Provincetown theater drama ends peacefully

Two local acting companies rename and unite

By Walter Brooks

P

rovincetown is different. So it should come as no shock that the simple renaming of a theater group would cause ripples in the artistic world nationwide. 


An old sepia print of the playhouse on Lewis Wharf around 1920. It was here that modern, American theater was born with the production of Eugene O'Neill's "Bound East for Cardiff". At the time O'Neill was an unknown, local beachcomber.

And so, the dispute over a name which has been simmering within the Provincetown theater community since late this summer has come to a peaceful solution and conclusion by the addiion of three letters.

In August when the two Cape-tip dramatic companies announced they intended to unite, they angered the Eugene O'Neil Society by calling the new company the Provincetown Players, a name associated with Eugene O'Neill and Susan Glaspell who had created that famous theater company nearly a century ago, a group whose fame is belied by the fact that they only lasted six years, and even that was through the efforts of the mollifying Ms. Glaspell.

Last week the boards of the two groups, a 42-year-old community troupe named the Provincetown Theater Company, and a 10-year-old equity company named the Provincetown Repertory Theater, gave in to the outcries and have agreed to rename the new group.

Something New under the Ptown sun

Next summer the new group will hit the boards as the New Provincetown Players. Howard Burchman, president of the Provincetown Theater Company said "we passed a second motion that the word 'new' is integral to our name".

"So in case those people are confused and think we're Eugene O'Neill and Susan Glaspell, we've let them know that we are not." 


Susan Glaspell was co-founder with her husband George Cram Cook of the Provincetown Players (1916-1922), the theater which did most to promote American dramatists. It is said that only her tact and energy held the group together for the six years of its existence.

Historians and artists had voiced their outrage in newspapers and on the Eugene O'Neill Society Web site over what they viewed as the usurpation of a name distinctive in American theater. The Provincetown Players was begun in 1916 by Susan Glaspell and her husband, George Cook Cram, and played a seminal role in non-commercial American theater and produced Eugene O'Neill's first works right here on Olde Cape Cod.

The original Provincetown Players flourished here for only two summers, but the artistic waves they stirred up resonated throughout the 20th century. In their second season on Cape Cod they produced their greatest effect on the American theater through the production of "Bound East for Cardiff", a one-act by an unknown, local beachcomber with literary ambitions named Eugene O'Neill. That production was famously staged on a foggy night on Lewis Wharf. The next year, the group moved to Greenwich Village.

More famous than O'Neill, won Pulitzer in 1931

Susan Glaspell who died in 1948 is still best known as the author of "Trifles", the frequently anthologized, classic feminist play about two womenâ??s secret discovery of a wifeâ??s murder of her husband, or the short-story â??A Jury of Her Peers,â? a re-writing of that piece.

But she wrote over fifty short stories, nine novels, eleven plays, and one biography. Many of her novels reached the best-seller lists, and one, "Brook Evans" (1928), was made into a movie. Her plays received better reviews than those of Eugene Oâ??Neill. In 1931, Glaspell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her play "Alisonâ??s House". Her 1939 novel, "The Morning is Near Us", was the Literary Guildâ??s Book of the Month choice for April 1940, and sold more than 100,000 copies.

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