The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage, 1940-1950

By Samuel L. Leiter | Go to book overview
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E=MC2 [Drama/Science] A: Hallie Flanagan Davis with Sylvia Gassel and Day Turtle; M: Arthur Kreutz; D: Monroe B. Hack; CH: Hanya Holm; C: Valerie Judd; L: Hans Sondheimer; P: Experimental Theatre of the American National Theatre and Academy i/a/w Columbia University's School of Dramatic Arts; T: Brander Matthews Hall (OB); 6/15/48 (3)

Hallie Flanagan Davis, who had headed the historically important Federal Theatre Project during its short life from 1935 to 1939, was the main writer of this "living newspaper," a form that had been one of the Federal Theatre Project's chief preoccupations. The subject was atomic energy, and the result was considered the best of the five offerings for which the Experimental Theatre was responsible in the 1948-1949 season. The piece had had an earlier showing in another version at Smith College the year before. To most, E = MC2--originally titled Dawn over Zero--was informative, yet entertaining. John S. Wilson ( PM) noted that it was "sharply written, amusing, brimming with vitality and, above all, a skillful and polished professional production." George Freedley ( NYMT) disagreed and considered the staging maladroit, preferring the college production as "more effective," but acknowledged that the script itself had been improved. Yet Richard Watts Jr. ( NYP), had reservations about Davis's avoidance of too controversial a slant in her presentation because he thought that it robbed the piece of needed "dramatic forcefulness." He also thought a more poetic method was probably a better one to use in approaching so awesome a subject as "the hopes and fears of the atomic age."

Davis's script anthropomorphized the atom in the form of a peppy young woman ( Billie Lou Watt) in tights who feels that she is misunderstood and wants to right the world's incorrect impression of her. With the aid of a supposed stage manager ( E. G. Marshall), an assortment of theatrical devices, including brief sketches, slides, film clips, and discussions, are marshalled to explain the nature and potential--both for good and bad--of atomic energy. At the close there is a vision of the possibility of world destruction if the atom's powers are irresponsibly handled. A good deal of humor is incorporated to keep the didacticism lively. Actors involved included Geoffrey Lumb, Marian Winters, Ken Raymond, and Philip Sand.

EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS, THE (L'Aigle á Deux Têtes) [Drama/French/Literature/Period/Politics/Romance/Sex] A: Jean Cocteau; AD: Ronald Duncan; D/P: John C. Wilson; S: Donald Oenslager; C: Aline Bernstein; T: Plymouth Theatre; 3/19/47 (29)

This disappointingly dull import was an ornately composed, symbolic melodrama presumably inspired by the assassination of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898. In Paris and London, where it had been modestly produced, it was a hit; on Broadway, given a sumptuous staging, it flopped.

It starred Tallulah Bankhead as the unnamed queen of an unnamed Graustarkian nation. Her coat of arms is a two-headed eagle. On her wedding day ten years earlier, her groom was assassinated; now, longing for death herself, the veiled,


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The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage, 1940-1950


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