Monday, May 4, 2020

PEACE by GEORGE CALDERON


George Calderon (1868-1915) was born in London, but his father’s family was descended from one of Spain’s foremost dramatist Calderon de la Barca (1600-1681). George’s father was an artist. George was a capable visual artist, talented as a theatre director and playwright as well as an expert on Slavonic languages. George Calderon was the first person to translate Anton Chekhov’s plays into English. It was his translations of The Cherry Orchard (first published in 1912 with its London premier performance in 1925) and The Seagull that introduced the English-speaking world to this Russian master.

                                                               GEORGE CALDERON 

When Great Britain entered World War I, Calderon was 45 years old. He was too old to join the military, but he was determined to become a soldier. As a result, he worked diligently to fill every requirement to become a military interpreter. He succeeded in qualifying for this position with the Royal Horse Guards and was sent to Flanders in October 1914.  His desire to be a soldier was fulfilled in January 1915, when he transferred to the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and was promoted to Temporary Second Lieutenant. (This battalion was commonly referred to as the Ox and Bucks.) In May 1915, Calderon was reassigned to the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (K.O.S.B.) Infantry. His battalion landed in Gallipoli on June 4,1915. Many British, American, and Canadian newspapers reported during the second week of July,1915 that Calderon had been seen severely wounded during the first assault on Gallipoli and he was listed as missing in action. On May17,1919 the London Times officially reported George Calderon was presumed dead following a long investigation on whether “he might prove to be a prisoner in Turkey.”

PEACE, A Farce in One Act, was written prior to Calderon’s departure for the battlefields of World War One. The scene takes place in the evening at the residence of Sir Blennerhassett Postlethwaite, who is a Member of Parliament. Sir Postlethwaite is at home preparing his speech for the following day when he expects to be “called upon to take the chair at the Meeting of the Peace Society.” Postlethwaite is widely recognized for his preaching about universal peace.

Burglar enters Postlethwaite’s room by the window and pulls up his ladder which he leans against the bookcase. He is surprised to see Postlethwaite there. Postlethwaite immediately tells  Burglar to “Get away from here or I’ll shoot you.” When Burglar recognizes who he is confronting, their antagonistic political relationship commences. After Burglar gains control of Postlethwaite’s pistol, these two men engage in a debate about war and peace from each man’s point of view.  While Burglar intends to escape with some of Postlethwaite’s treasures, he also obtains a check from the politician for The Navy League. Still not satisfied, Burglar also pushes Postlethwaite to admit “that violence will beget violence,” a position that the politician opposes. Eventually a Policeman arrives, but Postlethwaite decides not to expose the real intensions of  Burglar. As Burglar is about to leave with his loot, Postlethwaite demands to know his name so he may curse him. Burglar: “Oh, my name’s Peace. Charlie Peace.”

Obviously, this play is character centered and it creates an exaggerated, humorous situation   with deliberate absurdity. While this play is meant to be entertaining, it clearly illustrates an immediate clash of the two different positions regarding how England should be preparing for the possibility of war with Germany. Unfortunately, there is little of the comedic essence of this play in my short recount of the plot. PEACE is worth reading. The script is included in “Eight One-Act Plays” by George Calderon. It was originally published by Grant Richards LTD. London:1922. This book is currently available as a Scholar SELECT reprint through Amazon.

I have not found any information regarding a staged production of PEACE; however, there was a radio production aired on May 7,1925 presented by The London Radio Repertory.  Ashton Pearse played SIR BLENNERHASSETT POSTLETHWAITE and Raymond Trafford was BURGLAR. George Skillan (1893-1975) was POLICEMAN.

Calderon was a prolific author/playwright but many of his works remained unpublished during his lifetime. Throughout the 1920s many of his unpublished plays and books were published. Starting in 1921 his book titled Tahiti was published. It related to Calderon’s 1906 trip to the island and contains his observations about the culture he encountered. Percy Lubbock in his book titled: George Calderon: a sketch from memory, published in London 1921, claims that Calderon was affected very deeply by his days in Tahiti. “They gave him perhaps the most penetrating experience he ever had till the war.”  Tahiti was highly praised in the Pall Mall Gazette on August 5, 1921 as “the best story of a Polynesian people that has been given us.”
  
Two volumes of Calderon’s one-acts and full-length plays were published in 1922 followed in 1924 by his translations of Two Plays by Anton Chekhov and One by Alfred de Musset. This publication led to the London productions of the two Russian plays. Calderon’s translations were credited with introducing Chekhov as a new force to English theatre. During George Calderon’s forty-six years of life, he demonstrated his amazing versatility and accomplishment. His plays were frequently produced in England throughout the 1920s.

Percy Lubbock states in George Calderon: a sketch from memory:
     He seemed to be just as much of a poet, a maker, a creator, whether he was
     championing a political cause or writing a comedy or learning the songs of a
     South sea islander—and not less so, it was very clear to see, when he fought
     and fell in the war.
   

Friday, April 3, 2020

BUCHANAN’S CIVILIAN CLOTHES


The first American World War One play to deal with a “returning soldier” story was Civilian Clothes written in 1919 by Thompson Buchanan (1877-1937). During the early 1920’s, Civilian Clothes, a comedy, was a popular play throughout the United States.

Thompson Buchanan moved to Louisville, Kentucky to start his career in journalism.  It was in his adopted city that he set Civilian Clothes. This three-act play begins in the Library of the Lanham’s “handsome old-fashion home.”  It is a winter afternoon in 1919. 
 
Sam McGinnis, twenty-seven years old, arrives at the Lanham home to claim his bride. Florence Lanham, twenty-one years old, and Sam were married in France during his one week leave from the Western Front.  While Buchanan does not specify what Florence was doing in France besides serving coffee, Sam states that he tried to contact “Miss Florence Lanham of the Red Cross.” 

The American Red Cross had women volunteers on the frontlines doing support work for the armed services. The organization also operated canteens that served meals and beverages to service men in towns located behind the front-lines.

Sam was a brave, handsome Army Captain in the American Expeditionary Forces.  Shortly after their marriage and honeymoon week, Florence received word that Sam had been killed in battle. Since she never had informed her family about the marriage, she decided not to disclose it when she returned home. When Sam unexpectedly arrives at Florence’s family Louisville home, she is being courted by several men.


                                                                         ACT ONE
   
Sam is no longer the dashing Captain looking smart in his uniform. He is dressed in a poor-fitting, ready-made suit of loud design, a bright tie, a shirt with a turn-down collar. His outfit is further enhanced by very yellow shoes known as “nobby” a prototype for the sneaker. A brightly colored handkerchief shows in his upper left-hand coat pocket. Florence, a socialite, is shocked that he is among the living and she wants nothing to do with this unstylish vision of manhood. Sam persuades Florence to allow him to be hired as the family’s butler, since the family is advertising for one. He wants to prove to Florence that he can become a socially acceptable husband.

Act Two, scene 1 takes place in the Lanham's dining-room. It is one month later than the previous act and just prior to a formal dinner party. Sam McGinnis, who is now the family’s butler known as “Dodson”, is dressed in a black dress coat with brass buttons, satin knickers and silk stockings. Dodson has become the most coveted butler among the members of Louisville society.  During the dinner, one of the guests, General McInerny recounts a heroic war story from the French battlefield.  It tells of the brave actions that a Captain McGinnis had taken and whose valor was recognized when the United States Army awarded him the Distinguished Service Cross.

                                           
                                                  ACT TWO  (Dodson standing on the left)


Scene 2 is in the dining room following the departure of the diners. One of the guests, Zach Hart, returns to congratulate Dodson/Sam’s bravery during battle. He also offers Sam a high-salaried job as a civil engineer. Hart wants Sam to direct a railroad building project in South America.  Sam, who was educated as a civil engineer, refuses the position. The original salary offered is increased each time Sam refuses the position. Eventually, the salary becomes too good to refuse. Sam knows he will be able to provide Florence with the lifestyle to which she is accustomed. The rest of the scene becomes a frolicking comedy that involves Florence running away with Billy, one of her current suitors.

Act Three is set in a parlor of Hotel Grunewald, a popular hotel in New Orleans during that era. It is evening, two days after the previous scene.  Zack Hart is sitting in the parlor reading the newspaper. He questions a Bell Hop and learns that the train from Louisville is twenty hours late. He further hears that Billy and Florence have each wired the hotel requesting a room. Hart is at the hotel since he and Sam are on their way to South America. Sam’s father arrives and learns that his son is married.  Florence has a change of heart about Sam and there is a happy ending.

Oliver Morosco (1875-1945) a Broadway Impresario who owned the rights to this play, decided to hold his tryout production in Los Angeles, California instead of on the east coast of the United States. This production opened on June 29, 1919 with Thurston Hall (1894-1951) and Marion Vantine playing the two leading roles. The play had a successful run in Los Angeles before it moved to the Morosco Theater in New York City where it opened on September 12, 1919. It closed on January 17, 1920 and then toured to many cities throughout the United States.

Civilian Clothes had multiple companies touring this play in the United States all contracted by Morosco during the early years of the 1920’s.  He also opened Civilian Clothes with a new cast at his Broadway theatre in September,1920--a year after the original run closed. The new production starred William Courtenay (1875-1933) and Dorothy Dickson (1893-1995).  Several of the original Broadway cast members were also in this production.

 In 1920 a silent film version of Civilian Clothes was produced by Famous Players-Lasky and distributed by Paramount Pictures.  It starred Thomas Meighan (1879-1936) as Sam and Martha Mansfield as Florence (1899-1923). This successful film with its lesson advertised as “Elope in Haste, Repent at Leisure” was released in the United States on September 5, 1920.  It later was released in several European countries including Denmark in December,1921 and France on June 2, 1922.

The last major stage performance that I found relating to Civilian Clothes was presented in London. This production was staged at the Duke of York’s Theatre and it opened on July 7,1923. It ran for eleven performances closing on August 4, 1923. The cast was a mixture of British and American actors. Thurston Hall reprised his role as Sam and British actress Olwen Roose (1900-????) played Florence.

There was a hint of renewed interest in producing this play on stage and on film in 1944-45 as World War Two was ending. There may have been non-professional productions of Civilian Clothes at that time, but it did not have a major stage or screen revival.

PHOTOS: original New York production. These photographs appear in the original published script
                 released by Samuel French of New York.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

HENRI-RENE LENORMAND’S THE COWARD (LE LÂCHE)


Henri-Rene Lenormand (1882-1951) was born in Paris, France. He began writing The Coward in 1914 and completed it in 1918. He was a soldier during the early years of World War One, however he received a medical discharge. Lenormand spent the remainder of the war in a Swiss sanatorium. The Coward is considered by some scholars to be a personal work in which Lenormand attempted to “exorcize his own problems.” It was believed that Lenormand was a malingerer.

                                                        
                                                         HENRI-RENE LENORMAND

The Coward is a play in four acts and ten tableaux (scenes). The first six tableaux are set in a Swiss mountain resort that is being used as a convalescent facility. The play takes place during the years of World War One.  Lenormand’s protagonist’s (Jacques) behavior is subconsciously motivated by his guilt for being a coward. The Coward is one of France’s earliest psychological dramas.

Act One, tableau 1 takes place on the sun-terrace of a hotel in Selvas, Switzerland. There is a lot of snow on the ground; however, the invalids, in fur bags, are lying in the open air on deck chairs. Jacques enters with his wife Therese. He is a French artist, thirty-two years old, who believes he is suffering with consumption. He did not pass his army medical examination.  Therese spends time with him every day. The patients discuss their doctors, each other and the war.

Tableau 2 is set on a different sun terrace.  It is four o’clock on a January afternoon. The patients are considering when “America is going to declare war on Germany.” (This could denote that it is 1917, it was in April of that year when the USA declared war on Germany.) The Professor (a German, aged fifty) who is also staying at the hotel, begins to discuss Jacques with some of the other patients. They snub Jacques when he arrives.  Therese tries to convince Jacque to change hotels, but he will not.

Tableau 3 takes place on “A snow covered mound at an altitude of 2,000 meters.” Jacques and Therese are alone and dressed in furs. They are lying on a rug.  Jacques shares his recurring nightmare of being threatened by a French soldier.

 Act Two, tableau 4 is set in a small three-cornered salon of the hotel.  The characters discuss Jacques, the weather and various remedies.

Tableau 5 is in the same salon. The original occupants leave the room after discussing the fête planned for that evening as well as each other. Therese and Jacques enter the empty room. Jacques shares with Therese that he is afraid to attend the fête.

Tableau 6 is in a windowless drawing-room with crimson hangings in a different Selvas hotel. It is the fête and all the guests are dressed in formal attire. The time is near dawn. Most of the guests of various nationalities including Jacques and Therese leave. Charlier from Paris is a twenty-eight year old patient, who is really a malingerer.  He is a recruiter of spies for France. Charlier meets with “The Individual” when everyone else leaves the room. The Individual is interested in Jacques and he wants Charlier to recruit him for a secret mission. 

Act III, tableau 7 is set in Jacques’s bedroom. It is ten o’clock on a gray morning and Jacques is reading in bed. Therese arrives and they discuss that consumption is “practically unknown” in this region. Jacques finally consents to consult a doctor.

Tableau 8. Same bedroom at nine o’clock in the evening. Guns of war can be heard from afar. A new Doctor examines Jacques and confirms his illness is consumption. He suggests that Jacques move to his sanatorium. After both the Doctor and Therese have left for the evening, Charlier comes to visit Jacques.  The purpose of his visit is to recruit Jacques to spy on “The Professor”.

Tableau 9 takes place in The Professor’s room in the same facility. Jacques is there to steal some documents. The Professor suspects Jacques intentions and confronts him after Jacques pockets several papers. Jacques is afraid and agrees to collaborate with him for the Germans.

Act IV, tableau 10.  The promenade by the lake in front of the villa where Jacque and Therese are currently living. Charlier meets “The Man in Gray”, who was disguised as “The Individual” in an earlier scene. The Man in Gray is here to nab Jacques because he collaborated with the Professor. The results of Jacques German collaboration caused two French agents to be caught and secret documents to be seized. Jacques meets these two men and leaves his villa with them unaware of his fate.

The Coward premiered December 1, 1925 at Le Théâtre des Arts in Paris and played for eight performances before it was cancelled.  Paris audiences took umbrage with the play’s premise that some young Frenchmen were cowardly. However, The Coward gained an international reputation as it was staged in Berlin, Vienna as well as opening in London on July 26, 1926. It was staged at the Scala Theatre for a one week run.

The Theatre Guild in New York City purchased the rights to stage The Coward in the summer of 1929. Several years earlier the Theatre Guild had produced another play by Lenormand, titled The Failures. The Coward was eventually staged at the Westport Country Playhouse in July, 1935. This regional summer theatre in Westport, Connecticut was founded by Lawrence Langner (1890-1962) who was also the founder of the Theatre Guild. The summer production was directed by Worthington Miner (1900-1982) and featured Frances Fuller (1907-1980) as Therese.

I read several reviews of this summer theatre production that were particularly favorable to the play. It was thought that the play was not Broadway material, but it was considered “an interesting play.” The basis for this opinion is that The Coward is more than a spy thriller and more than a psychological study of a single individual. The Coward also portrays several of the behind the scenes war activities that were practiced by French, German and British nationals in neutral Switzerland during WWI. 

NOTE: The English translation that I read of this play is in TWENTIETH CENTURY PLAYS.
             Edited by Chandler, Frank W. and Cordell, Richard A.  
             New York: Thomas Nelson &  Sons, 1934.