Friday, July 16, 2010

"1935" (play)

1935 (sometimes called Events of 1935) was a Living Newspaper, and one of the least successful of them. As I have been reading these scripts, investigating their performance history and critical and popular response, and found personal accounts of their creation, what has eluded me was exactly how the information (much of it factual, and quoted from sourced material) was collected and edited for production.

Today I discovered that these plays were not written entirely by the individuals, Arthur Arent and Morris Watson - these true stories were created by a staff of over 100 previously unemployed newspaper writers working for the Federal Theatre Project, then edited into this particular performance format by people like Arent and Watson.

The play 1935, which more than any of the other Living Newspaper creations resembles a March of Time newsreel, presents a chronological laundry list of what happened in, well, the year 1935. The Lindberg baby murder trial, the death of Huey Long, the icing of Dutch Schultz, the hanging of William DeBoe. All rather sordid stuff, and not particularly rife with larger meaning or resonance. The VOICE OF THE LIVING NEWSPAPER character leaves us with the idea that every year it is the same, we are all fascinated by grotesque scandal that we just as soon forget once we are wrapped up in the next big thing. It leaves one feel very jaded and unhappy - and unlike any of the Living Newspapers I have already read, it does not inspire one to any kind of action. It doesn't even make me want to get off of the couch.

There are two inspiring moments, one which warns that the impending 1936 Berlin Olympics will not be a politically-neutral event, and the penultimate scene of Communist Angelo Herndon, an African-American, sentenced to twenty years hard labor for specious reasons (based on an 1861 act against sedition, he was found guilty of possession Communist literature) and his inspirational example as a prisoner and excellent legal council freed him in 1937 - which of course, was not know at the time of the production.

Opening March 14, 1936, it ran for only 85 performances at the Biltmore Theatre in New York, but was innocuous enough to pave the way for the more politically charged Living Newspapers which would follow.

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