Thursday, May 08, 2008

Provincetown Playhouse History, III

More from Gail Cohen:

Jasper Deeter was an actor and director with the Provincetown Players. Ann Harding who gave Jasper the money to buy the Hedgerow Theatre was a Provincetown Player. Jasper directed IN ABRAHAM'S BOSOM by Paul Green in 1926 at the Provincetown Playhouse. In 1927, the play was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The cast consisted of the major African-American actors of the day - Rose McClendon who played over 30 roles on Broadway before she died in 1936 when about to premiere Countee Cullen's play ONE WAY TO HEAVEN at Hedgerow Theatre, Jules Bledsoe, Frank Wilson, Abbie Mitchell, and Stanley Greene who continued acting at Hedgerow. The original cast came back to Hedgerow with him, and saved the theatre from being sold by the sheriff - so that it could live to celebrate its 85th Birthday.

Theatres from all over are writing letters of protest. Hedgerow is the most important of these theatres to write to John Sexton, President of New York University with a copy to Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Historic Preservation Society. I don't even know if Janet and Susan Wefel got any of the emails I have sent to . If any one there truly cares about Jasper Deeter, someone will write a letter to save the Provincetown Playhouse which has a far greater history than just the Provincetown Players.

There is more Hedgerow History with the Provincetown Players and Playhouse. Takashi Ohta, Pete Seeger's Father-In-Law was one of the first set designers at Hedgerow. He also worked at the Provincetown Playhouse. Being Japanese, he was beaten up by the Hudson Dusters in front of the Provincetown Playhouse. In the 1960's, Jasper said in an interview that was the thing he was most ashamed of in his life - that he could not do anything at the time.

Jasper Deeter premiered in many of Eugene O'Neill plays with the Provincetown Players. He directed, and originated the role of Smithers in THE EMPEROR -JONES! Jasper Deeter was responsible for finding Charles Gilpin to play the lead role. He also suggested that Dudley Diggs play his role of Smithers in the film of THE EMPEROR JONES. Jasper Deeter acted in O'Neill's play EXOCISM for which no copy of the play survives. Eugene O'Neill gave his plays royalty free to Hedgerow. That was extended by his second wife Carlotta Monteray after Jasper's death. Eugene O'Neill wrote to Jasper Deeter during WWII, "I admire your guts and integrity in this our chaos." Jasper Deeter also directed THE SPRING by George Cram Cook, and AUTUM FIRES by Gustav Weid at the Provincetown Playhouse.

He directed and acted in the premiere of Susan Glaspell's play INHERITORS. He credited INHERITORS with why he founded Hedgerow,"the story of what life might be if people bring their caring directly to bear upon their ways of doing can best be told by you." He also wrote to Glaspell on a trip to Provincetown, MA. where the Players started, "I looked at the harbor - thought of your beginnings and my own - and your part in mine - and how much I owe to a few people."

The Provincetown Playhouse had the first dome (from the German stage) built in this country by George Cram Cook, the Founder of the Provincetown Players. He built it to give the small stage more scope for the jungle scene in THE EMPEROR - JONES!. Jasper did the exact same at Hedgerow in building a dome on the Hedgerow stage. It was an art to light the dome. Hedgerow's dome was destroyed in the arson fire. The dome at the Provincetown Playhouse was destroyed after the Hedgerow fire when NYU did not protect the dome during their renovation and it collapsed. Some Hedgerow Alumni saved pieces of the Hedgerow dome as it was historic and meant something to people who had acted before it.

Miriam Phillips who acted with the Hedgerow Repertory for 32 years first appeared with the Hedgerow Repertory company at their special engagement of THE EMPEROR JONES with Paul Robeson at the Walnut Street Theatre in 1924. Jasper Deeter had asked the Provincetown Players not to move uptown with THE EMPEROR JONES. He said, Why don't you play it in Repertory, and play it forever." That is exactly what he did at Hedgerow Theatre. Eugene O'Neill's plays, and those of Susan Glaspell played throughout the 33 years of the Hedgerow Repertory, and later at Hedgerow. A different play was performed each night. The Repertory was a library of 210 plays that could be recalled at any time. The Hedgerow Repertory had 50 World Premieres, 14 American Premieres, and 2 plays for the first time in English. The actors lived together with the average stay 6 to 33 years.

Jasper Deeter also acted with the Provincetown Players in the following plays: BROTHERS by Lewis Beach directed by James Light; THE ELDEST by Edna Ferber directed by James Light; MONEY by Irwi Ganich directed by James Light, VOTE THE NEW MOON by Alfred Kreymborg directed by James Light, EXOCISM by Eugene O'Neill directed by Edward Goodman; THE EMPEROR JONES by Eugene O'Neill directed by George Cram Cook and Jasper Deeter, set designed by Cleon Throckmorton; WHAT D' YOU WANT by Lawrence Vail directed by Florence Enright with setting by Cleon Throckmorton; INHERITORS by Susan Glaspell; and PRINCESS TURANDOT by Carlo Gozzi directed by Leo Bulgakov.

Actors from Hedgerow who acted with the Provincetown Players include Jasper Deeter, Kirah Markham, Ann Harding who was a major Hollywood star in the 1930's, William Challee who later joined the Group Theatre, Jeannie Begg, Emily Taft, Frank Wilson, Paul Robeson, and Sidney Machet. Provincetown Player playwrights whose plays were in the Hedgerow Theatre Repertory include - Eugene O'Neill, Susan Glaspell, Sherwood Anderson, George Cram Cook, and Theodore Dreiser. Set designers Mordecai Gorelik, and Aline Bernstein who worked at the Provincetown Playhouse also did set designs for plays at Hedgerow Theatre.

Jasper Deeter kept in touch with Susan Glaspell, Christine Ell, Charles Ellis, Norma Millay, Harold Macgee, Ann Harding, Ida Rauh, Mary Blair, Paul Robeson, Sherwood Anderson, Floyd Dell, and Theodore Dreiser of the Provincetown Players during his lifetime, and theirs. There is a letter in the Hedgerow Theatre Collection from Harold Macgee who is with Christine Ell and others at Christine's restaurant at the Provincetown Playhouse. He writes, "We are all here drinking to you Jasper." There are letters in the Hedgerow Theatre Collection from all the above names. Boston University's Twentieth Century Archives houses the Hedgerow Theatre Collection.

So if no one else there wants to write a letter for Hedgerow, perhaps you will. Lynne MacLaren from Hedgerow who acted with Janet,Moira Rankin, and Charles Walnut in INHERITORS in 1973 is on the Planning Committee with the Greenwich Village Historic Preservation Society. Lynne's photo for numerous years was up on the wall at Hedgerow House. Maggie Flynn didn't know Lynne, but she remembers the photo! I'm sure Janet does want to write one, and perhaps even Penny. As far as I know it hasn't been done.

It is imperative that those who care about Jasper Deeter respond. This is a very difficult battle. NYU School of Law is very powerful, and owns a great deal of property. The stage, auditorium, and dressing rooms are the exact same as they were in the days of the Provincetown Players. NYU is falsely reporting that the theatre was gutted in 1940 after a fire. This is not true. The facade was changed, but that dome stood on that stage.

I have gone on for too long. I urge you to read INHERITORS if you want to know what Hedgerow was about. It was about America. I have used an old email address that I had for Penny, so I don't know if she received the Provincetown Playhouse materials. I hope you will talk about this issue, especially with Janet - and that a letter from whatever Hedgerow is will be sent. We owe that much to those who have gone before us, and Jasper Deeter. Thank you for your attention.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: