Volume XX, The Drama League Series of Plays
Washington Square Plays
1. The Clod . . . . . By Lewis Beach
2. Eugenically Speaking . By Edward Goodman
3. Overtones . . . . . By Alice Gerstenberg
4. Helena’s Husband . . . By Philip Moeller
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY WALTER PRICHARD EATON
PREFACE BY EDWARD GOODMAN
Director of the Washington Square Players
The rigid conventionality of the theatre has been frequently remarked upon. Why the world should ever fear a radical, indeed, is hard to see, since he has against him the whole dead weight of society; but least of all need the radical be dreaded in the theatre. When the average person pays money for his amusements, he is little inclined to be pleased with something which doesn’t amuse him: and what amuses him, nine times out of ten, is what has amused him. That is why changes in the theatre are relatively slow, and customs long prevail, even till it seems they may corrupt the theatrical world.
For many generations in our playhouse it was the custom to follow the long play of the evening with an “afterpiece,” generally in one act, but always brief, and almost always gay, if not farcical. Audiences, which in the early days assembled before seven o’clock, had to be sent home happy. After the tragedy, the slap-stick or the loud guffaw; after “Romeo and Juliet,” Cibber’s “Hob in the Well”; after “King Lear,” “The Irish Widow.” (These two illustrations are taken at random from the programs of the Charleston theatre in 1773.) This custom persisted until comparatively recent times. The fathers and mothers of the present generation can remember when William Warren, at the Boston Museum, would turn of an evening from such a part as his deep-hearted Sir Peter Teazle to the loud and empty vociferations of a Morton farce. The entertainment in those days would hardly have been considered complete without the “afterpiece,” or, as time went on, sometimes the “curtain raiser.” It is by no means certain that theatre seats were always cheaper than to-day. In some cases, certainly, they were relatively quite as high. But it is certain that you got more for your money. You frequently saw your favorite actor in two contrasted roles, two contrasted styles of acting perhaps, and you saw him from early evening till a decently late hour. You didn’t get to the theatre at 8.30, wait for the curtain to rise on a thin-spun drawing-room comedy at 8.45, and begin hunting for your wraps at 10.35. One hates to think, in fact, what would have happened to a manager fifty years ago who didn’t give more than that for the price of a ticket. Our fathers and mothers watched their pennies more sharply than we do.
For various reasons, one of them no doubt being the growth of cheaper forms of amusement and the consequent desertion from the traditional playhouse of a considerable body of those who least like, and can least afford, to spend money irrespective of returns, the “afterpiece” and “curtain raiser” have practically vanished from our stage. They have so completely vanished, in fact, that theatre goers have lost not only the habit of expecting them, but the imaginative flexibility to enjoy them. If you should play “Romeo and Juliet” to-day and then follow it with a one-act farce, your audience would be uncomfortably bewildered. They would be unable to make the necessary adjustment of mood. If you focus your vision rapidly from a near to a far object, you probably suffer from eye-strain. Similarly, the jump from one play to the other in the theatre gives a modern audience mind- or mood-strain. It is largely a matter of habit. We, to-day, have lost the trick through lack of practice. The old custom is dead; we are fixed in a new one. If Maude Adams, for instance, should follow “The Little Minister” with a roaring farce, or Sothern should turn on the same evening from “If I Were King” to “Box and Cox,” we should feel that some artistic unity had been rudely violated; nor am I at all sure, being a product of this generation, but that we should be quite right.
Matters standing as they do, then, it seems to me that the talk we frequently hear about reviving “the art of the one-act play” by restoring the curtain raisers or afterpieces to the programs of our theatres is reactionary and futile. All recent attempts to pad out a slim play with an additional short one have failed to meet with approval, even when the short piece was so masterly a work as Barrie’s “The Will,” splendidly acted by John Drew, or the same author’s “Twelve Pound Look,” acted by Miss Barrymore. Nor is it at all certain that the one-act plays of our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, the names of which you may read by the thousands on ancient playbills, added anything to the store of dramatic literature. Some of them are decently entombed in the catacombs of Lacy’s British Drama, or still available for amateurs in French’s library. Did you ever try to read one? Of course, there was “Box and Cox,” but it is doubtful if there will be any great celebration at the tercentenary of Morton’s death. For the most part, those ancient afterpieces were frankly padding, conventional farces to fill up the bill and send the audiences home happy. To the real art of the drama or the development of the one-act play as a form of serious literary expression, they made precious little contribution. They were a theatrical tradition, a convention.
But the one-act play, nonetheless, has an obvious right to existence, as much as the short story, and there are plentiful proofs that it can be as terse, vivid, and significant. Most novelists don’t tack on a short story at the end of their books for full measure, but issue their contes either in collections or in the pages of the magazines. What similar chances are there, or can there be, for the one-act play, the dramatic short story?
An obvious chance is offered by vaudeville. The vaudeville audience is in the mood for rapid alterations of attention; it has the habit of variety. This is just as much a convention of vaudeville as the single play is now a convention of the traditional theatre. Indeed, anything longer than a one-act play in vaudeville would be frowned upon. Any one wishing to push the analogy can find more than one correspondence between a vaudeville program and the contents of a “popular” magazine; each, certainly, is the present refuge of short fiction. Yet vaudeville can hardly be considered an ideal cradle for a serious dramatic art. (Shall we say that the analogy to the “popular” magazine still holds?) The average “playlet” — atrocious word — in the variety theatres is a dreadful thing, crude, obvious, often sensational or sentimental, usually very badly acted at least in the minor rôles, and still more a frank padding, a thing of the footlights, than the afterpiece of our parents. It has been frequently said by those optimists who are forever discovering the birth of the arts in popular amusements that vaudeville audiences will appreciate and applaud the best. This is only in part true. They will appreciate the best juggler, the cleverest trained dog, the most appealing ballad singer such as Chevalier or Harry Lauder. But they will no more appreciate those subtleties of dramatic art which must have free play in the serious development of the one-act play than the readers of a “popular” magazine in America (or England either) would appreciate Kipling’s “They,” or George Moore’s “The Wild Goose,” or de Maupassant’s “La Ficelle.” To expect them to is silly; and to expect that because the supreme, vivid example of any form is comprehensible to all classes and all mixtures of classes, therefore the supreme example is going to be developed out of the commonplace stuff such mixed audiences daily enjoy, is equally to misunderstand the evolution of an art product in our complex modern world. But, indeed, the matter scarce calls for argument. Vaudeville itself furnishes the answer. Where are its one-act plays which can be called dramatic literature? It is a hopeful sign, perhaps, that certain of the plays in this volume have percolated into the varieties! But they were not cradled there.
If the traditional theatre, then, is now in a rut which affords no room for the one-act play, and if vaudeville is an empty cradle for this branch of dramatic art, where shall we turn? The one-act play to-day has found refuge and encouragement in the experimental theatres, and among the amateurs. The best one-act plays so far written in English have come out of Ireland, chiefly from the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where they were first acted by a company recruited from amateur players. Synge’s “Riders to the Sea,” Yeats’s “The Hour Glass,” the comedies of Lady Gregory and others of that school, have not only proved the power of this form to carry the sense of reality, but its power as well to reach tragic intensity or high poetic beauty. The sombre loveliness and cleansing reality of Synge’s masterpiece are almost unrivaled in our short-play literature. Not from the Abbey Theatre, but from the pen of an Irishman, Lord Dunsany, have come such short fantasies as “The Gods of the Mountain” and “The Glittering Gate,” which the so-called “commercial” theatre has quite ignored, but which have been played extensively by amateurs and experimental theatres throughout America; and the latter piece, especially, has probably been provocative of more experimental stagecraft and a greater stimulation of poetic fancy among amateur producers than any drama, short or long, written in recent years.
When the Washington Square Players, for the most part amateurs of the theatre, began their experiment in the spring of 1915, they began with a bill of one-act plays. With but two exceptions, all their succeeding productions have been composed of one-act plays, usually in groups of four, the last one for the evening sometimes being a pantomime. (It should be noted that a program of four one-act plays has the unity of a collection. A short play following a long one is overbalanced and the program seems to most of us awry.) The reason for this choice was not entirely a devotion to the art of the one-act play. When players are inexperienced, it is far easier to present a group of plays of one act than it is to sustain a single set of characters for an entire evening. The action moves more rapidly, the tale is told before the monotony of the actors becomes too apparent. Moreover, the difference between the plays helps to furnish that variety which the players themselves cannot supply by their impersonations. Still again, it was no doubt easier for the Washington Square Players to find novelties within their capacity in the one-act form than in the longer medium. At any rate, they did produce one-act plays, and are still producing them.
Four of these plays are presented in this book, four which won approval first on the stage of the Bandbox Theatre and later, acted by other players, in various other theatres. One of them, “Overtones,” is a theatrical novelty which if prolonged beyond the one-act form would become monotonous. Another, “Helena’s Husband,” is a bantering satire, an intellectual “skit,” which would equally suffer by prolongation. “Eugenically Speaking” could certainly bear no further extension, unless its mood were deepened into seriousness. Finally, “The Clod” approaches the true episodic roundness of the one-act drama, or the short story, in its best estate. Here is a single episode of reality, taken from its context and set apart for contemplation. It begins at the proper moment for understanding, it ends when the tale is told. There is here more than a hint of the art of Guy de Maupassant. And the episode is theatrically exciting — a prime requisite for practical performance, and spiritually significant — a prime requisite for the serious consideration of intelligent spectators. In these four plays, then, written for the Washington Square Players, the one-act form demonstrates its right to our attention and cultivation, for it takes interesting ideas or situations which are incapable of expansion into longer dramas and makes intelligent entertainment of what otherwise would be lost.
Because such organizations as the Abbey Theatre have demonstrated the value of the one-act play in portraying local life, in stimulating a local stage literature; because such organizations in America as the Washington Square Players have demonstrated the superior value of the one-act play as a weapon with which to win recognition and build up the histrionic capacity to tackle longer works; and, finally, because the one-act play offers such obvious advantages to amateurs, it seems fairly certain that in the immediate future, at least, the one-act play in America, as a serious art form, will be cultivated by the experimental theatres, the so-called “Little Theatres,” and by the more ambitious and talented amateurs. As our experimental theatres increase in number — and they are increasing — it will probably play its part, and perhaps no insignificant a part, in the development of a national drama through the development of a local drama and the cultivation of a taste for self-expression in various communities. It is only when these experimental theatres are sufficient in number, and the amateur spirit has been sufficiently aroused in various communities, that the commercial theatre of tradition will be seriously influenced. When that time comes — if it does come — one of the results will undoubtedly be a more flexible theatre, the growth of repertoire companies, the expansion of the activities of popular players. In a more flexible theatre, where repertoire is a rule rather than a strange and dreaded experiment, and where actors pride themselves on versatility and the public honors them for it, the one-act play will again have its place, but not then as a curtain raiser or afterpiece, to pad out an evening or “send the suburbs home happy,” but as a serious branch of dramatic art. In that happy day Barrie will not be the only first-class talent in the commercial playhouse daring the one-act form, or at least able to induce a commercial manager to produce his work in that form.
But that time is not yet. The one-act play in our country to-day is an ally of the amateurs and the innovators. For that very reason, perhaps, it is the form which will bear the most watching for signs of imagination and for flashes of insight and interpretative significance.
WALTER PRICHARD EATON.
PREFACE TO THE PLAYS
If fools did not rush in where theatrical angels fear to tread, this Preface would never have been written. Two years back the Washington Square Players were called, by many who had theatrical experience, fools. Now some term us pioneers. The future may write us fools again, or something better — the conclusion being that the difference between the fool and the pioneer lies in the outcome; the secret, that the motive power behind both is enthusiasm.
Without enthusiasm the Washington Square Players could never have come into existence, nor survived. From the first, when we had barely enough money for rent and none for the costumes and properties we borrowed and disguised, ours was an enthusiasm strong in quantity as well as quality. The theatre is a peculiar art. Both in production and reception it requires numbers and an enduring faith. Many a similar attempt has failed because its experimentation and expression have been restricted by a single point of view. Many have not continued because the desire has waned in the face of the hardships and sacrifices entailed. But the Players rightly had a plural name. We were, and are, a collection of many individuals — actors, authors, artists, and art-lovers — all fired with the sincere desire to give to playgoers something they had not been able previously to find on the American stage. And our desire has been strong enough to face and fight, and to continue to face and fight, the ever-growing, ever-changing problems of finance, art, and human inter-relations, which are the inescapable factors of the theatre.
We believed in the democracy of the drama. But we understand democracy to mean, not the gratification of the taste of the many to the exclusion of that of the few, but the satisfaction of all tastes. We had no quarrel with the stage as it was, save that there wasn’t enough of it. We felt there was a public that wanted something other than it could get — as evidenced by the rise of such institutions as the Drama League — and that that public was large enough to support what it wanted once it learned where to find it. The problem was to bridge the gap of waiting. And it was met by the sacrifices of all those who worked at first for nothing, and then for little more, so that the Players would not fall into debt in the process of reaching an audience. As an able New York dramatic critic stated, the establishment of the Washington Square Players was merely one more proof that in America, as elsewhere, joy was a greater incentive to work than money.
This enthusiasm among the workers, both in quality and quantity, was generously shared by the spectators. The public which looked for plays, acting and producing different from what it could find on the regular stage, proved us right in believing that it was sufficiently large and interested to warrant our experiment. Critics and patrons gave us from the first, and we hope will continue to give us, that personal interest and sympathetic appreciation which have been among the most vital factors contributing to our growth.
So far we have produced thirty-two plays, of one-act and greater length, and of these twenty have been American. The emphasis of our interest has been placed on the American playwright, because we feel that no American theatre can be really successful unless it develops a native drama to present and interpret those emotions, ideas, characters, and conditions with which we, as Americans, are primarily concerned.
Of these twenty American plays the Drama League has selected four for this volume of its series. Excluding comment on my farce — for an author is notoriously unfit to judge his own work — I think it may be said that these represent a fair example of the success the Players have met with in trying to encourage the writing of American plays with “freshness and sincerity of theme and development; skilful delineation of character; non-didactic presentation of an idea; and dramatic and esthetic effectiveness without theatricalism.” They are the early products of a new movement in the American theatre of which we are happy to be a part, and if their publication meets with the sympathetic, appreciative reception that has been accorded their production, we feel and hope that not only these authors, not only the Washington Square Players, but all of the workers in this new movement will be encouraged and stimulated to a further effort, a greater mastery, and a bigger achievement.
Director of the Washington Square Players. Comedy Theatre, New York, 1916.
I. THE CLOD
A One-Act Play by LEWIS BEACH,
Copyright, 1914, by
Emmet Lewis Beach, Jr.
(Note — The author acknowledges indebtedness to “The Least of These,” by Donal Hamilton Haines, a short story which suggested the play.)
“The Clod” was produced by the Washington Square Players, under the direction of Holland Hudson, at the Bandbox Theatre, New York City, beginning January 10, 1916.
In the cast, in the order of their appearance, were the following:
MARY TRASK . . . . Josephine A. Meyer THADDEUS TRASK . . . John King
A NORTHERN SOLDIER . . Glenn Hunter A SOUTHERN SERGEANT . Robert Strange
A SOUTHERN PRIVATE . . Spalding Hall
The Scene was designed by John King.
The Clod” was subsequently revived by the Washington Square Players at the Comedy Theatre, New York City, beginning June 5, 1916. In this production Mary Morris played the part of Mary Trask.
Later it was presented in vaudeville by Martin Beck, opening at the Palace Theatre, New York City, August 21, 1916, with the following cast:
MARY TRASK . . . . Sarah Padden
THADDEUS TRASK . . . John Cameron
A NORTHERN SOLDIER . Glenn Hunter A SOUTHERN SERGEANT . Thomas Hamilton
A SOUTHERN PRIVATE . Gordon Gunnis
“The Clod” was first produced by the Harvard Dramatic Club, in March, 1914, with the cast as follows:
MARY TRASK . . . . Christine Hayes
THADDEUS TRASK . . . Norman B. Clark A NORTHERN SOLDIER. . Dale Kennedy
A SOUTHERN SERGEANT . James W. D. Seymour DICK . . . . . . Richard Southgate
A NORTHERN SOLDIER
A SOUTHERN SERGEANT
SCENE: The kitchen of a farmhouse on the borderline between the Southern and Northern states.
TIME: Ten o’clock in the evening, September, 1863.
The back wall is broken at stage left by the projection at right angles of a partially enclosed staircase, four steps of which, leading to the landing, are visible to the audience. Underneath the enclosed stairway is a cubby-hole with a door; in front of the door stands a small table. To the left of this table is a kitchen chair. A door leading to the yard is in the centre of the unbroken wall back; to the right of the door, a cupboard, to the left, a stove. In the wall right are two windows. Between them is a bench, on which there are a pail and a dipper; above the bench a towel hanging on a nail, and above the towel a double-barrelled shot-gun suspended on two pegs.
In the wall left, and well down stage, is a closed door leading to another room. In the centre of the kitchen stands a large table; to the right and left of this, two straight-backed chairs.
The walls are roughly plastered. The stage is lighted by the moon, which shines into the room through the windows, and a candle on table centre. When the door back is opened, a glimpse of a desolate farmyard is seen in the moonlight.
When the curtain rises, THADDEUS TRASK, a man of fifty or sixty years of age, short and thick set, slow in speech and movement, yet in perfect health, sits lazily smoking his pipe in a chair at the right of the centre table.
After a moment, MARY TRASK, a tired, emaciated woman, whose years equal her husband’s, enters from the yard, carrying a pail of water and a lantern. She puts the pail on the bench and hangs the lantern above it; then crosses to the stove.
MARY. Ain’t got wood ‘nough fer breakfast, Thad.
THADDEUS. I’m too tired to go out now; wait till mornin’.
[Pause. MARY lays the fire in the stove.]
Did I tell ye that old man Reed saw three Southern troopers pass his house this mornin’?
MARY [takes coffee pot from stove, crosses to bench, fills pot with water]. I wish them soldiers would git out o’ the neighborhood. Whenever I see ’em passin’, I have t’ steady myself ‘gainst somethin’ or I’d fall. I couldn’t hardly breathe yesterday when the Southerners came after fodder. I’d die if they spoke t’ me.
THADDEUS. Ye needn’t be afraid of Northern soldiers.
MARY [puts coffee pot on stove]. I hate ’em all — Union or Southern. I can’t make head or tail t’ what all this fightin’s ’bout. An’ I don’t care who wins, so long as they git through, an’ them soldiers stop stealin’ our corn an’ potatoes.
THADDEUS. Ye can’t hardly blame ’em if they’re hungry, ken ye?
MARY. It ain’t right that they should steal from us poor folk. [Lifts a huge gunny sack of potatoes from the table and begins setting the table for breakfast, getting knives, forks, spoons, plates, cups, and saucers — two of each — from the cupboard.] We have hard ‘nough times t’ make things meet now. I ain’t set down onct to-day, ‘cept fer meals; an’ when I think o’ the work I got t’ do t’morrow, I ought t’ been in bed hours ago.
THADDEUS. I’d help if I could, but it ain’t my fault if the Lord see’d fit t’ lay me up, so I’m always ailin’. [Rises lazily.] Ye better try an’ take things easy t’morrow.
MARY. It’s well ‘nough t’ say, but them apples got t’ be picked an’ the rest o’ the potatoes sorted. If I could sleep at night it’d be all right, but with them soldiers ’bout, I can’t.
THADDEUS [crosses to right; fondly handles his double-barrelled shot-gun]. Jolly, wish I’d see a flock o’ birds.
MARY [showing nervousness]. I’d rather go without than hear ye fire. I wish ye didn’t keep it loaded.
THADDEUS. Ye know I ain’t got time t’ stop an’ load when I see the birds. They don’t wait fer ye. [Hangs gun on wall, drops into his chair, dejectedly.] Them pigs has got to be butchered.
MARY. Wait till I git a chance t’ go t’ sister’s. I can’t stand it t’ hear ’em squeal.
THADDEUS [pulling off his boots, grunting meanwhile]. Best go soon then, ’cause they’s fat as they’ll ever be, an’ there ain’t no use in wastin’ feed on ’em. [Pause, rises.] Ain’t ye most ready fer bed?
MARY. Go on up.
[THADDEUS takes candle in one hand, boots in other; moves toward stairs.]
An’, Thad, try not t’ snore to-night.
THADDEUS [reaching the landing]. Hit me if I do. [Disappears from view.]
[MARY fills the kettle with water and puts it on the stove; closes the door back; takes the lantern from the wall, tries twice before she succeeds in blowing it out. Puts the lantern on the table before the cubby-hole. Drags herself up the stairs, pausing a moment on the top step for breath before she disappears from sight. There is a silence. Then the door back is opened a trifle and a man’s hand is seen. Cautiously the door is opened wide, and a young NORTHERN SOLDIER is silhouetted on the threshold. He wears a dirty uniform and has a bloody bandage tied about his head. He is wounded, sick, and exhausted. He stands at the door a moment, listening intently; then hastily crosses to the centre table looking for food. He bumps against the chair and mutters an oath. Finding nothing on the table, he moves toward the cupboard. Suddenly the galloping of horses is heard in the distance. The NORTHERNER starts; then rushes to the window nearer the audience. For a moment the sound ceases, then it begins again, growing gradually louder and louder. The NORTHERNER hurries through the door left. Horses and voices are heard, in the yard, and almost immediately heavy thundering knocks sound on the door back. A racket is heard above stairs. The knockers on the door grow impatient, and push the door open. A large, powerful SOUTHERN SERGEANT and a smaller, more youthful TROOPER of the same army enter. At the same time, THADDEUS appears on the stairs, carrying a candle.]
SERGEANT [to THADDEUS; not unkindly]. Sorry, my friend, but you were so darn slow ’bout openin’ the door, that we had to walk in. Has there been a Northern soldier round here to-day?
THADDEUS [timidly]. I ain’t seed one.
SERGEANT. Have you been here all day?
THADDEUS. I ain’t stirred from the place.
SERGEANT. Call the rest of your family down.
THADDEUS. My wife’s all there is. [Goes to foot of stairs, and calls loudly and excitedly.] Mary! Mary! Come down right off.
SERGEANT. You better not lie to me or it’ll go tough with you.
THADDEUS. I swear I ain’t seed no one.
[MARY comes downstairs slowly. She is all atremble.]
THADDEUS. Say, Mary, you was h —-
SERGEANT. You keep still, man. I’ll question her myself. [To MARY.] You were here at the house all day?
[MARY is very fearful and embarrassed, but after a moment manages to nod her head slowly.]
You didn’t take a trip down to the store? [MARY shakes her head slowly.]
Haven’t you got a tongue?
MARY [with difficulty]. Y-e-s.
SERGEANT. Then use it. The Northern soldier who came here a while ago was pretty badly wounded, wasn’t he?
MARY. I — I — no one’s been here.
SERGEANT. Come, come, woman, don’t lie. [MARY shows a slight sign of anger.]
He had a bad cut in his forehead, and you felt sorry for him, and gave him a bite to eat.
MARY [haltingly]. No one’s been near the house to-day.
SERGEANT [trying a different tone]. We’re not going to hurt him, woman. He’s a friend of ours. We want to find him, and put him in a hospital, don’t we, Dick? [Turning to his companion.]
DICK. He’s sick and needs to go to bed for a while.
MARY. He ain’t here.
SERGEANT. What do you want to lie for?
MARY [quickly]. I ain’t lyin’. I ain’t seed no soldier.
THADDEUS. No one could ‘a’ come without her seein’ ’em.
SERGEANT. I suppose you know what’ll happen to you if you are hidin’ the man?
[MARY stands rooted to the spot where she stopped when she came downstairs. Her eyes are fixed on the SERGEANT.]
THADDEUS. There ain’t no one here. We both been here all day, an’ there couldn’t no one come without our knowin’ it. What would they want round here anyway?
SERGEANT. We’ll search the place.
MARY [quickly]. Ye ain’t got no —-
SERGEANT [sharply]. What’s that, woman?
MARY. There ain’t no one here, an’ ye’re keepin’ us from our sleep.
SERGEANT. Your sleep? This is an affair of life and death. Get us a lantern.
[THADDEUS moves to the table which stands in front of the cubby-hole, and lights the lantern from the candle which he holds in his hand. He hands the lantern to the SERGEANT.]
SERGEANT [seeing the door to the cubby-hole]. Ha! Tryin’ to hide the door are you, by puttin’ a table in front of it. You can’t fool me. [To THADDEUS.] Pull the table away and let’s see what’s behind the door.
THADDEUS. It’s a cubby-hole an’ ain’t been opened in years.
SERGEANT [sternly and emphatically]. I said to open the door.
[THADDEUS sets the candle on the larger table, moves the smaller table to the right, and opens the door to the cubby-hole. Anger is seen on MARY’S face. The SERGEANT takes a long-barrelled revolver from his belt, and peers into the cubby-hole. He sees nothing.]
SERGEANT [returning his revolver to his belt]. We’re goin’ to tear this place to pieces till we find him. You might just as well hand him over now.
MARY. There ain’t no one here.
SERGEANT. All right. Now we’ll see. Dick, you stand guard at the door.
[DICK goes to the door back, and stands gazing out into the night — his back to the audience.]
SERGEANT [to THADDEUS]. Come along, man. I’ll have a look at the upstairs. [To MARY.] You sit down in that chair [points to the chair at right of table, and feeling for a sufficiently strong threat]. Don’t you stir or I’ll — I’ll set fire to your house. [To THADDEUS.] Go on ahead.
[THADDEUS and the SERGEANT go upstairs. MARY sinks almost lifelessly into the chair. She is the picture of fear. She sits facing left. Suddenly she leans forward. The door left is being opened. She opens her eyes wide and draws her breath sharply. She opens her mouth as though she would scream, but makes no sound. The NORTHERNER comes slowly and cautiously through the door. (DICK cannot see him because of the jog in the wall.) MARY only stares in bewilderment at the NORTHERNER, as the man, with eyes fixed appealingly on her, opens the door to the cubby-hole and crawls inside.]
MARY [almost with a cry — thinking that DICK has seen the NORTHERNER]. Yes.
DICK. Have you got an apple handy? I’m starved. [MARY moves to the cupboard to get the apple for DICK. The SERGEANT and THADDEUS come downstairs. The SERGEANT, seeing that MARY is not where he left her, looks about quickly and discovers her at the cupboard.]
SERGEANT. Here, what’d I tell you I’d do if you moved from that chair?
MARY [with great fear]. Oh, I didn’t — I only — he wanted —-
DICK. It’s all right, Sergeant. I asked her to get me an apple.
SERGEANT. Dick, take this lantern and search the barn. [DICK takes the lantern from the SERGEANT and goes out back.] [To THADDEUS.] Come in here with me. [Takes the candle from centre table.] [The SERGEANT and THADDEUS move toward the door left. As though in a stupor, MARY starts to follow.] Sit down! [MARY falls into the chair at the right of the centre table. The SERGEANT and THADDEUS go into the room at left. They can be heard moving furniture about. MARY’S eyes fall on a pin on the floor. She bends over, picks it up, and fastens it in her belt. The SERGEANT and THADDEUS return.]
SERGEANT. If I find him now, after all the trouble you’ve given me, you know what’ll happen. There’s likely to be two dead men and a woman, instead of only the Yankee.
DICK [bounding into the room]. Sergeant!
SERGEANT. What is it? [DICK hurries to the SERGEANT and says something in a low voice to him. Satisfaction shows on the latter’s face.]
SERGEANT. Now my good people, how did that horse get here?
THADDEUS. What horse?
DICK. There’s a horse in the barn with a saddle on his back. I swear he’s been ridden lately.
THADDEUS [amazed]. There is?
SERGEANT. You know it. [To MARY.] Come, woman, who drove that horse here?
MARY [silent for a moment — her eyes on the floor]. I don’t know. I didn’t hear nothin’.
THADDEUS [moving in the direction of the door back]. Let me go an’ see.
SERGEANT [pushing THADDEUS back]. No, you don’t. You two have done enough to justify the harshest measures. Show us the man’s hiding-place.
THADDEUS. If there’s anybody here, he’s come in the night without our knowin’ it. I tell ye I didn’t see anybody, an’ she didn’t, an’ —-
SERGEANT [has been watching MARY]. Where is he? [The SERGEANT’S tone makes THADDEUS jump. There is a pause, during which MARY seems trying to compose herself. Then slowly, she lifts her eyes and looks at the SERGEANT.]
MARY. There ain’t nobody in the house ‘cept us two.
SERGEANT [to DICK]. Did you search all the outbuildings?
DICK. Yes. There’s not a trace of him except the horse.
SERGEANT [wiping the perspiration from his face; speaks with apparent deliberation at first, but increases to great strength and emphasis]. He didn’t have much of a start of us, and I think he was wounded. A farmer down the road said he heard hoof-beats. The man the other side of you heard nothing, and the horse is in your barn. [Slowly draws revolver, and points it at THADDEUS.] There are ways of making people confess.
THADDEUS [covering his face with his hands]. For God’s sake, don’t. I know that horse looks bad — but as I live I ain’t heard a sound, or seen anybody. I’d give the man up in a minute if he was here.
SERGEANT [lowering his gun]. Yes, I guess you would. You wouldn’t want me to hand you and your wife over to our army to be shot down like dogs. [MARY shivers.] [Swings round sharply, and points the gun at MARY.] Your wife knows where he’s hid.
MARY [breaking out in irritating, rasping voice]. I’m sure I wish I did. An’ I’d tell ye quick, an’ git ye out of here. ‘Tain’t no fun fer me to have ye prowlin’ all over my house. Ye ain’t got no right t’ torment me like this. Lord knows how I’ll git my day’s work done, if I can’t have my sleep.
SERGEANT [has been gazing at her in astonishment; lowers his gun]. Good God, what a clod! Nothing but her own petty existence. [In different voice to MARY.] I’ll have to ask you to get us something to eat. We’re famished. [With relief, but showing some anger, MARY turns to the stove. She lights the fire, and puts more coffee in the pot.]
SERGEANT. Come, Dick, we better give our poor horses some water. They’re all tired out. [In lower voice.] The man isn’t here. If he were, he couldn’t get away while we’re in the yard. [To THADDEUS.] Get us a pail to give the horses some water. [Sees the pails on the bench. Picks one of them up and moves toward the door.]
MARY. That ain’t the horses’ pail.
SERGEANT [to THADDEUS]. Come along, you can help.
MARY [louder]. That’s the drinkin’ water pail.
SERGEANT. That’s all right.
[The SERGEANT, DICK, and THADDEUS go out back. MARY needs more wood for the fire, so she follows them in a moment. When she has disappeared, the NORTHERNER drags himself from the cubby-hole. He looks as though he would fall with exhaustion. MARY returns with an armful of wood.]
MARY [sees the NORTHERNER. Shows no sympathy for the man in this speech, nor during the entire scene]. Ye git back! Them soldiers’ll see ye.
NORTHERNER. Some water. Quick. [Falls into chair at left of table.] It was so hot in there.
MARY [gives him water in the dipper]. Don’t ye faint here. If them soldiers git ye, they’ll kill me an’ Thad. Hustle an’ git back in the cubby-hole. [MARY turns quickly to the stove. The NORTHERNER drinks the water; puts dipper on table, then, summoning all his strength, rises and crosses to MARY. He touches her on the shoulder. MARY is so startled, that she jumps and utters a faint cry.]
NORTHERNER. Be still, or they’ll hear you. How are you going to get me out of this?
MARY [angrily]. Ye git out. Why did ye come here, a-bringin’ me all this extra work, an’ maybe death?
NORTHERNER. I couldn’t go any farther. My horse and I were both near dropping. Won’t you help me?
MARY. No, I won’t. I don’t know who ye are or nothin’ ’bout ye, ‘cept that them men want t’ ketch ye. [In a changed tone of curiosity.] Did ye steal somethin’ from ’em?
NORTHERNER. Don’t you understand? Those men belong to the Confederacy, and I’m a Northerner. They’ve been chasing me all day. [Pulling a bit of crumpled paper from his breast.] They want this paper. If they get it before to-morrow morning it will mean the greatest disaster that’s ever come to the Union army.
MARY [with frank curiosity]. Was it ye rode by yesterday?
NORTHERNER. Don’t you see what you can do? Get me out of here and away from those men, and you’ll have done more than any soldier could do for the country — for your country.
MARY. I ain’t got no country. Me an’ Thad’s only got this farm. Thad’s ailin’, an’ I do most the work, an’ —-
NORTHERNER. The lives of thirty thousand men hang by a thread. I must save them. And you must help me.
MARY. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout ye, an’ I don’t know what ye’re talkin’ ’bout.
NORTHERNER. Only help me get away.
MARY [angrily]. No one ever helped me or Thad. I lift no finger in this business. Why ye come here in the first place is beyond me — sneakin’ round our house, spoilin’ our well-earned sleep. If them soldiers ketch ye, they’ll kill me an’ Thad. Maybe ye didn’t know that.
NORTHERNER. What’s your life and your husband’s compared to thirty thousand! I haven’t any money or I’d give it to you.
MARY. I don’t want yer money.
NORTHERNER. What do you want?
MARY. I want ye t’ git away. I don’t care what happens t’ ye. Only git out of here.
NORTHERNER. I can’t with the Southerners in the yard. They’d shoot me like a dog. Besides, I’ve got to have my horse.
MARY [with naive curiosity]. What kind o’ lookin’ horse is it?
NORTHERNER [dropping into chair at left of centre table in disgust and despair]. O God! If I’d only turned in at the other farm. I might have found people with red blood. [Pulls out his gun, and hopelessly opens the empty chamber.]
MARY [alarmed]. What ye goin’ t’ do with that gun?
NORTHERNER. Don’t be afraid. It’s not load —-
MARY. I’d call ’em in, if I wasn’t —-
NORTHERNER [leaping to the wall left and bracing himself against it]. Go call them in. Save your poor skin and your husband’s if you can. Call them in. You can’t save yourself. [Laughs hysterically.] You can’t save your miserable skin. Cause if they get me, and don’t shoot you, I will.
MARY [leans against left side of centre table for support; in agony]. Oh!
NORTHERNER. You see, you’ve got to help me whether you want to or not.
MARY [feeling absolutely caught]. I ain’t done nothin’. I don’t see why ye an’ them others come here a threatenin’ t’ shoot me. I don’t want nothin’. I don’t want t’ do nothin’. I jest want ye all t’ git out a here an’ leave me an’ Thad t’ go t’ sleep. Oh, I don’t know what t’ do. Ye got me in a corner where I can’t move. [Passes her hand back along the table. Touches the dipper accidentally, and it falls to the floor. Screams at the sound.]
NORTHERNER [leaping toward her]. Now you’ve done it. They’ll be here in a minute. You can’t give me up. They’ll shoot you if you do. They’ll shoot. [Hurries up the stairs, and disappears from sight.]
[MARY stands beside the table, trembling terribly. The SERGEANT, DICK, and THADDEUS come running in.]
SERGEANT. What did you yell for?
[Seizing her by the arm.] Answer!
MARY. I knocked the dipper off the table. It scared me.
SERGEANT [dropping wearily into chair at left of centre table]. Well, don’t drop our breakfast. Put it on the table. We’re ready.
MARY [stands gazing at him]. It ain’t finished.
OFFICER [worn out by his day’s work and MARY’S stupidity, from now on absolutely brutish]. You’ve had time to cook a dozen meals. You’re as slow as a snail. What did you do all the time we were in the barn?
MARY. I didn’t do nothin’.
SERGEANT. You lazy female. Now get a move on, and give us something fit to eat. Don’t try to get rid of any left-overs on us. If you do, you’ll suffer for it.
[MARY stands looking at him.]
Don’t you know anything, you brainless farm-drudge? Hurry, I said.
[MARY turns to the stove. THADDEUS sits in chair at left of smaller table.]
DICK. What a night. My stomach’s as hollow as these people’s heads. [Takes towel which hangs above the bench and wipes the barrel of his gun with it.]
MARY [sees DICK]. That’s one of my best towels.
DICK. Can’t help it.
SERGEANT. ‘Tend to the breakfast. That’s enough for you to do at one time.
[DICK puts his gun on the smaller table, and sits at right of centre table.]
SERGEANT [quietly to DICK]. I don’t see how he gave us the slip.
DICK. He knew we were after him, and drove his horse in here, and went on afoot. Clever scheme, I must admit.
THADDEUS [endeavoring to get them into conversation]. Have ye rid far to-night, misters?
DICK [shortly]. Far enough.
THADDEUS. Twenty miles or so?
THADDEUS. How long ye been chasin’ the critter?
SERGEANT. Shut up, man! Don’t you see we don’t want to talk to you. Take hold and hurry, woman. My patience’s at an end.
[MARY puts a loaf of bread, some fried eggs, and a coffee pot on the table.]
MARY. There! I hope ye’re satisfied.
[The SERGEANT and DICK pull their chairs to the table, and begin to eat.]
SERGEANT. Is this all we get? Come, it won’t do you any good to be stingy.
[Obviously, from now on, everything the SERGEANT says drives MARY nearer madness.]
MARY. It’s all I got.
SERGEANT. It isn’t a mouthful for a chickadee! Give us some butter.
MARY. There ain’t none.
SERGEANT. No butter on a farm? God, the way you lie!
MARY. I —
SERGEANT. Shut up!
DICK. Have you got any cider?
SERGEANT. Don’t ask. She and the man probably drank themselves stupid on it. [Throws fork on floor.] I never struck such a place in my life. Get me another fork. How do you expect me to eat with that bent thing?
[MARY stoops with difficulty and picks up the fork. Gets another from the cupboard and gives it to the SERGEANT.]
SERGEANT. Now give us some salt. Don’t you know that folks eat it on eggs?
[MARY crosses to the cupboard; mistakes the pepper for the salt, and puts it on the table.]
SERGEANT [sprinkles pepper on his food]. I said salt, woman! [Spelling.] S-A-L-T. Salt! Salt!
[MARY goes to the cupboard; returns to the table with the salt. Almost ready to drop, she drags herself to the window nearer back, and leans against it, watching the SOUTHERNERS like a hunted animal. THADDEUS sits nodding in the corner. The SERGEANT and DICK go on devouring the food. The SERGEANT pours the coffee. Puts his cup to his lips, takes one swallow; then, jumping to his feet and upsetting his chair as he does so, he hurls his cup to the floor. The crash of china stirs THADDEUS. MARY shakes in terror.]
SERGEANT [bellowing and pointing to the fluid trickling on the floor]. Have you tried to poison us, you God damn hag?
[MARY screams, and the faces of the men turn white. It is like the cry of the animal goaded beyond endurance.]
MARY [screeching]. Call my coffee poison, will ye? Call me a hag? I’ll learn ye! I’m a woman, and ye’re drivin’ me crazy. [Snatches the gun from the wall, points it at the SERGEANT, and fires. Keeps on screeching. The SERGEANT falls to the floor. DICK rushes for his gun.]
THADDEUS. Mary! Mary!
MARY [aiming at DICK, and firing]. I ain’t a hag, I’m a woman, but ye’re killin’ me.
[DICK falls just as he reaches his gun. THADDEUS is in the corner with his hands over his ears. The NORTHERNER stands on the stairs. MARY continues to pull the trigger of the empty gun. The NORTHERNER is motionless for a moment; then he goes to THADDEUS, and shakes him.]
NORTHERNER. Go get my horse, quick!
[THADDEUS obeys. The NORTHERNER turns to MARY. She gazes at him, but does not understand a word he says.]
NORTHERNER [with great fervor]. I’m ashamed of what I said. The whole country will hear of this, and you. [Takes her hand, and presses it to his lips; then turns and hurries out of the house. MARY still holds the gun in her hand. She pushes a strand of gray hair back from her face, and begins to pick up the fragments of the broken coffee cup.]
MARY [in dead, flat tone]. I’ll have to drink out the tin cup now.
[The hoof-beats of the NORTHERNER’S horse are heard.]
II. EUGENICALLY SPEAKING
A One-Act Play by EDWARD GOODMAN
Copyright, 1914, by Edward Goodman
“Eugenically Speaking” was produced by the Washington Square Players, under the direction of Philip Moeller, as part of their first program at the Bandbox Theatre, New York City, beginning February 19, 1915.
In the cast, in the order of their appearance, were the following:
UNA BRAITHEWAITE . . . Florence Enright GEORGE COXEY . . . . Karl Karsten
MR. BRAITHEWAITE . . . George C. Somnes JARVIS a manservant . . Ralph Roeder
The scene was designed by Engelbert Gminska and Miss Enright’s costume by Mrs. Edward Flammer.
“Eugenically Speaking” was subsequently revived by the Washington Square Players at the Comedy Theatre, New York City, beginning August 30, 1916. In this production Arthur Hohl played the part of George Coxey; Robert Strange, Wm. Braithewaite; and Spalding Hall, Jarvis.
UNA . . . . . . . . A girl
GEORGE COXEY . . . . . A conductor
MR. BRAITHEWAITE . . . . A financier JARVIS . . . . . . . A butler
TIME: Between to-day and to-morrow.
SCENE:A room in the Braithewaite mansion, richly but tastefully furnished. Among these furnishings it is necessary for the play to note, besides the door at the back, only the table that stands a little to the right of the centre of the room, with a statue on it, and three chairs which stand, one to the right, one to the left, and one in the middle. It is a winter afternoon, and the room is illuminated by invisible lights.
Enter UNA, followed by GEORGE COXEY. UNA is a charming, fashionable girl of twenty with a suave blend of will and poise. GEORGE COXEY is a handsome, well-built, magnetic-looking youth of about twenty-five. He is dressed in the garb of a street-car conductor and carries the cap in his hand. Although somewhat inconvenienced and preoccupied with the novelty of his surroundings and his situation, he remains, in the main, in excellent self-possession, an occasional twinkle in his eye showing that he is even quietly alive to a certain humor in the adventure. Above all, his attitude is that rare one, which we like to feel typical of American youth, of facing an unusual situation firmly, and seeing and grasping its possibilities quickly.
He stands near the door, waiting, examining the room and warming his hands, while UNA goes to the bell and rings it and then proceeds to the mirror to primp a little. When she is finished she turns and notices him.
UNA. Why, my dear man, sit down. [She points to a chair at the right.]
GEORGE. Thanks, after you.
UNA [laughs]. Oh! Excuse me. I forgot. You’re a car conductor. Naturally you’re polite.
GEORGE. Not naturally, Miss. But I’ve learned.
UNA. An apt pupil, too. Let me teach you then that the ruder you are to a woman, the more she’ll hate you — or love you. [She goes up to him and invites him with a gesture.] Sit down.
[GEORGE remains immobile.]
The polite are not only bourgeois, they’re boring.
GEORGE. When I know I’m right, I stick to it.
UNA. But you must grow tired of standing.
GEORGE. If I did, I’d lose my job.
UNA. You have already. Sit down.
GEORGE [firmly]. After you.
UNA [taking the chair, centre, and sitting on it]. You’re splendid. Now!
[GEORGE sits in the offered chair a little stiffly.]
UNA. Isn’t that better than ringing up fares?
GEORGE [smiling at his attempt at a pun]. Fairly.
UNA [rising, perturbed]. No! You mustn’t do that. That’s vulgar.
GEORGE [rising in alarm]. What have I done?
UNA [vexed again]. Sit down. You mustn’t jump up when I do. [He remains standing. Vexed but smiling she sits.] Well, there! [He sits down.] You punned! You mustn’t. We all like puns, but it’s good form to call them bad taste.
[Enter JARVIS the Butler.]
JARVIS [starts slightly at perceiving the situation, but controls himself]. Did you ring for me, Miss?
UNA. Yes. Please tell my father that I’d like to see him at once.
[JARVIS goes out.]
UNA. Do you know the reason that you are here?
GEORGE. The hundred dollars you gave me.
UNA. No —-
GEORGE. Yes. I wouldn’t have left my job if you hadn’t given me that.
UNA. I suppose not. But I mean, do you know why I brought you here?
GEORGE. I’m waiting to see.
UNA [enthusiastically]. I wonder if you’ll like it.
GEORGE. Your father?
UNA. No. Dad’s a dear. That is, he is when he sees you mean business.
[Enter MR. BRAITHEWAITE. He is a well-preserved man near sixty, almost always completely master of himself. On seeing COXEY he, too, gives a little start and then controls himself.]
BRAITHEWAITE. Una, dear?
UNA [jumping up in excitement]. Oh, Daddy! I’m so glad you were in. [To GEORGE who has risen, too.] Keep your seat. Draw up a chair, Dad — I’ve done it.
BRAITHEWAITE. Done what?
UNA [bringing up a chair and placing it to her right]. Do sit down, Dad. He’s so delicious. He won’t sit down till we do — and you know how much they have to stand.
BRAITHEWAITE [looks at GEORGE and UNA and then sits in the chair allotted to him, whereupon UNA sits in hers and then GEORGE sits down]. Now, dear, what is it you have done?
UNA. Selected a husband.
[GEORGE moves a little uneasily. BRAITHEWAITE looks at GEORGE and then speaks to UNA.]
BRAITHEWAITE. You mean?
UNA [pointing to GEORGE]. Him! [GEORGE rises in discomfiture.] Do sit down. We’re all sitting now, you see. [GEORGE brings himself to sit down again.]
BRAITHEWAITE. But, my dear —-
UNA. Now don’t say a word until you hear the whole story. You read that article by Shaw in the Metropolitan, didn’t you? I did. You remember what he wrote? “The best eugenic guide is the sex attraction — the Voice of Nature.” He thinks the trouble is at present that we dare not marry out of our own sphere. But I’ll show you exactly what he says. [She fusses in her handbag and pulls out a sheet of a magazine which she unfolds as she says:] I always carry the article with me. It’s so stimulating.
BRAITHEWAITE [protesting]. You’re not going to read me a whole Shaw article, are you? It’s five o’clock now and we’ve a dinner date at eight, dear.
UNA. It’s a Shaw article, not a Shaw preface. However, I’ll only read the passage I’ve marked. Listen. [She reads.] “I do not believe you will ever have any improvement in the human race until you greatly widen the area of possible sexual selection; until you make it as wide as the numbers of the community make it. Just consider what occurs at the present time. I walk down Oxford Street, let me say, as a young man.” He might just as well have said, “young woman,” you know.
UNA [continues reading], “I see a woman who takes my fancy.” With me it would be a man, of course.
BRAITHEWAITE. For your purpose, of course.
UNA [continuing again]. “I fall in love with her. It would seem very sensible in an intelligent community that I should take off my hat and say to this lady: ‘Will you excuse me; but you attract me strongly, and if you are not already engaged, would you mind taking my name and address and considering whether you would care to marry me?’ [BRAITHEWAITE looks uncomfortably at GEORGE who looks uncomfortable, though amused, himself.] Now I have no such chance at present.”
BRAITHEWAITE. Exactly. You see, he admits it.
UNA. Yes, but why shouldn’t I have the chance? That set me thinking. I decided he was right. I am intelligent, am I not?
BRAITHEWAITE. I refuse to commit myself, dear, until I hear all your story.
UNA. Well, I decided I’d make the chance. You see, I — I’ve been led to think recently that I ought to be getting married.
BRAITHEWAITE. May I ask why?
UNA. Yes, dear, but I’d rather not answer.
BRAITHEWAITE. I beg pardon.
UNA. And when I looked about me for the possibilities in my own set, I — [she makes a face] — well, I wasn’t attracted.
BRAITHEWAITE. I admit, in society, as a rule, the women grow stronger and the men weaker.
UNA. Exactly. And I knew you wanted to be a proud grandfather.
BRAITHEWAITE. You’re mistaken, dear. I hadn’t given the subject any thought; so I had no desires.
UNA. Well, I have . . . [BRAITHEWAITE slightly shows that he is perhaps shocked. UNA notices this and continues in explanation] given the subject a good deal of thought. I’ve spent days buying second-hand clothing to give away at the missions and lodging houses in order to have a look.
BRAITHEWAITE. At least there was charity in that.
UNA. Yes. You see I didn’t want charity to have to begin at my home. Self-preservation is the first law of Nature.
BRAITHEWAITE. And self-propagation, I suppose, the second.
UNA. Well — the missions were no good. They were all so starved and pinched-looking there I couldn’t tell what they’d be like if they got proper nourishment. And I didn’t want to take a chance. So I went to some coal yards.
BRAITHEWAITE. To find the devil not so black as painted?
UNA [with a grimace]. Blacker! I couldn’t see what they looked like. Of course if I could have asked them to wash their faces.
BRAITHEWAITE [looking at GEORGE]. Considering what you have done, I don’t see —-
UNA. I did ask one, but he made some vulgar remark about black dirt and red paint. So I left him.
BRAITHEWAITE. And then?
UNA. I spent all to-day riding up and down town in street cars. It’s very fascinating, Dad. All you can see for a nickel! I never realized what a public benefactor you were.
BRAITHEWAITE [modestly]. Oh, I am amply repaid.
UNA [in explanation to GEORGE]. Dad’s the president of your traction company, you know. [GEORGE rises in fright.] Oh, that’s all right. I’ve lost you your job, but I’ll get you a better one as I promised. Don’t be afraid of Dad — in the parlor. Sit down.
BRAITHEWAITE [to GEORGE]. You might as well make yourself physically comfortable, you know. There’s no telling how my daughter may make us feel in other ways.
[GEORGE sits down again, regaining his composure a little.]
BRAITHEWAITE [to UNA]. And so to-day you investigated travelling in street cars?
UNA. Yes. “Joy-riding,” you know. Then I saw him — and decided. I knew he wouldn’t dare to propose to me — under existing conditions.
BRAITHEWAITE. So you asked him to marry you?
UNA. Certainly not. I’ve too much consideration for you, dear.
BRAITHEWAITE. But I thought you said —-?
UNA. I decided to bring him home to get your consent first. [BRAITHEWAITE starts to say something.] I knew you’d approve when you saw him. But I wanted to be sure I hadn’t overlooked anything. And if I had, I didn’t want to have raised his hopes for nothing. [To GEORGE.] Would you mind standing a moment, now, until Dad looks you over?
[GEORGE fidgets a little in embarrassment.]
BRAITHEWAITE. My dear, do you think the gentleman —-?
UNA. ” Gentleman!” Oh, yes, I forgot. I needn’t have been so clumsy. [She rises. GEORGE rises automatically. She continues to GEORGE.] I apologize.
BRAITHEWAITE [also rising and moving his chair aside]. I fear you have been too rude.
UNA. So do I. I’ve never even introduced you. Father, this is — this is —- [To GEORGE.] By the way — I forgot to ask — what is your name?
GEORGE. Coxey, Miss.
UNA [sounding it]. Coxey. What’s the first name? I can’t call my husband “Coxey,” you know.
GEORGE. George, Miss.
UNA [triumphantly]. George! There’s a fine virile name for you. George Coxey! How strong that sounds! One of those names that would go equally well in the blue book or the police blotter.
GEORGE. I never —-
UNA. Don’t disclaim. I know you’ve never been arrested. One can see your goodness in your face.
BRAITHEWAITE [reprovingly]. Many of the best people go to jail now, dear.
UNA. I know. But he’s not rich and thank heaven he’s not a fanatic. Isn’t he good-looking? And I’m sure he’s strong. See those hands of his — a little rough, of course, but I like that, and so firm and, for his job, wonderfully clean. Don’t hide them, George. They attracted me from the start.
BRAITHEWAITE. How did you come here with my daughter at all, sir?
UNA [quickly]. I got off with him at the car barn when he finished his run and asked him.
BRAITHEWAITE. Didn’t you know you would lose your job by leaving that way?
GEORGE [with a suppressed smile]. Yes, sir.
BRAITHEWAITE. And you came at any rate?
GEORGE. You see, sir, she gave me —-
UNA [interrupting hurriedly]. A beseeching look. Just one. I didn’t use more than was necessary. [Pointedly to GEORGE.] You see, George, I have learnt economy from father. He hates me to be extravagant.
BRAITHEWAITE. That, my dear, is the chief objection I have to this episode — it’s extravagance.
UNA. Please don’t call it an “episode,” father.
BRAITHEWAITE. You must admit it’s — rather unusual.
UNA. In England, lords always marry chorus girls.
BRAITHEWAITE. But he is a conductor.
GEORGE [angry]. Yes. And conductors are —-
UNA. As hard working as chorus girls — only. Don’t be snobbish, George. Of course a conductor is more unusual, I admit. I can’t help that though —- [To her father.] You shouldn’t have called me “Una,” if you didn’t want me to be unique.
BRAITHEWAITE [reminiscently]. That was most unfortunate — most. It was your mother’s idea. She believed in symbols — and in a small family.
UNA. Oh! Was that why —-? Well, no matter. I’ve always thought it meant individuality and I’ve done my best to live up to it. [She looks at the statue.] That statue ought to be on the other side of the room.
BRAITHEWAITE. I’ll have some of the men move it to-morrow.
UNA. I’d like to see the effect now.
BRAITHEWAITE [slightly annoyed at this seeming irrelevance]. I wish I could teach you concentration. I’m not strong enough to move it myself, dear, and —-
GEORGE. Can I?
UNA. Oh! If you would!
[GEORGE goes over to it and then hesitates what to do with his cap which he has in his hand.]
UNA. I’ll take that.
GEORGE [giving it to her]. Thanks. [He bends and lifts the statue without effort, while UNA watches him admiringly, fingering his cap. When he reaches the other side of the room he stops, waveringly, awaiting instructions.]
UNA [talking as GEORGE waits]. Look at him. He’s as fine as the statue, isn’t he? And you know what you think of that. See the strength he has?
BRAITHEWAITE. Well —-
UNA [to GEORGE]. Thank you so much. You may put it back again. That was all I wanted. [After GEORGE has.] I hope I didn’t overtax you.
GEORGE. Oh, it ain’t very heavy.
UNA [triumphantly to her father]. You see!
BRAITHEWAITE. But he uses “ain’t.”
UNA [imitating the reproof of her father]. Many of the best people use “ain’t” now, dear.
BRAITHEWAITE. Not with his enunciation.
UNA. What was yours like when you were a railroad signalman?
BRAITHEWAITE. Una! The past of a public man should be private.
UNA. George has our children’s future before him. All the others I know have only their parents’ past behind. You could give him a job suitable for my husband. I’ll make my husband suitable for the job.
BRAITHEWAITE. But you don’t know him, my dear.
UNA. I don’t know myself for that matter. If I don’t like him, it’s easy enough to go to Reno.
BRAITHEWAITE. Then you insist?
UNA. I’m tremendously eager. It’s so unusual.
BRAITHEWAITE. I suppose I could sue Shaw.
UNA. Don’t be silly. Sue an Englishman with German sympathies! Where’s your neutrality?
BRAITHEWAITE [sinking into a chair]. Very well.
UNA [running up to GEORGE with delight]. Then it’s settled, dear. We’re going to marry.
GEORGE. Excuse me, Miss, we ain’t.
BRAITHEWAITE [shocked]. “Ain’t” again!
UNA [correcting]. “Aren’t,” dear — I mean, we are.
UNA [backing away]. Why not?
GEORGE. Because — I’m married already.
BRAITHEWAITE [rising]. What?
UNA. How annoying!
GEORGE. Married three years, and expecting a baby, Miss.
UNA [troubled]. Oh, please!
BRAITHEWAITE. You see what plunging means. I told you I believed in eugenic examinations first.
UNA [walking up and down, thinking]. Sh! Be quiet, father. Don’t lose your head.
BRAITHEWAITE. Better than losing your heart.
UNA [laughing]. I have it. Of course. How stupid of me not to think. George.
GEORGE. Yes, Miss.
BRAITHEWAITE. Wouldn’t you better call him “Mr. Coxey” now?
UNA [paying no heed to her father’s remark]. George, you must divorce your wife.
GEORGE. Me? Why she’s as good as gold and —-
UNA. That’s unfortunate. [Thinking.] Then I’ll have to run away with you and let her get the divorce.
BRAITHEWAITE [now really shocked]. Una!
UNA [innocently]. What, Dad? Have you something better to suggest?
BRAITHEWAITE [fuming]. I can’t permit it. I didn’t mind the uncommon scandal of your marrying a car conductor, but I absolutely draw the line at common scandal.
UNA [a little bored]. Father, dear, why will you sometimes talk to me as though I were the Public Service Commission? There’s going to be no scandal. You can keep it out of the newspapers.
GEORGE. Excuse me, but that don’t make any difference. I don’t want to get a divorce.
UNA. You don’t? Why?
GEORGE [embarrassed]. Sounds like a song, I know, but — I love my wife.
UNA [in despair]. And you’re the unusual man I’m to marry.
BRAITHEWAITE [with the contempt of a professional toward an amateur]. Stealing nickels doesn’t develop the imagination.
UNA [desperately]. How can you love your wife? Some simple, economizing, prosaic, hausfrau who —-
GEORGE [with spirit]. I don’t know what you’re saying, but you better be careful not to insult my wife. She’s as good as you are and a rector’s daughter.
UNA [dumbfounded]. What?
GEORGE. Yes. Daughter of one of the biggest sky-pilots in town. I met her at a settlement house. She put the question to me, too.
UNA [angry and doubting]. She —-?
GEORGE. Sure. I’ve been through something like this before or I’d never been able to stand it so well.
UNA [as before]. Your wife —-?
GEORGE. Had a good deal more pluck than you, though. Up and told her father she would marry me if he liked it or lumped it. He said he’d cut her. And he did. We never seen him since. But Naomi and I don’t care. That’s her name; so you can see she’s a Bible-poacher’s daughter. Naomi and I’ve been happier than any people on earth. [Sternly.] She’s taught me to stand when a lady was standing. That’s why I wouldn’t obey you. She’s teaching me how to speak, too, and if I do say “ain’t” and a lot of other things I oughtn’t to when I’m excited, that ai — isn’t her fault.
UNA. Then she — Naomi — has done everything unusual that I wanted to do, before I did?
GEORGE. Sure. You can’t be unusual to-day. Too much brains been in the world before.
UNA. How is it I never heard this story, if her father’s so well known?
GEORGE. D’you think your father’s the only one can keep things out of the papers?
UNA [going over and weeping on her father’s shoulder]. Oh! And I wanted to be unique.
BRAITHEWAITE [patting her]. There, there, dear. [To GEORGE.] You’d better go, now, Coxey.
GEORGE. And my job?
BRAITHEWAITE. I’ll see you still keep it.
GEORGE. Thanks. I don’t want to.
GEORGE. I want a better.
BRAITHEWAITE [putting his daughter aside]. Indeed! Pray what?
GEORGE [nonchalantly]. Superintendent or something. I leave it to you. You know more about what jobs there are than I do.
BRAITHEWAITE [controlling his anger]. And on what basis do you ask for a better job?
GEORGE. Naomi always said my chance would come and I could take it, if I had nerve and my eyes open. I think now’s the time.
GEORGE. Oh, this story about your daughter wouldn’t look nice.
BRAITHEWAITE. You forget the power your father-in-law and I have in the press.
GEORGE. No, I don’t. But I remember that you can’t keep me from spreading the news among your men. And I don’t think —-
BRAITHEWAITE [angry and advancing on him]. I could have you prosecuted for blackmail, sir. Have you no honor?
GEORGE. Sure. My honor says provide for your family. I’ve got the makings of a big man in me, Mr. Braithewaite. You can’t chain me down with a poor man’s morals.
BRAITHEWAITE. Well! I —-
GEORGE. I’ll work in any job you give me, too. I’m not asking for a cinch, only a chance. If she –” [pointing to UNA] — could teach me, Naomi can.
BRAITHEWAITE [after a pause]. Well, call around at my office in the morning.
GEORGE. Thanks. [He goes out.]
UNA [sitting to weep]. And I thought I could be unusual.
BRAITHEWAITE [patting her]. It’s easy enough for Shaw, dear. He only writes it.
UNA [jumping up]. That’s it. I’ll write it. I’ll write a play showing it’s useless trying to escape the usual. [Running up to her father, GEORGE’S cap in her hands.] That will be unusual, won’t it, Dad?
GEORGE. Excuse me. I left my cap.
UNA [stretching it out to him without looking at him]. Here it is.
GEORGE [taking it]. Thanks. [Approaching her.] Buck up, Miss! You meant well.
UNA. I suppose I was too daring.
GEORGE. If you ask me, I think the trouble was you and that Shaw fellow wasn’t daring enough. Marriage is a very particular sort of business. Now if you’d come up to me in the street and just asked me to —- [UNA and BRAITHEWAITE look at GEORGE.] Well — I — I guess I’ll go. But remember my tip next try, Miss.
[He goes out quickly, leaving UNA gradually grasping the idea and appreciating it, while her father’s shock at what GEORGE has said is increased only by noticing his daughter’s reception of the words.]
A One-Act Play by ALICE GERSTENBERG
Author of “Unquenched Fire,” “The Conscience of Sarah Platt,” and Dramatization of “Alice in Wonderland,” etc.
Copyright, 1913, by Alice Gerstenberg
“Overtones” was produced by the Washington Square Players under the direction of Edward Goodman at the Bandbox Theatre, New York City, beginning November 8, 1915, to represent an American one-act play on a bill of four comparative comedies, “Literature” by Arthur Schnitzler of Austria, “The Honorable Lover” by Roberto Bracco of Italy, and “Whims” by Alfred de Musset of France. In the cast were the following:
HETTY . . . . . . . Josephine A. Meyer HARRIET, her overtone . . Agnes McCarthy MAGGIE . . . . . . Noel Haddon
MARGARET, her overtone . Grace Griswold The scene was designed by Lee Simonson and the costumes and draperies by Bertha Holley.
“Overtones” was subsequently presented in vaudeville by Martin Beck, beginning at the Palace Theatre, Chicago, February 28, 1916, with Helena Lackaye as star, with the following cast:
HARRIET, a cultured woman Helene Lackaye HETTY, her primitive self . Ursula Faucett MARGARET, a cultured woman Francesca Rotoli MAGGIE, her primitive self . Nellie Dent The scene was designed by Jerome Blum.
HARRIET, a cultured woman
HETTY, her primitive self
MARGARET, a cultured woman
MAGGIE, her primitive self
TIME: The present.
SCENE: HARRIET’S fashionable living-room. The door at the back leads to the hall. In the centre a tea table with a chair either side. At the back a cabinet.
HARRIET’S gown is a light, “jealous” green. Her counterpart, HETTY, wears a gown of the same design but in a darker shade. MARGARET wears a gown of lavender chiffon while her counterpart, MAGGIE, wears a gown of the same design in purple, a purple scarf veiling her face. Chiffon is used to give a sheer effect, suggesting a possibility of primitive and cultured selves merging into one woman. The primitive and cultured selves never come into actual physical contact but try to sustain the impression of mental conflict. HARRIET never sees HETTY, never talks to her but rather thinks aloud looking into space. HETTY, however, looks at HARRIET, talks intently and shadows her continually. The same is true of MARGARET and MAGGIE. The voices of the cultured women are affected and lingering, the voices of the primitive impulsive and more or less staccato. When the curtain rises HARRIET is seated right of tea table, busying herself with the tea things.
HETTY. Harriet. [There is no answer.] Harriet, my other self. [There is no answer.] My trained self.
HARRIET [listens intently]. Yes? [From behind HARRIET’S chair HETTY rises slowly.]
HETTY. I want to talk to you.
HETTY [looking at HARRIET admiringly]. Oh, Harriet, you are beautiful to-day.
HARRIET. Am I presentable, Hetty?
HETTY. Suits me.
HARRIET. I’ve tried to make the best of the good points.
HETTY. My passions are deeper than yours. I can’t keep on the mask as you do. I’m crude and real, you are my appearance in the world.
HARRIET. I am what you wish the world to believe you are.
HETTY. You are the part of me that has been trained.
HARRIET. I am your educated self.
HETTY. I am the rushing river; you are the ice over the current.
HARRIET. I am your subtle overtones.
HETTY. But together we are one woman, the wife of Charles Goodrich.
HARRIET. There I disagree with you, Hetty, I alone am his wife.
HETTY [indignantly]. Harriet, how can you say such a thing!
HARRIET. Certainly. I am the one who flatters him. I have to be the one who talks to him. If I gave you a chance you would tell him at once that you dislike him.
HETTY [moving away], I don’t love him, that’s certain.
HARRIET. You leave all the fibbing to me. He doesn’t suspect that my calm, suave manner hides your hatred. Considering the amount of scheming it causes me it can safely be said that he is my husband.
HETTY. Oh, if you love him —-
HARRIET. I? I haven’t any feelings. It isn’t my business to love anybody.
HETTY. Then why need you object to calling him my husband?
HARRIET. I resent your appropriation of a man who is managed only through the cleverness of my artifice.
HETTY. You may be clever enough to deceive him, Harriet, but I am still the one who suffers. I can’t forget he is my husband. I can’t forget that I might have married John Caldwell.
HARRIET. How foolish of you to remember John, just because we met his wife by chance.
HETTY. That’s what I want to talk to you about. She may be here at any moment. I want to advise you about what to say to her this afternoon.
HARRIET. By all means tell me now and don’t interrupt while she is here. You have a most annoying habit of talking to me when people are present. Sometimes it is all I can do to keep my poise and appear not to be listening to you.
HETTY. Impress her.
HARRIET. Hetty, dear, is it not my custom to impress people?
HETTY. I hate her.
HARRIET. I can’t let her see that.
HETTY. I hate her because she married John.
HARRIET. Only after you had refused him.
HETTY [turning on HARRIET]. Was it my fault that I refused him?
HARRIET. That’s right, blame me.
HETTY. It was your fault. You told me he was too poor and never would be able to do anything in painting. Look at him now, known in Europe, just returned from eight years in Paris, famous.
HARRIET. It was too poor a gamble at the time. It was much safer to accept Charles’s money and position.
HETTY. And then John married Margaret within the year.
HARRIET. Out of spite.
HETTY. Freckled, gawky-looking thing she was, too.
HARRIET [a little sadly]. Europe improved her. She was stunning the other morning.
HETTY. Make her jealous to-day.
HARRIET. Shall I be haughty or cordial or caustic or —-
HETTY. Above all else you must let her know that we are rich.
HARRIET. Oh, yes, I do that quite easily now.
HETTY. You must put it on a bit.
HARRIET. Never fear.
HETTY. Tell her I love my husband.
HARRIET. My husband —-
HETTY. Are you going to quarrel with me?
HARRIET [moves away]. No, I have no desire to quarrel with you. It is quite too uncomfortable. I couldn’t get away from you if I tried.
HETTY [stamping her foot and following HARRIET]. You were a stupid fool to make me refuse John, I’ll never forgive you — never —-
HARRIET [stopping and holding up her hand]. Don’t get me all excited. I’ll be in no condition to meet her properly this afternoon.
HETTY [passionately]. I could choke you for robbing me of John.
HARRIET [retreating]. Don’t muss me!