capacity of 1,400. Tingley's organization pursued humanitarian causes (including war relief and provision of housing for starving women) with the idea that such pursuits could move neophytes toward a recognition of a divine connection (based on the immortality of the soul) that unites all human beings. Drama and the arts, including studying and performing Greek tragedy and Shakespeare, played a central role in the education of children at the Raja-Yoga School in Point Loma, which aimed to develop the body, mind, and soul together, build character, and promote self-control.
The Theosophical Society was founded in the United States in 1875 by Helena P. Blavatsky, W.Q. Judge, and Henry S. Olcott in order to discover universal esoteric truths from the religious and occult traditions of many world cultures. Tingley, who succeeded Judge in an increasingly splintered movement and moved the Society to California, emphasized the goal of "Universal Brotherhood" in order to eradicate "the evils caused by barriers of race, creed, caste, or color, which have so long impeded human progress." She was also conscious of the difficulties posed by her forceful female leadership of the movement; one 1901 production at the Isis Theatre, The Wisdom of Hypatia, which explored the teachings of the fourth-century C.E. philosopher and mathematician murdered by Christians, apparently hinted broadly at a similar experience of persecution for Tingley's untraditional sect, and its leader's strong female influence over men and children. During Tingley's ultimately successful suit against the Los Angeles Times for slander, the paper's defense attorney, Mr. Shortridge, took the lead in making the full range of such accusations. Not surprisingly, wise women of antiquity such as Diotima in Plato's Symposium and Pericles' inspiring concubine Aspasia, in addition to Athena in Eumenides, played a role in the school's symposiastic performances. Tingley took the role of Aspasia in the 1923 production of her Aroma of Athens; she also made a point of lecturing to all female groups.
As the program to the December 3, 1898, performance of Eumenides at the Music Hall in Buffalo put it, Tingley's Isis League of Music and Drama (founded by herself) aimed to "accentuate the influence of Music and the Drama as vital educative factors" and "to educate the people to a knowledge of the true philosophy of life by means of dramatic presentations of a high standard." Tingley, who viewed most contemporary theater as mercenary trash, later argued: "True drama points away from the unrealities to the real life of the soul. As such, true drama should lead and guide the public taste, providing it with ideals towards which it can aspire. ... The facilities at Point Loma for dramatic work are unsurpassed anywhere in the world. We are within sight of the day which will once more restore the drama to its rightful position as one of the great redemptive forces of the age."
The 1898 Buffalo program presented Eumenides as follows:
The Revival of Ancient Drama AS AN EDUCATIVE FACTOR IN MODERN LIFE ...
It is known that among the people of ancient Greece a higher general culture existed than has since been reached in Europe.... [Greek] drama reflected, less than does ours, the common life of the people; but it dealt much more than ours with great philosophical and mystical tenets, and with esoteric teachings concerning the origin and destiny of man that appear to have been at that time matters of deep interest and discussion.... They were presented in the form of magnificent tragedies and spectacular performances wherein persons and events, half historical, half mythical, served in part to embody and illustrate the profound philosophy that the Grecian dramatists often desired to convey. ... What is of value, whatever is noble and elevating in the drama that flowered in the civilization and thought of earlier nations, should still be accessible, and should be more and more so as the general consciousness and dramatic taste of to-day rises to the level of the past. ... The first of these works selected for this purpose is the "Eumenides," the famous drama of Aeschylus.
Mme Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine served as inspiration for Tingley's interpretation of Eumenides, and the art and writing of Richard Wagner (viewed by Tingley as part of a mystical tradition) defined her aims for the ambitious production. The initial New York and Buffalo productions used the 1873 translation by Anna Swanwick; the choice of translation may be another sign of Tingley's preference for female authors and thinkers who shared her active social goals. Tingley directed her student actors accompanied by music (provided in Buffalo by an organ) composed by Wenzel A. Reboch that had an "archaic ring"; he included the recently discovered "Hymn to Apollo" found at Delphi in 1893 by the French Archaeological School. Professor H. Fletcher Rivers provided "intricate choric figure dancing."
At Point Loma, where the first performance was given outdoors April 13, 1899, during the Congress of the Historical Society, the Theosophical Society's Woman's Exchange and Mart created elaborate Athenian-style costumes with embroidered borders, an orchestra played the music, and the group's Aryan Press did advertising and programs. For Tingley, Aeschylus's Furies represented the human capacity to transcend spiritual limitations and a "lower passional nature" through free will after being touched "by the vibration of higher thought" in the person of Athena, who arrived in a chariot, decked with a brilliant helmet and breastwork. The Furies' conversion would ideally lead the audience to adjure the violence of war, materialism, and cruelty in favor of peace. (Tingley was an active, if moderate, member of the peace movement before and during World War I.) The 1922 production of Eumenides at Point Loma dramatically captured the play's move from darkness to light when the Furies threw off their black, hooded gowns to reveal lovely, garlanded maidens in white holding chains of flowers (figs. 6 and 7). These "fair maidens" represented "truth and virtue moving to the rhythm of sweet melody in silence ... a wonderful factor ... in nature." The play's closing procession, which seems to have included many costumed members of the school, was enormous. According to one reporter, Ray Stannard Baker, local newspaper reporters spied on the performances of Eumenides in the Greek theater from afar and interpreted the play as (presumably dangerous) secret, occult rituals. [Place figures 6 and 7 near here.]
Tingley's other major Greek-inspired production, The Aroma of Athens: Athenian Flower Festival, a symposium envisioned as responding to the Attic Anthesteria and first presented in 1911, included elaborate Athenian-inspired costumes, the "Ode to Colonus" from Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, excerpts from epic and archaic poets as well as Aeschylus, hymns to Apollo, pseudo-Platonic dialogues on truth, goodness, and beauty and discourses on the glories of Periclean Athens by Pericles, Aspasia, Phidias, Euripides, Thucydides, and others; songs such as the Greek Swallow Song, children's games, and a closing torch-lit procession with music by votaries in brilliant red. In The Promise, a philosophical dialogue written by a student at Point Loma for the school's series of symposia, Aeschylus (a putative mystery initiate himself) even advocated reincarnation of souls. In the same dialogue a priestess of Apollo predicted that the ancient mysteries, which had disappeared for centuries, would reappear during a new golden age at Lomaland. Although reviews of Tingley's productions were generally respectful of the plays' production values and more reserved about the amateur acting, her efforts caught the attention of Walter Damrosch, a New York composer and conductor who worked with both Isadora Duncan and Margaret Anglin and visited Point Loma in 1916, and partly inspired the work of Henry Bertram Lister in San Francisco during the 1920s and 1930s, whose plays (see chapter 3.2 and chapter 4.3) also showed a joint interest in Shakespeare and Greek tragedy.
Despite other significant early performances, the inspiration and passionate dedication of one specific actress, Margaret Anglin, ignited the greatest interest in Greek tragedy on the American stage during the first quarter of the twentieth century and defined standards of performance for the production of the original plays in her era. Anglin, whose Irish father was speaker of the Canadian House of Commons at her birth, left Catholic school in Toronto at age seventeen for a course in dramatic elocution at Nelson Wheatcroft's Empire Theatre Dramatic School in New York City. Her Scottish Catholic mother supported her aspirations, which continued to be opposed by her father. Within a year Anglin was launched on an increasingly successful professional career in the United States. She was not only repeatedly celebrated for her intensity and power as an emotional actress and for her outstanding voice and graceful stage movement, but recognized as a cultured and articulate woman who intensively researched her productions, wrote articles in newspapers and magazines about her aspirations, and became a popular authority on interpreting Greek tragedy; she even received a degree from Notre Dame in 1927 honoring her classical scholarship. Anglin served as adapter and rewriter of her own scripts, as producer, as both de facto and formal director of her plays, and on one occasion she revised the music for a performance of Hippolytus. She supervised the integration of music into her productions, approved the set design, lighting, and costumes, and oversaw both the casting and training of actors and the work of electricians, painters, and stage crew. Like Barker, she became an avid promoter of new, initially European approaches to stagecraft inspired by Gordon Craig, Max Reinhardt, and Adolphe Appia. Her talents at publicity were also exceptional. Synopses and even whole tragic texts appeared beforehand in local newspapers; she encouraged journalistic feature articles on Greek tragedy and her own preparations for her plays; she lured major papers into printing photos and sketches; she promoted talks by prominent lecturers to schools, colleges, theaters, and women's clubs and other social organizations.
Unlike many other actresses of her generation, Anglin was a serious student of every role and play that she undertook. She began to study Antigone intensively with the encouragement of her agent, Alice Kauser, in 1909, a year before her first performance of the play in the Hearst Greek Theatre at Berkeley. For this performance she also acquired Professor George Riddle of Harvard as her academic adviser/nominal director; no doubt his 1882 New York performance as Oedipus in ancient Greek drew him to her attention. She spent three years studying Sophocles' Electra for a second Berkeley performance in 1913, and she later learned ancient Greek and offered dramatic and other readings in the original. As her career in performing Greek tragedy developed, she toured Europe, attending Max Reinhardt's famous 1910 Oedipus in Munich and visiting relevant museum collections and the sites where the plays that she performed were located, as well as the Greek theater at Epidaurus, where she recited the big speeches of Medea and Electra in the original for her husband, Howard Hull. Following forty-five performances (thirty-six as Sophocles' Electra) viewed by over 200,000 people in Berkeley, New York, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, and Providence, she retained an interest in Greek tragedy throughout her life and was often characterized as America's foremost tragic actress. Anglin's extraordinarily ambitious triple bill of performances of Iphigeneia in Aulis, Electra, and Medea over a three-week period in 1915 at the Greek Theatre even produced a published collection of sonnets by a poet named Charles Phillips among others.
Like most serious actresses of her day, Anglin had ambitions to become a noted interpreter of Shakespeare. What set her apart was her equally intense interest in the major female roles of Greek tragedy. She aimed with her Berkeley productions to restore prestige to American theater; the Greek tragic roles fulfilled her "desire to gain breadth and depth of expression," and led her to remark: "The mountain peaks are at last in sight." As early as 1904 she expressed interest in performing Lysistrata while playing the lead in a contemporary play that she saw as "somewhat based on" Aristophanes, Robert Misch's Eternal Feminine; a letter from an enthusiastic critic then urged her to try Electra.
Anglin used the proceeds from her many successful countrywide tours with contemporary melodramas and comedies to finance her move to acting the classics. She had developed a particularly close connection to San Francisco from an early date; San Francisco critics appropriated her as their own, and even claimed to have discovered her true brilliance before the rest of the country; her California summer season in 1903 was the first in which she was fully featured as a star. Her positive reception in the city, along with a letter from her business manager expressing her interest, led to her first invitation from the Music and Dramatic Committee headed by Professor William Dallam Armes of the English Department to perform a Greek tragedy at the Hearst Greek Theatre at Berkeley. The space itself, which Anglin pronounced "the most beautiful theatre in the world," partly provoked her interest. Indeed, Anglin later had a model of the theater built replete with accessories that she could move about to envision a production. The size and scope of the outdoor audience at Berkeley was certainly another enticement; nearly 8,000 had attended a student production of Sophocles' Oedipus in 1910. All but one of Anglin's productions at Berkeley had audiences ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 attendees with increasing numbers being turned away as time went on. Anglin had the voice and presence to reach a large audience, and she was not shy about attempting to do so. (The New York Metropolitan Opera House, the site of Anglin's 1927 triumph, was about the only indoor space that could accommodate very large audiences at the time.) She remarked:
I take great personal joy in the Greek Theater at Berkeley. It represents to me an unusual experience, for it was in that amphitheater that I came under the spell of an audience vaster than any theater can hold. The swaying movement of the chorus as it partly chants and partly speaks the interpretative lines, the dominant magnitude of love or hate or jealousy or revenge of the principal characters, and all the presence of that vast audience, all act like magic on me. One realizes why Greek drama is potent, why it is of undying quality, why it is actable before modern audiences. No actress could find parts more dramatic, more inspiring and more demanding of the best that is in her.
Anglin's efforts to achieve brilliant performances knew no bounds. In a fashion that was to become standard for her, she began rehearsals for Antigone during a cross-country tour of The Awakening of Helena Richie. George Riddle joined her in Denver, and her rehearsals in California took place between midnight and 3:00 a.m., after her evening performances. She cast Riddle's student Howard Hull, whom she married soon thereafter, as Haemon. Although night performances in outdoor theaters were viewed as controversial at the time, Anglin insisted on holding hers then, and the lighting using gas calciums was viewed as especially effective. "Night is the most poetic and beautiful parcel of hours. I shall present beautiful plays in the most beautiful way I can, and night and the stars will come to my aid." Antigone's exit to death, described as the "Ode to the Tomb," was singled out as the high point of the production by one of a number of critics who traveled considerable distances specifically to see it. Riddle commended Anglin's mastery of the grand manner of tragedy such as no other actress on the American stage could have done. When silence fell at the conclusion, Clayton Hamilton reported in Vogue that a friend standing in the wings heard Miss Anglin say to herself: "I've failed,-My God, I've failed!" "Then," Hamilton continued, "after an appreciable pause, there came a noise like the rushing of a tide at Mont Saint Michel. ... Then, suddenly the stage itself was assaulted by hundreds and hundreds of clamorous spectators. They swarmed Miss Anglin and strove to touch her fingertips." The remarkable and unexpected success of this production (the first native U.S. professional production of Greek tragedy in translation to win such acclaim) was celebrated in reviews throughout the country, but above all by the New York Times, which helped to promote Anglin's effort to make this a major theatrical event.
The staging of Antigone was more marked by the current fashion for historical "authenticity" than Anglin's later productions. She narrowed the stage from 133 to 80 feet by planting thirty cypresses around a large oak door (partly to hide her orchestra); the set consisted of an altar, some benches, and three steps down from the central door. Costumes (minus the traditional masks) were colorful, and preclassical in style, with bold, geometric borders. The music was sung by a chorus of forty-five male voices accompanied by an orchestra of seventy-five. Riddle recommended for Antigone the 1841 appropriately "classical" musical setting of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (conducted by Professor Fred Weile of the Berkeley Music Department); he modified the blank-verse translation of Edward Hayes Plumptre, which appeared in the Harvard Classics, through forays into Richard Jebb's translation and commentary. Movement included attitudes that one critic described as "like the women of St. Gaudens come to life." Anglin had lined up the chorus against the back wall of the stage to create the effect of a Greek bas-relief.
After Antigone, Anglin seems to have developed a greater reserve about academic influences on her productions, even though she continued to read intensively about all aspects of Greek culture, consult many translations, and solicit the views of classicists such as Benjamin Wheeler and Charles Gayley at Berkeley and a Professor Andreades of the University of Athens; prominent translators such as Edith Hamilton and William Alfred also sought her advice and shared their translations with her. As she put it,
In rehearsing Greek tragedy I have made this relentless rule: that neither I nor my company shall pass a line without understanding its full significance, in so far as study and research can aid us. ... The Greeks held inviolable certain religious, civic, and social rites, and these rites are held inviolable in the dramas. Only by understanding what these rites are will we be able to understand the motives to certain actions.
In presenting Greek tragedy I do not pretend to justify every action to accord with scholarship. But I do seek to reach the essential spirit of the whole. ... I suppose the modern scholar might claim I have no justification for many things I do. The only authority I rely on is the underlying humanity of the text. The modern actor should approach Greek tragedies with the conviction that they have been left too long in the clutch of the venerable.... The Classics were written for the people and they should always be for the people.
A Greek play, Anglin noted, is "a classic because it is as interesting now as it was 2400 years ago."
Indeed, Anglin went to increasing lengths to assure the general public that she aimed at entertainment not an academic exercise. Apparently to resist too much academic interference, she rejected invitations from Harvard and Yale to do another Antigone under their auspices, and even though she did Antigone at Berkeley again in 1928 and at Ann Arbor in 1930, she was in each case directed, to her partial dissatisfaction, by Professor Charles von Neumayer of the Berkeley Speech Department, who frequently did student productions, and by Robert Henderson, who later staged a rival performance of Electra starring Blanche Yurka in 1932. By 1915 Anglin confirmed her growing sense of artistic independence by writing in Hearst's International Magazine 28 (July 1915):
There is no reason for us to retain the rigid conventions of Greek drama, for we may rest assured that were the Greek dramatists alive today, they would be the first to utilize, from the modern playhouse, whatever would best serve Greek theater as they saw it. I shall never forget a discussion I had with one of my directors [Riddle] at the time of giving the "Antigone" of Sophocles. A very inexpressive bier had been made to bring on the dead body of Haemon. Think of this in the face of the great elemental forces employed by the author of the play! Of course the director intended to use it in place of the "funeral car" of the Greeks, but both of them I discarded, the one as archaeologically restrictive, and the other as dramatically ineffective. In their places Creon, King of Thebes, entered, bearing in his arms the body of his son, the last of his race, an infinitely more moving spectacle, surely, than any mechanical device.
This choice later became commonplace and was used by George Tzavellas in his 1961 film Antigone. Both could have been inspired by the scene in Shakespeare's King Lear in which Lear carries in the dead Cordelia.
In an era that was beginning to celebrate the centrality of the theater director's vision, Anglin applied her stardom to producing and eventually openly directing her own plays. In fact, her biographer, John LeVay, refers to her as the "last of the great actor-producers of the American Stage." Anglin mixed severe simplicity with the pageantry and huge crowds of the Oedipus production by Austrian director Max Reinhardt, whom she had met in 1913. She noted: "Reinhardt agreed with me that superfluous accessories distract from, rather than enhance, the dignity of a performance. Although valuable when used with discretion, they should never be obtrusive. The best way to make a play effective is to act it." From Reinhardt, Anglin "learned another thing: the acting in Greek tragedy must be illuminating, interpretative, not merely recitative; that there must be variation in the color of emotion, and where that is impossible-for Greek tragedy is either of such a dull red or white heat that its identifying color is unmistakable-there must be variation of action. In no other drama can an actress find such opportunity for studying shades of emotion that are so nearly alike and yet so subtly different." Walter Anthony, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, compared Anglin's performances to those he had recently seen in Europe. Anglin's were in his view not only far more human but in them "everything not directly contributing to the dramatic effectiveness of the works as they were to be viewed with modern eyes, was discarded. Pedantry yielded in every instance to poetry; affectation to effect, history to histrionism, and the triumph of Anglin's modernism was reflected in the wonderful audiences."
The 1913 Electra was part of an ambitious venture financed by Anglin that also included four of Shakespeare's plays. She had originally planned to do Medea, but eventually chose Sophocles' version of Electra because in her view the heroine was more rational than in other versions. Theatrically speaking, Anglin's Greek productions at Berkeley after Antigone were far more ambitious, and her continued close collaboration with her lighting and costume designer, Livingston Platt, and her attempt to maintain a company of predominantly American actors devoted to ensemble playing was unusual for the period. Platt followed and in some respects anticipated Craig and Reinhardt in his pathbreaking work with a small touring company in Bruges, Belgium, and at the Toy Theatre, an early American Little Theatre (see below) in Boston. Anglin specifically identified him as an American Gordon Craig or Max Reinhardt (New York Dramatic Mirror, June 1913). The 1913 Electra was defined by its simplicity of setting, lack of realism, and imaginative use of lighting. In contrast to Antigone, no footlights or calcium lights were employed. "There was no 'shaft of light' thrusting itself over your head to render at once the player and illusion obvious. Instead, the lighting was thrown from cornice tops at either side of the stage, and the mechanism was hidden artfully." The play was framed by a move from dark to light, concluding with a return to darkness. The sets were painted in pointillist dots of color that blended at a distance and provided a rich surface that could be enhanced by lighting. The costumes in this and later productions, more "Homeric" than Periclean in style, were made from rich fabric dyed and woven in Platt's New York studio; their colors aimed to capture the play's dominant moods and emotions; Platt imitated the drape of Greek garments on vase painting and sculpture. In Electra Anglin herself wore severe dark blue, the chorus shades of gray and dark brown, and Clytemnestra, followed by colorful attendants, scarlet and gold. This time Platt enclosed a group of cypresses planted to reduce the stage with a six-foot wall. Two huge busts of Greek gods surrounded the central oak doors with six cow skulls mounted above them. To secure an effective entrance for Clytemnestra, Anglin had six hundred seats removed from the Hearst Theatre, thus tossing away $1,200, so that fifteen extra steps could be built for the queen's descent. The decadent procession following Clytemnestra might easily have been borrowed from Hofmannsthal's Elektra.
Only the choice of music, inspired by Gluck and Debussy and composed and conducted by William Furst, and the Plumptre translation were less adventurous than in later productions. Less obtrusive than Damrosch's later music, Furst's used woodwind, brass, and percussion instead of a full orchestra.
Anglin believed that all Greek tragic roles should be "interpreted in a simple and in a human manner to reach the pure spirit of the character." She moved in a stately, slow manner, "often speaking her lines without much change in the inflection of her stirring voice." "Her movements and flowing gestures always solidified into Greek poses and gestures." As one critic, writing in 1915, put it, "The economy of Miss Anglin's manner and the reticence of her art are the imperial signs of her genius." Anglin even turned her plays into a form of religious ceremony; latecomers were seated in the last row, and no applause was permitted during the performance.
Anglin's instructions to the one hundred college "girls" who played the Greek maidens fleeing in terror from the murder of Clytemnestra indicate the degree to which she was already directing her own plays in a fashion that involved the chorus continually in the action, mingled chorus and characters in the orchestra, and used the chorus to intensify climactic moments. "'You are intelligent young women. I will not tell you what to do. I will simply ask you to express extreme terror by flying from the sight. Go in any way that seems best to you, but, remember, the moving emotion.' The way Margaret Anglin cleared the stage of its chorus, the way the Greek maidens ran shrieking out of the theatre into the surrounding night, is one of the thrilling memories of those ten thousand who filled the theatre."
The ending evoked lyrical responses from several critics. "Demonstrating that she was no mere dreamer translated to another period and manner of life she gave the Greek play an American climax, furnishing it by leaping upward, sword in hand, ferocious, unwomaned by her triumph over fate." "Off stage, there arises, in due time, a cry of agony, and then there comes a silence and a pause. Then from out the portal of the house of Agamemnon is hurled the sword of the vanquished. This token clatters, hurtling down a stairway of enormous length. Electra shudders away from the symbol of defeat. Then stealthily, she climbs down many steps to examine it with anguished curiosity. With a wild cry, she catches up and flings the thing aloft; for she has recognized it as the sword of the hated murderer, Aegisthus. Then, at last, she dashes it beneath her feet, and tramples on it with a tardy sense of triumph. This point of high dramatic tensity concludes the play." This staging, despite the move from light to darkness that haunts both Sophocles' text and the lighting of this production, confirms that Anglin interpreted the play as concluding with a triumphant vindication for the long-suffering Electra. Electra, as one critic later remarked, "uncoiled ... like a steely, terrific snake-a snake a-glimmer with the splendid, poisonous colors of lurid hate."
Anglin's triple bill of Iphigenia in Aulis (IA), Electra, and Medea in 1915 was performed as part of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco (fig. 8). Although the programs list a stage manager for IA and Medea, Anglin essentially directed the plays herself. Because of heavy demand, IA was given twice. Each of the three plays was performed in a different style, but all were highly ambitious and monumental efforts. One eyewitness, chorus member Emily Kimbrough, was particularly impressed by the contrasts in voice and posture of the heroine: "Miss Anglin as Iphigenia had a clear rather high voice of a young girl, totally without the organ-like vibrations of Medea. As Electra her voice was strident, harsh in denunciation, tender, loving, yearning toward Orestes, yet quite different from the passionate voice of Medea. Also she moved as a dancer moves, expressing character or emotion-the walk of a young priestess as Iphigenia going toward her immolation, the slinking crouch of an animal in Medea, the heavy weighted walk of sorrow, despair, in Electra." [Place figure 8 near here.]
In contrast to her Antigone, Electra, and Medea, Anglin thought of IA as a melodrama that offered an opportunity for spectacle and pageantry. "Miss Anglin, as Iphigenia, was attired in the white simplicity of the Grecian princess" in contrast to a chorus in lavenders, greens, pinks, and blues. "The lights directed upon her as she made the entrance revealed a face that seemed inspired more with some inner sense of impending sacrifice than with the thought of approaching nuptials." The entrance included a procession with trumpets, slaves, archers, soldiers with lances, and wedding gifts and bridal raiment carried by a score of attendants. She arrived on stage drawn by a four-horse chariot. A large group of shouting Greeks declared the ominous presence of a Greek army ambitious to sail for Troy. The cast included five hundred, many of them students. Anglin heavily reworked Robert Potter's 1781 translation herself. The costumes and pageantry suggest that Anglin relied on the play's move from fictional marriage to sacrifice witnessed by a chorus of youthful sightseers and stressed the social inevitability of Iphigeneia's death by making the army's desire to go to war visible from the heroine's entrance.
Walter Damrosch, the conductor of the New York Symphony, composed the music for both IA and Medea. "Mr. Damrosch foreswore quantity evidently in favor of a noble quality, distinctly modern, free, strong in tonal coloring. The song of the handmaidens went particularly well, and there were malignant gleams to the strains which accompanied Clytemnestra." The orchestral music in all three productions (critics noted the influence of Gluck and Wagner) underlined climactic moments and supported entrances, exits, openings, and closings. IA's overture accompanied Agamemnon writing a letter; a cello solo marked Iphigeneia's sacrifice; the play closed with a "Battle Hymn Finale." Drumbeats underlined Clytemnestra's death cries in Electra; musical themes marked lament, the royal bacchanalia, the mysterious stranger, and blood guilt. Cello and double basses accompanied Medea's search for the children, reed instruments their shrieks, trumpets their murder, and woodwinds their completed demise. For Medea, Damrosch's musical themes underlined Medea's three roles as "sorceress, exile, and vengeful lover." Music typically played a more central role than the choruses in Anglin's productions. In this case fifty musicians and thirty singers sang from offstage, concealed by evergreens planted for the occasion. By contrast, the choral odes were cut, the choral lines were divided among individuals instead of being chanted in unison (a fashion Anglin despised as monotonous and artificial). Although Anglin hired dance specialists to direct the choral movement and occasionally used an additional group of dancers to supplement the chorus, the chorus played a primarily reactive role as they moved rhythmically and gestured and regrouped in poses adapted from Greek friezes, sometimes in a manner inspired by Isadora Duncan. Anglin played the volume and pitch of the chorus's voices against each other; single members of the chorus sometimes delivered lines accompanied by a full orchestra (melodrame).
Medea, which used Gilbert Murray's recent translation, was universally viewed as more modern. "Turbulent, terror-striking, Miss Anglin's Medea was positively sublime in her fearfulness. The Greeks of old hated Medea, as Euripides meant they should; but there was no hatred for the Medea who, in the gloom and grey of the Berkeley night, cried out her wrongs to the starry heavens." Indeed, one of Anglin's actors, Alfred Lunt, recalled that she so frightened the two children in the performance, when she used a full, terrifying voice that she toned down in rehearsal, that they were afraid to be dragged offstage by her. On the Medea set, braziers burned constantly on either side of the heavy bronze doors of the palace. The outdoor theater permitted the use of a dramatic exit from the palace roof. "While as Medea I was in the chariot on the roof, and flinging a dreadful speech at Jason. But I couldn't see him for the darkness below me. It was like dropping something into a well and hearing its echo."
Anglin's much-photographed costume was particularly striking; the heroine's barbarism was expressed in a green robe and bloodred scarf, a tiger skin attached at one shoulder, one frontal lock gray, earrings, jeweled sandals, and wrist and arm bracelets. Anglin, who already had a reputation for being willing to take on outrageous female roles in other contexts (Mrs. Dane's Defense and The Awakening of Helena Richie), seems not to have shared the fear of Euripides' infanticide common to many bowdlerized nineteenth-century Medeas (see chapter 5.1), although her exceptional ferocity was mitigated by a powerful plea for justice. Her Medea, in contrast to Van Volkenburg's interpretation, discussed below, seems to have visibly emphasized the heroine's foreign and terrifying dimensions, whereas Van Volkenburg stressed her lucid intelligence.
Anglin's success at Berkeley led to performances of Electra and Medea at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1918, while she was playing the farce Billeted at the Fulton Theatre, and to performances of IA at the Manhattan Opera House in 1921, with Anglin as Clytemnestra and Mary Fowler as Iphigeneia. Although sold out (Carnegie Hall held three thousand), these productions once again did not cover Anglin's expenses. Anglin worked thirty-six hours straight before performing the Plumptre translation of Electra, since she served as producer as well as starring actress (figs. 9 and 10). Critics in 1918 noted that she acquired an atypical audience for serious plays in wartime. Platt's severe sets were dominated by verticals and primary colors, projected into the auditorium with neoimpressionist brushwork, and used multiple playing levels and nuanced lighting. For example, in Medea, crimson light shone eerily through the grillwork gates used instead of doors when Jason arrived after the murder of the children. John Corbin of the New York Times, an enthusiastic viewer of the Berkeley Electra in 1915, thought Electra's revenge theme outdated-"one of the few themes in antique drama which are alien to our modern mood"-but praised Anglin's splendid, intense, and vital interpretation of Sophocles: "I hold it as self-evident that Miss Anglin is far more nearly right about it [Greek tragedy] than the scholastic world. It is a thing of rich, human vitality and gorgeous color." Citing the color used in painting classical sculpture in support of this view, he goes on to praise Anglin for "the greatest performance we have been permitted to see since Bernhardt." Or, as another critic put it, "A moment of the clanking steel behind the scenes, and then the breathless audience beheld Miss Anglin, alone on the great steps, clad in black, her white arms raised to heaven, drawing her fierce breath of joy at the fulfillment of the long expected moment upon which had centered all the emotion of her life... . We can name none who possess this splendid vitality, pictorial and plastic sense and intellectual vigor.... This achievement in Greek tragedy must mark Margaret Anglin as our greatest American actress." Anglin's New York Medea, again viewed as more modern and more interesting as a play than her Electra, was in some cases less to critics' taste. Costumes, sets, and music were praised, but Anglin's own performance and that of the chorus received in some cases more mixed reviews than that of the rest of the cast. Yet even parodic reviews (Brooklyn Eagle, February 21, 1918) were bowled over by the scene in which Medea rushes off to kill the children and by her green and scarlet costume. [Place figures 9 and 10 near here.]
Despite the continuing reservations about the play's harsh theme, perhaps the single greatest critical success of Anglin's career was the Electra performed for two nights at the New York Metropolitan Opera House in 1927, followed by thirteen performances at New York's Gallo Theater in December, at the Metropolitan Opera House in Philadelphia under the sponsorship of the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1928, in an outdoor performance attended by a crowd of eight thousand. A version of this Electra was also given at the Garden Theater in St. Louis in 1925, at Berkeley in 1926, and in Boston four years later. The New York Met production had the support of the National Community Foundation, whose members included many classicists. Anglin directed her own performance. As one critic commented, "For once Greek drama was paying dividends." "When the Shuberts announced Miss Anglin's Electra last week as a regular theatrical attraction, Sophocles came close to being the leading dramatist for the spring season." Indeed, support from major Broadway producers like the Shuberts would up to this time have been unheard-of for a production of Greek tragedy. Although some critics thought Anglin overwhelmed the rest of the cast, she once again won many rave reviews. "Trust Miss Anglin to know the value of shaded lights, of grouped figures, of characters weaving themselves into changing pictures against gaunt grey backgrounds, to know the value of flat pastel tones and of incense smells." While the occasional critic complained about the lack of authenticity of Anglin's productions, another more typically asserted that "if any professor objects to Miss Anglin's interpretations, so much the worse for him. I am sure Euripides would have enjoyed them. Whatever isn't living isn't Greek."
Anglin's other productions and efforts to perform Greek tragedy were less successful. Her Berkeley Hippolytus of 1923 was thought overproduced, with music (composed in part by herself) that overwhelmed the actors. As Phaedra, Anglin disappeared too early in the play to satisfy her fans. A 1922 invitation by King Constantine of Greece for a Greek tour eventually fell through when he was deposed. Anglin tried to do Greek season in Lewisohn Stadium at New York's City College, but her proposal in this case and in the case of her plans for a permanent theater festival to perform classics at Berkeley was thought too expensive. She hoped to perform in a Chicago stadium in 1924, but the space proved too large for a stage performance. By the late 1920s Actors' Equity regulations made it impossible for her to direct and perform in her productions. In her waning years, when she could no longer afford to finance her own productions, she tried to organize a performance of Euripides' Trojan Women with herself as Andromache in 1936 and 1937, and again in 1940 and 1942 with herself as Hecuba (along with another IA), as well as a Persians with herself as Atossa at Berkeley in 1938. For the first time she was motivated by politics; World War II obsessed Anglin as the World War I had not. She also tried and failed to challenge Blanche Yurka, who aimed to rival her Electra in 1931-32 (see below), with a performance of Electra in the Hollywood Bowl in 1938. In addition to her performances of the Greek originals, however, Anglin starred in two performances of Julia Ward Howe's Hippolytus, a new version of the play based on Euripides' Hippolytus and Seneca's and Racine's Phaedras, at Boston's Tremont Theatre in March 1911 (see chapter 3.1).
Anglin's career intersected in significant ways with many of the other early important American figures in the reception of Greek tragedy on the U.S. stage. Maurice Browne, whose Trojan Women and Medea marked the advent of professional performance of Greek tragedy in Chicago, later worked for Anglin as a stage manager of her productions of IA and Joan of Arc in 1921. Walter Damrosch, who served as composer for several of Anglin's tragedies until he fell out with her in 1921, also worked closely on a major New York season with Isadora Duncan in 1908-9 in which she danced various versions of the Iphigeneia myth. In 1896 Anglin spent twelve months working under James O'Neill; his eight-year-old son Eugene, who often hung around backstage, idolized Anglin. Although we have recorded only a backstage visit from Eugene O'Neill to Anglin in Portland, Oregon, O'Neill is said to have wanted to write a play for her, perhaps even (though it came too late in her life) the part of the Electra figure, Lavinia, in Mourning Becomes Electra. Certainly by 1931, the date of the O'Neill trilogy's premiere, Electra had become Anglin's signature tragic role, as well as one for which no competition had emerged. Although her Medea was later eclipsed by that of Judith Anderson in Robinson Jeffers's version starting in 1947 (see chapter 5.2), Anglin remains the single most ambitious and successful American actress/director of Greek tragedy on the American stage.
The Chicago Little Theatre
As a whole the American Little Theatre movement, named after the Chicago Little Theatre, which was cofounded by the British Maurice Browne and his American wife and chief actress, Ellen Van Volkenburg, in 1912, both embraced serious modern plays from the European repertoire and promoted plays by contemporary American writers. Above all, however, the movement challenged the values and organization of commercial theater and developed new modes of theatrical representation. These regional repertory theaters were tiny-Browne's theater on the fourth floor of the Fine Arts Building on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, with a stage fifteen feet across and eighteen feet deep, seated ninety-one, and was supported by four hundred elite subscribers and some left-wing radicals, literati, and members of an upwardly mobile middle class. Greek tragedy, among other canonized classics, would have played little role in the movement if it had not been for the ardent Hellenism of both Browne and George Cram Cook, founder of the Provincetown Players in New York (see below). Both the British Browne and native Iowan Cook had studied Greek as undergraduates at Cambridge and Harvard respectively, and the influence of Greek drama on their own conceptions of theater was reinforced by a shared admiration for the Irish Players of Dublin's Abbey Theatre, whose enthusiasm for new modes of theatrical organization, ensemble acting, new scenic practices, local mythological subjects and a national dramatic literature, poetic diction, tragic form, and "ethical idealism" was fostered by the Irish poets Yeats and Synge. The Players' visit to Chicago in 1911 occurred shortly before Browne's production of Euripides' Trojan Women in 1913.
Browne, a Wildean aesthete as an undergraduate, and a poet before he became a theater manager, aimed to reestablish the place of poetic drama on the American scene. He expected to discover "plastic and rhythmic drama," using "a road map ... concealed somewhere in the Greek chorus: a choreographic map based on the beat of verse; a map of perfectly synchronized mood, movement and speech, a 'dance' with words." Browne's thinking was directly influenced by Walter Pater's argument that "success is defined not by moral conduct but by the intensity of one's aesthetic experience." The founders' statement announces, of works to be produced:
If they are more Greek, or more Hebraic, than anything else, that is only because to the Greeks and to the Jews rather than to the rest it has been allowed to sweep the unessential absolutely aside and return with clear-eyed innocence to the main facts. The directors of the Little Theatre of Chicago ... [aim at] nothing less than a restoration ... of an institution which has been bastardized, perverted and profaned. The theatre, in our generation, is no more that sacred stage where life is purged and winnowed and heightened. ... When, in the future, Poetic Drama once more attains the position to which the self-preservative instincts of humanity entitle it, it will be recognized for what it is-the true religious focusing of man's permanent protest against Fate-lifted above the dust of all ephemeral questioning. It will then be seen that in Poetic Drama, rather than in the noblest sacraments of religion, the race must find its orchestral unity, the rhythm of its natural and tragic breathing.
In short, as in Greece, theater was to become a "temple" in which performances served as rituals that regenerated social life.
Despite a tiny budget and largely amateur (and female) actors who received no pay in the first three years of the theater, the 1913 Trojan Women, the group's third play, proved such a success that it remained in the repertory for the next five years, until the theater closed; Medea followed shortly thereafter, in 1914. In a 1915 tour supported by the Woman's Peace Party, the creation of Jane Addams, as well as the Carnegie Peace Foundation, the company took Trojan Women from Chicago's Blackstone Theatre to play to full houses of around 33,000 people in community groups such as women's clubs, on college campuses, and at commercial theaters in thirty-one cities from Baltimore to San Francisco throughout the nation; it introduced many audiences not only to Greek tragedy, but to new theatrical techniques. The Woman's Peace Party was organized in Washington, D.C., on January 10, 1915, as a union of women working toward a warless future who believed that "a new social consciousness must be developed towards war, just as it has been toward slavery." The play was chosen, according to a program note, as "the most poignant and most beautiful illustration of war's utter futility and unmitigated evil, particularly as war effects women and children. The Women's Peace Party sends it, not as an archaic curiosity, but as a direct message, inspiration and appeal, to the men and women of America." Barker and Browne coordinated their antiwar productions of the play in a rare instance, at least in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century in the United States, of a performance of Greek tragedy aiming deliberately to serve a political cause. Subsequent performances of Trojan Women, however, beginning with the single performance directed by Alice Chapin to positive reviews at the Punch and Judy Theatre in New York in 1923, have continued to mark U.S. engagement in military conflicts to the present. Reviews of Browne's production, and especially of Van Volkenburg's Hecuba, were consistently strong, though Browne himself felt that his audiences ranged widely, with college audiences being the most attentive.
Despite their dissemination of "The World's Greatest Peace Play" (program note), Browne's company remained largely aesthetic rather than political in its orientation. Browne promoted the Peace Party's political agenda to the Midwest, which with its large German population was more inclined than the East to stay out of the war, and declined to print Gilbert Murray's insert for the program, which outlined his disapproval of a pacifist reading of the play and introduced the play by accusing its audience "of being equally guilty with Kaiser Wilhelm II in the spread of war." Although the company itself had become more politically radical as it developed, Browne's patrons were not keen on political activism, and a number of his patrons were involved in defense contracts. Overall, Browne was apparently more motivated by the financial and touring opportunity than conviction. The play retained a number of lines that could be read as promoting necessary wars, and Van Volkenburg's Hecuba, notable for her lack of self-pity and restraint until the final scene, followed Murray in concluding with a revelation of irrational meaning to be found in the women's suffering at the play's conclusion:
All is well,
Had He not turned us in His hand, and thrust
Our high things low and shook our hills as dust,
We had not been this splendor, and our wrong
An everlasting music for the song
Of earth and heaven!
Moreover, since Browne cut the play's prologue with the gods Athena and Poseidon, the nature of deity in this production remained less specific.
Aesthetically speaking, Browne's ability to win the sustained attention of his audience depended partly on his innovative stagecraft. Influenced by avant-garde artists such as Gordon Craig, Adolphe Appia, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, Alexander von Salzmann, Max Reinhardt, Harley Granville Barker, Jacques Copeau, and others whose work he observed in Europe, as well as by East Asian arts, Browne and his designer, Raymond Jonson, aimed at a radically simple focused and unified performance that included no object or any meaningless movement of body, voice, or shift of emotion that was not "indispensable." As Browne's friend the journalist Floyd Dell remarked in a review of Trojan Women in Harper's Weekly, he "set to work with a score of red, amber and blue electric lights, a few yards of colored cloth, a post-impressionist canvas wall and a dozen amateurs, to create in the mind of his audience that emotional state which should predispose them to appreciate most keenly and fully the tragedy of the women of captured Troy." The original set depicted the great wall of Troy with a central, jagged gap through which the Greeks were imagined to have broken through; every attempt was made to make the backdrop (burlap backed with canvas) look thick and massive, rather than simply painted, and by depicting huge stones and extending the wall into the wings, the set aimed to create monumentality in a small space and to reduce the individuality of the actors. Costumes were muted, blended, and low-key. The one near exception to this severity was the lighting; the sky behind the wall reflected, often gradually, a change of time of day and mood and highlighted the silhouettes of the actors in moments of high drama like the conclusion, where the lighting shifted from fiery red to gray. The five chorus members were brought on slowly, one by one, as the dawn broke from a darkness pierced by the sound of a lamenting voice. Cassandra entered to red lighting, Helen to orange.
Trained by a student of Dalcroze's eurhythmics, Lucy Duncan, the actors moved to fit the space in an unbroken rhythm. Van Volkenburg had previously been a monologist who performed without props. She now became particularly adept at the restrained, even contemplative style of the movement; the rest of the cast received training in acting, but they remained more amateurish than the far more central choral performances. The chorus, "statuary in motion," as Browne described them in a letter to Gilbert Murray, froze for up to fifteen minutes in poses and tableaux during the episodes. Carefully rehearsed, rhythmic dances were sometimes accompanied by light shifts rather than music. Choral odes were half chanted and half sung and moved fluidly from single voices to unison. The tightly restricted vocal range and rhythm could be described as legato, with all the voices pitched between D and F. Browne thought "rhythm [which he believed to originate in dance] ... a basic principle of all the arts" and believed the "proper utterance of poetry is the first step necessary for the creation of a drama [like Greek drama] with the qualities of folk-song." While some critics viewed this unified and rhythmic restraint of the chorus as tedious, the attempt to move beyond realism to a more symbolic and grand (on a small scale) style made in the view of others a powerful and novel statement. The deliberate break from realistic sets and naturalistic acting, from spectacular stage effects, and from historical authenticity that was also characteristic in different ways of Platt/Anglin, outdoor performances, and much of the Little Theatre movement, set the stage for a performance style that looked back to Greek and Elizabethan theater but reenvisioned it for the modern stage (fig. 11). [Place figure 11 near here.]
Browne even won the approval of Professor Richard G. Moulton of the University of Chicago for eschewing archaeological niceties ("only possible on an open-air stage") in favor of retaining "the essential spirit of Greek drama, which is the harmony of all the arts, beauty of color, flowing draperies, statuesque figures, gliding movements, rhythmic intonations-all were united in lyric harmony." As Browne himself summarized his accomplishment, "We have tried to prove that those people are wrong who say that this country, so far from being a place where poetic drama cannot find an audience, is the real cradle of its renaissance. We have found that by using the right methods, poetic drama can be made as interesting as any other kind of drama. That is our accomplishment. Moreover, we have brought before our audiences some of the best work of the men who are re-creating the drama of the modern world. Best of all, we are making Euripides our contemporary."
Although other theaters, such as the Toy Theatre in Boston, invited Browne to produce Trojan Women even before the tour, the Little Theatre's audience never spread much beyond the educated and affluent, including Chicago's social and artistic elite; Trojan Women (most successful) and Medea (fourth on the list) proved the only box-office successes among Browne's poetic plays. After the Little Theatre closed, Browne, among other efforts, staged a New York production of Medea starring Ellen Van Volkenburg at the Garrick Theatre in March 1920 and later stage-managed Anglin's 1921 Iphigenia in Aulis in New York. Anglin's monumental performances set a standard and established a definitive tragic style (including her queenly stature and powerful and varied voice projection) hard to match, but Van Volkenburg's Medea, despite reviews praising her formidable intelligence, mellow voice, sense of conviction, and powerful elocution, was thought to lack "skill, pathos, and passion." The chorus of six and the rhythmic movement of the production received high marks for effort and originality, if not for entirely successful execution; Alexander Woollcott (New York Times, March 23, 1920), who thought Murray's translation had begun to seem dated, called the chorus "too Delsartian," although G. W. Firkins (Review 2, April 3, 1920) interestingly interpreted it as an extension of Medea's psyche. Browne's smaller-scale production of Medea, which apparently aimed at achieving a sense of intense psychological intimacy, was physically and conceptually ambitious; Jonson's stark forty-five-foot-high set achieved an epic quality, and the lighting continued to serve a musical function by underlining emotional shifts through the use of spotlights and quick color changes. This Medea achieved the distinction of playing four matinees weekly for four weeks (at a loss of $6,000). One reviewer characterized it as a great feminist play, while another objected to its implausible (for contemporary America) content; Browne himself noted that Medea earlier offended a Madison, Wisconsin, audience with her first "feminist" speech. The same issue of the paper in which this review appeared ironically included a story about a New England farmer's wife who burned herself and her children to death in their barn out of jealousy.
Blanche Yurka, in a 1932 Sophocles' Electra staged by Robert Henderson, also failed in the view of most critics to match Anglin's standard; even Barker's well-received productions in 1915 were compared by critics to Anglin's to her advantage. The Boston version of the Yurka production in 1931 at Jordan Hall included a dance interlude by Martha Graham that critics found insufficiently integrated into the production; despite mixed reviews it reopened in New York at the Selwyn Theater and the Hollis Street Theatre in Boston the following year and toured to Princeton's McCarter Theatre and the Academy of Music in Philadelphia (where Katharine Hepburn played a chorus member/"friend"). Isadora Duncan's adopted daughter, Anna, did the New York choreography to better notices for the solo if not group dances (New Republic 69, January 27, 1932, 293), but critics thought the chorus a group of separate individuals who spoke but did not perform any odes, the set too anachronistic, and J. T. Sheppard's translation "flat and unmusical" (Theatre Arts Monthly 16 [March 1932]: 189).
Yurka, in the view of her main critical defender, attempted a realistic and intimate portrayal that "presented Sophocles in the humanized and realistic fashion of Euripides" suitable to a smaller modern theater. The play was described in the program as an "heroic melodrama." While appreciating a few highly charged moments, most critics found this Electra overly realistic and modern. H. T. Parker (New York Times, May 24, 1931), who described Yurka's Electra in Boston as "sombre, abased, self-consumed, vindictive, usually on the edge of frenzy, missing the Sophoclean exaltation, pathos, and poetry," nevertheless praised her recognition scene. Theatre Arts Monthly (16 [March 1932]: 188-89) criticized Yurka for being "satisfied ... to mumble into the floor as she swayed to and fro in her realistic private grief." Commenting on Yurka's dirt-covered body, another critic called the play "a most anthraciting performance."
By the time of Yurka's production critics were also returning once more to doubting the possibility of successfully staging Greek tragedy. As the New York Times reviewer Brooks Atkinson (January 9, 1932) put it, "The Greek fables are not our fables, nor is fable part of our culture. To understand the history of the drama it is good to have the Greek tragedies staged occasionally. ... The nobility of the characters is a matter of scholarly instruction rather than emotional recognition." In his view, "Miss Anglin's 'Electra' shown at the Metropolitan Opera House some years ago, goes still unchallenged here. For Miss Anglin succeeded in translating Greek tragedy into modern theatre terms. By the use of spectacle and sound and by the stature of her acting she caught a dramatic sublimity of mood. Unless the acting is exalted and the staging is done on the heroic scale, the translated tragedy of Sophocles lacks meaning in the modern theatre." In short, Anglin's efforts succeeded-for this period-by being intense, modern, public, large scale, heroic, and democratic. Or, as Clayton Hamilton put it, Anglin proved "that there is a large and eager public in this country which is willing to pay money for the privilege of seeing the tragic drama of the Greeks ... she has discarded the mask ... but she has preserved the wonder and the sting." Yet despite these tributes, critics of the early 1930s were also beginning to find the Yurka production more interesting to compare to O'Neill's new Mourning Becomes Electra in 1931 than for itself.
George Cram Cook, the Provincetown Players, and the Emergence of Eugene O'Neill
Maurice Browne's Trojan Women was witnessed with admiration in Chicago by George Cram ("Jig") Cook and his wife, the future playwright Susan Glaspell, before they moved east and eventually founded the Provincetown Players (originally called The Playwrights' Theater) in 1915. Like other members of the Little Theatre movement, the Players simultaneously pursued theatrical experimentation with limited resources and created a forum for serious new work by American playwrights, most importantly Eugene O'Neill. Under Cook's aegis and despite his ardent Hellenism, the group performed only one classically based drama, Cook's play The Athenian Women, based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata. The Players performed The Athenian Women during their 1918 New York season; a second performance sponsored by the Woman's Peace Party of New York State took place at Bramwell Playhouse, April 13, 1918. When O'Neill's growing commercial success challenged Cook's views (see below) about the aims of the Players, Cook departed for Greece in 1922 with Glaspell. He spent his time there both reading ancient Greek texts, as he had throughout his life, and immersing himself in modern Greek culture. He died and was buried in 1924 at Delphi. Although he and O'Neill had in the end parted company, O'Neill's own descriptions of his work indicate that his pathbreaking turn to creating new, American versions of Greek tragedy with his 1924 Desire under the Elms (loosely related to the plot of Hippolytus) and 1931 Mourning Becomes Electra (based on Aeschylus's Oresteia and the Electras of Sophocles and Euripides) responded to but modified the legacy of Cook, including the latter's enthusiasm for the Irish Abbey Theatre and the work of Yeats, and, possibly, for the achievement of Anglin as well.
Despite the fact that Cook was not an original or even a very coherent thinker, he had a powerful catalytic effect on those around him. After studying philosophy and philology at Heidelberg and the University of Geneva as well as at the University of Iowa and Harvard, he drew on sources as diverse as Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Freud and Jung, the Cambridge anthropologically oriented classicists (Jane Harrison, Francis Cornford, and Gilbert Murray), Haeckel, and Walt Whitman. Above all, Wagner's interest in fostering a new national art for Germany and Yeats's vision for an Ireland that would recreate the civic and cultural ideals of classical Athens played an influential role on Cook's work. Cook "wished to provoke a renaissance in American writing, a resurgence, socialist in spirit and poetic in its ability to generate dramatic images of human unity. The model and inspiration was always the Greek theatre, which dominated his imagination and which led him to stress the correspondence of the arts." Cook linked what he saw as the integrity, heroism, and democracy of Greece with that of pioneer life in America. Theater could play the leading role in replacing commercialism and in uniting economic, political, and artistic worlds to support a life and art derived from the best in America's cultural heritage.
Cook turned away (at least in theory) from the European model of a director who was aesthetically responsible for brilliant performance, which was largely adopted by Anglin and Browne, to a collaborative model. All members of his group needed to understand and participate in all aspects of theater production and redeem society through Dionysian "inspiration and intoxication, not training and craftsmanship." The Players' manifesto, as envisioned by Cook, ran as follows:
That a closely knit group of creative and critical minds is capable of calling forth from the individuals who compose it richer work than they can produce in isolation is the basic faith of the founder of our playhouse. He knows that the art of theatre cannot be pure, in fact, cannot be art at all, unless its various elements-playwriting, acting, setting, costuming, lighting-are by some means fused into unity. There are two possible ways of attaining it: the way of the director and the way of the group. Unity in the theatre has been attained, especially by Reinhardt, by imposing upon all the necessary collaborators the autocratic will of one mind-the director's-who uses the other minds involved as unquestioningly obedient instruments. This method of attaining unity leaves room for one and only one free spirit in a theatre.
It was not so when drama first came into the world. Primitive drama, the expression of the communal or religious life of the organic human group, the tribe, had spontaneously the unity of pure art. There may be two hundred actors dramatically dancing the conflict of Winter and Spring, but all that all of them do in the drama springs from one shared fund of feelings, ideas, impulses. Unity is not imposed on them by the will of one of their number but comes from that deep level in the spirit of each where their spirits are one. The aim of the founder of the Provincetown Players, as yet imperfectly fulfilled, is to make all hands work from that level and to do it by recreating a group of modern individuals, individuals far more differentiated than primitive people, a kindredness of minds, a spiritual unity underlying their differences, a unity resembling the primitive unity of the tribe, a unity which may spontaneously create the unity necessary to the art of the theatre.
Cook's views (like Browne's) here partly derive from those of the Cambridge school of classicists, who saw Attic drama as evolving out of primitive rituals and tribal performances to serve the far more sophisticated theatrical tradition of its democracy, a tradition that Cook now aimed to recapture. The spiritual unity and social therapy that grew from theater making extended in Cook's mind to the relation between the players and their audience and aimed at an erosion in the barrier between the two. In response to a production he had seen in New York in 1913 of Lysistrata, Cook remarked: "There was something in Greek life and is not in ours-something we are terribly in need of. One thing we're in need of is the freedom to deal with life in literature as frankly as Aristophanes. We need a public like his, which itself has the habit of thinking and talking frankly of life. We need the sympathy of such a public, the fundamental oneness with the public which Aristophanes had." He expanded on this point in his "Letter to the Greek Nation," which was published in an Athenian newspaper: "If the Greeks of 420 B.C. had been compelled by their women, not in a poet's dream, but in reality, to stop their war between brothers-my world ... would have inherited the pure intense Greek beauty of Aristophanes, of Aeschylus, of Euripides, of Homer and Hesiod and Sappho. ... If the ancient Greek women had been equal to their Aristophanes, then I, born on the Mississippi River in mid-America, two and a half millennia later, would have inherited a world worthy of mankind."
Comedy's overt agenda appears to have especially suited Cook's taste. His The Athenian Women drew on Thucydides to reimagine Aristophanes' Lysistrata along these lines. Eventually published in a 1926 bilingual edition in Athens, the play relied on an implicit link between World War I and the Peloponnesian War. The iconoclastic courtesan Aspasia, allied at the play's opening in 445 B.C.E. with her later consort, Lysicles, concocts Lysistrata's women's sex strike for peace with the help of Pericles' wife, Kallia. The women of Greece succeed in establishing the temporary Peace of Nikias, but in the process Aspasia reluctantly abandons the communist Lysicles in favor of rebuilding Athens, still desecrated by the Persian Wars, with her new, aristocratic lover, Pericles. (The relation between Pericles and Aspasia bears some similarity to the relation between Cook and Glaspell; he abandoned an earlier marriage to pursue his artistic agenda with the feminist playwright.) Eventually, the embittered Kallia and her new spouse, the comic poet Hermippos, attack Pericles, Aspasia, and his team of artists and intellectuals (especially Phidias and Anaxagoras). Aspasia cannot regroup her female allies to prevent war after the Theban attack on Plataia, and the Greeks move inexorably toward a disastrous Panhellenic conflict. In Cook's mind the ironic failure to preserve peace and the resulting threat to Western culture derived in both ancient and modern contexts from traditional patriarchal ideas. Yet although Cook at times claimed contradictory adherence to forms of socialism, anarchism, mysticism, and feminism (a major concern for his wife and theatrical partner, Glaspell), the theater he helped to produce was in fact relatively apolitical.
Although O'Neill, like Cook, at times considered himself a socialist or anarchist, and his plays criticized the materialism and harshness of their social world, his tragedies did not, partly because of their socially isolated or marginal characters, adopt the strong public, therapeutic, and communitarian dimensions that Cook saw as central to both Greek and a revitalized American drama. Instead, O'Neill took a different approach to defining an American form of Greek tragedy, in which fate, divine justice, and the supernatural were replaced by the heavily deterministic forces of heredity and environment, of psychology, and of an indifferent natural and social world. Through his tragic characters, who could be (as in Mourning) but often were not members of a social elite, he aimed "to see the transfiguring nobility of tragedy, in as near to the Greek sense as we can grasp it, in seemingly the most ignoble, debased lives." His tragic figures were to gain stature by embracing their fate and confronting it, however hopelessly, with the liberating forces of human imagination. "The people who succeed and do not push on to greater failure are the spiritual middle classes. Their stopping at success is proof of their compromising insignificance. How petty their dreams must have been." In this sense tragedy, even deliberate self-destruction, could be life affirming and ennobling for both characters and audience.
Whereas Cook stressed the social value of old comic directness and drama's call to social unity, O'Neill defended the inspiring effect of tragedy on the physical and psychological reality of individuals:
People talk of the tragedy [in his plays] and call it "sordid," "depressing," "pessimistic"-the words usually applied to anything of a tragic nature. But tragedy, I think, has the meaning the Greeks gave it. To them it brought exaltation, an urge toward life and ever more life. It raised them to deeper spiritual understandings and released them from the petty greeds of everyday existence. When they saw a tragedy on stage they felt their own hopes ennobled in art. ... Any victory we may win is never the one we dreamed of winning. ... A man wills his own defeat when he pursues the unattainable. But his struggle is his success! He is an example of the spiritual significance which life attains when it aims high enough, when the individual fights all the hostile forces within and without himself to achieve a future of nobler values. Such a figure is necessarily tragic. But he is not depressing; he is exhilarating! He may be a failure in our materialistic sense. His treasures are in other kingdoms.
O'Neill's original attempts to Americanize Greek tragedy did not consistently reflect many of the ideals stated above. For example, the characters in Desire are motivated more by greed and lust than an aspiration to resist their fate, and they remain mired in self-deception; the characters in Mourning (see the introduction)are so absurdly Oedipal in their motivations that the dramatic tension between inner and outer worlds becomes diluted. The excesses of O'Neill's new tragedies verge on melodrama. Alhough Robert Benchley preferred O'Neill's Mourning to Margaret Anglin's Electra precisely for this reason, C. W. E. Bigsby criticized Mourning's relentless, melodramatic focus on the self: "Psychopathology is finally not a substitute for the tragic imagination." Raymond Williams similarly argued that O'Neill replaced Greek action with static psychology.
Yet Mourning in particular was responsible for O'Neill's Nobel Prize in 1936 and became a classic taught in American schools regularly through the end of the Second World War. What is important for my purposes here is that O'Neill's repossession of Greek tragedy for an American world was a watershed both in inspiring further new versions by playwrights and in setting a new and different standard to which later performances of the Greek originals were often compared. His link between human psychology and tragic fate remained particularly influential.
At the same time, the new stagecraft was considerably less central to performance of the tragic for O'Neill than for Anglin and Browne, who relied so heavily on lighting, set, costume, music, voice, and movement to convey meaning. The one exception indicates O'Neill's new sense of direction. He attempted to redefine the mask original to Greek tragedy as a means of revealing the psychological and social conflicts central to his vision: "More and more surely ... the use of masks will be discovered eventually to be the freest solution of the modern dramatist's problem as to how, with the greatest possible dramatic clarity and economy of means, he can express those profound hidden conflicts of the conscious and unconscious mind which the probing of psychology continue to disclose to us. ... For what, at bottom, is the new psychological insight into human cause and effect but a study in masks, an exercise in unmasking? ... One's outer life passes in a solitude hounded by the masks of oneself." Nevertheless, the central characters in Mourning project masklike faces rather than relying on the physical mask of Greek tragedy to convey O'Neill's conception of the tragic. As in some late Euripides' plays, O'Neill's masks invite the audience to peer behind the mask rather than allowing it to convey character through performance.
In 1921 Kenneth Macgowan, a theater critic who was drafted to help run the Provincetown Players after Jig Cook departed for Greece, published a book entitled The Theater of Tomorrow. The book's focus on what Macgowan views as a contemporary revolution in U.S. theater in fact identifies some of the reasons why Greek tragedy had begun to attract the interest of innovative early twentieth-century artists, even though they faced an uphill battle before audiences addicted to various forms of realistic drama, comedy, and vaudeville and mired in traditional expectations about the performance of classic plays.
Anglin, Browne, and to a lesser degree Cook, were particular enthusiasts of a Wagnerian unity of all the arts. The technical developments in staging discussed above (an area where American theater continued to shine) were one important factor. Under the influence of European designers like Gordon Craig and Adolphe Appia, sets and lighting originally designed to serve opera and/or to "copy" reality in often extensive detail began to be abandoned in favor of simpler, often formally beautiful sets that suggested a place, mood, or atmosphere and attempted to synthesize all aspects of the drama to serve the meaning of the play. Backdrops utilizing false perspective gave way to sculptural, more architectural settings that avoided visual deception and photographic reality such as those of Platt and Browne and his designer, Jonson. A major revolution in lighting, in which both Livingston Platt and Maurice Browne played a critical role, served to highlight both the actors and their movements and emotions and anything else of critical importance to the drama. As with the impressionists, this lighting broke down color to create more powerful visual and atmospheric effects.
Macgowan argues that the new theater design, which in some respects had its origin in Greek and Elizabethan theater, "demands a type of drama fitted, like the drama of the Greeks, of Shakespeare, of Moliere, for presentation upon a stage where illusion is not so important as emotional intimacy, directness, clarity." Since new plays that suited the new theater were slow in coming, the pressure to revive the drama of the past remained, even if, as in the United States, both economic and aesthetic (especially the weight of traditional expectations surrounding the plays) factors resisted it. Indeed, one could take Macgowan one step further than he could see in 1921, and argue that new developments in stagecraft, and their links with Greek theater in the minds of major theorists and practitioners (Craig, Appia, Reinhardt, Duncan, Anglin, Browne, Cook, and even to a more amateur degree, Tingley), played a critical role in reintroducing Greek tragedy to the American stage, in part because American theater needed a new cultural vision that could reinvigorate its sense of identity.
Second, directors like the Austrian Max Reinhardt generated an interest in reorganizing theatrical space and transforming the relation between actors and audience. Even though the dominant role of a director was not the established mode in the United States, in their different ways, both Anglin and Browne, among others, were deeply influenced by Reinhardt. Reinhardt's Grosses Schauspielhaus in Berlin, a remodeled circus building (rather like Madison Square Garden), lit the center of the circus and one end where actors made exits and entrances from a severely simple, if highly technologically sophisticated, monumental set. An audience of around three thousand surrounded the acting space. This permitted Reinhardt to create an intimacy between a huge audience and the grandeur and power of his performance; for example, an immense crowd of suppliants besieged Oedipus in the opening scene, and the blind king exited into the audience at the conclusion. In a sense Reinhardt moved the play into the equivalent of an orchestra and attempted to make the audience part of the action and at one with its "universal" themes. Economically, the lower price of admission invited a move beyond the elite and middle-class audiences who were the standard patrons of serious theater in this period. Outdoor and other large-scale performances in the United States, although we cannot be sure of the exact nature of their audiences, apparently did or aimed to do the same. In a somewhat parallel way, the stages used by the Little Theatre movement also dissolved barriers between audience and actors, by removing curtains, dissolving realism and traditional forms of representation, and revising the relation between actors and audience by bringing the action up close and even into the aisles.
Finally, the new theater of this period aspired to going beyond the well-made play with its focus on character and individual psychology to aim at more imaginative and spiritual values that conveyed greatness of soul and transcended individual actions in favor of conveying the spirit of an age. As Macgowan expressed it,
The drama must seek to make us recognize the thing that, since Greek days, we had forgotten-the eternal identity of you and me with the vast and unmanageable forces that have played through every atom of life since the beginning. Psychoanalysis, tracing back our thoughts and actions into fundamental impulses, has done more than any one factor to make us recover our sense of unity with the dumb, mysterious processes of nature. We know now through science what the Greeks and all primitive peoples knew through instinct. The task is to apply it to art, and, in our case, to the drama. It may be applied generally; it may give us a drama utterly apart from anything we have now, nearer perhaps to the Greek than any other in spirit, yet wholly new in mechanism and method, mysteriously beautiful and visionary.
O'Neill's new American tragedies (already emerging in The Emperor Jones and The Great God Brown) later in part responded, if in some respects narrowly, to Macgowan's hope.
Of the technical qualities which I see already in evidence about us, most are to be found in the great democratic theatres of Greece, of the Middle Ages and of Elizabethan England. They go back of realism to a theatre that had no earthly conception of being representational, to a theatre where actors, costumes, and what there was of setting, were relatively real things in themselves, presenting emotion directly to their audiences, by either naïve or conventional devices, and never aiming to represent men or women and things as actually existing apart from the audience. ... The content of the drama of tomorrow, cut off from realism, is clearly united with the content of primitive and democratic drama even while it goes ahead to a range of mental exploration that must be of gathering importance to a broadly democratic culture.
Because of commercial and governmental processes, the democratic revolution for which Macgowan yearned had in his view little hope of existing outside "communal art," and above all outside theater. Yet, after all, he concluded: "There were once, you know, the Greeks."
Macgowan's views of Greek theater, which in various ways captured those of Tingley, Anglin, Browne, and Cook, may strike us now as apolitical and overly romantic; nor did America immediately experience a theatrical/cultural revolution in these terms, in part because of the intervention of the Depression and the Second World War, which for a time decimated commercial theater while fostering a more political theater through the Federal Theatre Project (FTP).Outdoor theater performances by professional theater groups no longer brought large and diverse theater audiences together to the same degree. Colleges and professional theater artists during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century shared from an early date a sense of the educational and social value of performing Greek tragedy, and their intermittent collaboration produced one new trend. As noted earlier, according to Pluggé's study of college and university drama, the historicist performances at colleges and universities, especially in speech departments, began to catch up in the mid-1920 and 1930s with trends in independent professional theater, including using stagecraft more often in an interpretive fashion that eschewed "authenticity." I will return to these developments in later chapters, especially chapter 2.1, in the discussion of choreography and music in the important work at colleges of figures like Margaret Gage and Eva Palmer Sikelianos.
Nevertheless, Macgowan captures to some degree why Greek tragedy continued to play a role in early twentieth-century professional theater in the United States despite the limited mark these productions left on the contemporary stage. Greek drama's role in potentially fostering a less commercial, more aesthetic, spiritual, poetic, and even religious or ritualistic form of theater that could unify social groups in a democracy and release them from an oppressive nineteenth-century culture was perhaps more talked about than realized. Yet for those involved the image remained a powerful one that in some respects reemerged in another form in the avant-garde theater of the 1960s and early 1970s and finally established a larger and more stable place for Greek tragedy on the American professional stage.
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