The American Legacy
Metropolitan Playhouse
The American Legacy

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A  Play

Title LogoREX: Yes, fidelity. Haven’t I been essentially faithful to you.
I may have fancies for other women but haven’t I come back to you?
MOIRA (Looking at him with admiration): Oh, Rex, you are perfect; you are a perfect man.
REX: Well, I can say with sincerity that you are a complete woman.
MOIRA: After that I suppose there is no more to sa

Neith Boyce  (1872-1951)Neith

Mary Smith Boyce named her first daughter for the ancient chthonic goddess Neith of Egyptian origin meaning "divine mother". One of the more unusual mythology names for girls, Neith is the name of the Egyptian goddess who was the creator of the world and the mother of the sun, Ra. This made her the mother of all of the gods.

Born in Franklin, Indiana, she was the second of five children, all of whom perished in an influenza epidemic when she was six years old, leaving the characteristically quiet Boyce alone to develop her passion for writing.  Boyce’s father’s business ventures, which included the co-founding of the Los Angeles Times, purchase of the Los Angeles Tribune, and partial purchase of The Boston Traveler and Arena kept the family on the move and exposed Boyce to various political beliefs and writers.

Boyce began working as the sole woman reporter for Lincoln Steffans' The Commercial Advertiser in 1898 after moving to New York's Greenwich Village. 
There she met the radical journalist Hutchins Hapgood (1869-1944), whom she married in 1899.

BOYCE PortraitTogether the couple had a life of ideas, the arts, social issues, and family. Thanks to Hutch’s private income, they lived in all the places where modernism bloomed: Paris, Florence, New York, and Provincetown—with many stops in between. They also maintained a large circle of friends who became famous: Gertrude Stein, Mabel Dodge, John Reed, Margaret Sanger, Susan Glaspell, John Dos Passos and many others.
With Hapgood, Boyce mothered four children while continuing her writing career. A novelist and playwright, Neith published four critically acclaimed books between 1900-1910, dozens of short stories in major magazines through 1920, and plays.  Boyce is known for her novel, The Bond, and for Constancy (the first play published  by the Provincetown Players) which draws vitality from Boyce’s social circles and is based on a meeting between Mabel Dodge and John Reed.  
Her other plays include The Two Sons (The Provincetown Players, 1916).  Winter’s Night, 1928 and, with her husband Hutchins Hapgood. Enemies, (Provincetown Players, 1921).  

Two volumes that appeared in 1923, the memoir Harry: A Portrait and the novel Proud Lady, signaled the end of her publishing career. However, she continued to write with publication in mind until the end of her life. These works include an autobiography, diaries, several works of history that bend the definition of the genre, a novel about Key West, short stories, and plays (including one that nearly made it into production on Broadway). 

The Open Marriage of  "Hutch" Hapgood and Neith Boyce

At age 27, Neith Boyce,  aloof, independent, introverted, and beautiful moved out of her family home into a hotel in Washington Square, Greenwich Village.  She worked as the only woman reporter on the Commercial Advertiser where she met Hutchins Hapgood.  Even as a teenager, Neith preferred the idea of a career and independence over marriage. Yet, she fell in love with “Hutch,” and he with her. The two were married in 1899 with the understanding that she would retain both her name and her writing career. Over the course of their marriage, the couple had four children and both pursued intellectual careers, as well as being founding members of the Provincetown Players. To the outside world, they seemed to embody the modern ideal of love, but their own writing tells a more complicated story.

Hutchins Hapgood (186Hapgood at Harvard9-1944), similar to the 'Beats' several decades later, was interested and wrote about people outside of America’s mainstream, people he encountered in "the ghetto, the saloons, the ethnic restaurants and among immigrants, radicals, prostitutes, and ex-convicts.” He describes feeling most alive among these people and published several sympathetic human-interest stories about them. Later in life he published two autobiographies, The Story of a Lover (1919) and A Victorian in the Modern World (1939). These books dealt explicitly with his relationship with Boyce.

She too, though primaril
y a novelist and playwright, wrote autobiographically within her fictionalized work. Boyce, desiring to offer more realistic representations of modern life, dealt extensively with marriages and relationships. Often her stories, though dealing with conflict, never resolve in either the romantic or tragic denouement that is so common.

Hapgood was not a feminist activist as some of his male contemporaries. He was, however, very interested in a relationship that could combine love and sex with intellectual companionship. Hutch, charming and outgoing, soon had affairs outside the marriage. His desire for complete intimacy with Neith caused him to discuss all of his affairs at length with her, and further, encourage her to experiment with other men as well:

"To have her know other men intimately was with me a genuine desire. I saw in this one of the conditions of greater social relations between her and me, of a richer material for conversation and for a common life together."

Not surprisingly, when this desire was put into practice, Hapgood was not so open-minded. At some point, in response to the pain she felt at Hutch’s continued affairs, she contemplated an affair of her own with one of his old college friends. The distress that this caused Hapgood led Neith to eventually break off the relationship with the other man and in turn, have a nervous breakdown. During her recovery, Hutch tended to her devotedly and she began to reveal more of her actual pain than she ever had before. His response indicates ambivalence about whether or not the level of intimacy he had always sought after was truly a prize:

“She talked to me as if to her own soul. Never can I forget the terrible, the utter frankness of it. I had longed so for expression from her – longed our life together, but when it came under those circumstances, it was painful indeed.”

His statement explains that what Hapgood actually desired from Boyce was an increased interest in him, not the revelation of her own deep feelings (aka intimacy), particularly if such feelings were critical.

In Hapgood’s autobiographical Story of a Lover, Neith is presented as strong, yet aloof, cold, and unemotional. In this book, as well as in Hutch’s
letters to his wife from this time, complaints and criticisms of her failure to meet his needs abound. No doubt, the lack of parental attention and affection in Boyce’s childhood led her to become more independent and emotionally self-reliant than most women of her time. However, Boyce’s letters to Hutch reveal a woman who cared deeply for him, rarely criticized him, and seemed afraid of losing his love.
“If his book demonstrates his overpowering ego, her letters evidence an increasing negation of self.” writes historian Ellen Trimberger.

 EnemiesIn a play called Enemies (with Hapgood and Boyce pictured at left) written and performed jointly with the Provincetown Players (Boyce writing the wife’s lines and Hapgood, the husband’s) Neith wrote for her very authentic character:
“You, on account of your love for me, have tyrannized over me, bothered me, badgered me, nagged me, for fifteen years. You have interfered with me, taken my time and strength, and prevented me from accomplishing great works for the good of humanity. You have crushed my soul, which longs for serenity and peace, with your perpetual complaining…You have wanted to treat our relation, and me, as clay, and model it into the form you saw in your imagination.”
Neith also tried with great courage to adapt to Hutch’s views on sexuality, though suffering tremendously in the process. In a letter to him in 1907 she writes:

“I have an abiding love for you- the deepest thing in me. But in a way I hate your interest in sex, because I suffered from it. I assure you that I can never think of your physical passions for other women without pain-even though my reason doesn’t find fault with you. But it’s instinct and it hurts. The whole thing is sad and terrible, yet we all joke about it every day.”

Writing to him again in 1916 she admits that her own aloofness, which became Hapgood’s constant criticism of her, was a self-protective response to that pain. After the tragic death of their oldest son, Hapgood ceased his affairs with other women, but in so doing lost his passion for life. He wrote,

“Here I am in at middle life living with the one woman I want to live with, hopeful for my fine children, interested in a work I have chosen and which was not forced on me, rich in friends, in good health… and yet, in spite of all passionately unsatisfied.

It is usually noted that Constancy portrays a moment in the extramarital affair between two well-known figures in Boyce's social set, Mabel Dodge and John Reed. But Boyce uses this event to examine the notion of fidelity as it applies to her own very complicated marriage.  Constancy is specific to Boyce and Hapgood’s relationship that summer of 1915, and continues her discussion of what was called the New Marriage in Boyce’s fiction.

As a New Woman, she pondered the cost of those new freedoms, and her works reveal some of the guilt experienced by women who felt they might have neglected their children while pursuing their own intellectual and artistic projects. She, too, was a Victorian in a number of ways—not least by choosing to stay with a philandering husband for the sake of her four children. Nonetheless, many of Boyce’s long stories, which she called novellas or novelettes, call for granting women the same personal sexual freedoms as men. In The Undertow, her 1914 story in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, for instance, the young heroine falls for a handsome but shallow lifeguard, loses her “virtue,” and ends the summer sadder and wiser. But the tone of the story suggests that the wisdom gained is worth the price—implying that women deserve an equal chance to make mistakes in love, as do men. The subtlety of Boyce’s arguments, many of which are founded on anarchist philosophies of personal freedom, perhaps contributed to her being over-looked by critics for generations.

Neith Boyce became more of a maternal figure to Hutch and the two stayed together until Hapgood’s death in 1944.

Mabel Dodge (1879 – 1962) "I Will Make You Mine"

Mable GansonMabel Dodge was born Mabel Ganson in Buffalo, New York, on 26th February, 1879. Her first marriage, at the age of 21, was to Karl Evans, the son of a steamship owner in 1900. He died in a hunting accident two-and-half years later leaving her a widow at the age of 23.

In 1903 Mabel married Edwin Dodge, a wealthy architect. The couple lived in Florence, Tuscany, for over seven years.  He assisted her in the design and financing of the renovation of a Renaissance Medici Villa.  She held court there, circulating amongst the creme de la creme of artists and thinkers in Europ-e at the time.  According to her autobiography, Intimate Memories (1933), she had a series of affairs with both men and women. Some of her friends included Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and André Gide. After one failed relationship she tried to commit suicide by eating figs with shards of glass.

After leaving her husband in 1912 she moved to a apartment at 23 Fifth Avenue, Greenwich Avenue, on the recommendation of the expats she has met in Florence.  Mabel Dodge's friend, Be
rtram D. Wolfe, later recalled: "Wealthy, gracious, open-hearted, beautiful, intellectually curious, and quite without a sense of discrimination, she was Bohemia's most successful lion-hunter."

Her apartment in New York City became a place where intellectuals and artists met. This included John Reed, Lincoln Steffens, Robert Edmond Jones, Margaret Sanger, Louise Bryant, Emma Goldman, Frances Perkins,  Frank Harris,  Carl Van Vechten and Amy Lowell.

For the next three years Mabel entertained the "movers and shakers" of pre-war America, men and women who were sweeping in their condemnation of bourgeois values and industrial capitalism. Gathered together at one of Mabel's "Wednesday evenings" one might find artists, philosophers, writers, reformers, and radicals of all stripes: Mabel was determined to make herself the mistress of the spirit of her age by embracing its most idealistic and committed men and women.

Bertram D. Wolfe, Socialist, Philosopher and later chronicler of the growth of Communism, explained: "Sometimes Mrs. Dodge set the subject and selected the opening speaker; sometimes she shifted the night to make sure that none would know of the gathering expect those she personally notified."  Dodge pointe
Mabel_Dodge_salond out in her autobiography, Intimate Memories : "I switched from the usual Wednesday to a Monday, so that none but more or less radical sympathizers would be there."

Her salons were revolutionary for their time, and popular: on some occasions up to 100 people filled her apartment. Not limited to "artists' talks," these evenings delved into topics such as Freudian psychoanalysis (which had just been introduced in the U.S.), free love, birth control, trade unionism, and anarchism.

There, at 23 Fifth Avenue (see picture right), she launched the most successful salon in American history.  She wrote:

"It seems as though everywhere in that year of 1913, barriers went down and people each other who had never been in touch before."

So on Wednesday (or Thursday) evenings, Dodge opened the rooms of her Fifth Avenue apartment to a kaleidoscopic array of guests of every idealogical hue:
"Socialists, Trade-Unionists, Anarchists, Suffragists, Poets, Lawyers, Murderers, 'Old Friends,' Psychoanalysts, IWWs, Single Taxers, Birth Controlists, Newspapermen, Artists, Modern-Artists, Club Women, Women's-place-is-in-the-home Women, Clergymn and just plain men."
In his book, Autobiography (1931), Lincoln Steffens, American investigative journalist and leading "muckraker" of the Progressive Era, claimed:

"Mabel Dodge, who is, in her odd way, one of the most wonderful things in the world; an aristocratic, rich, good-looking woman, she has never set foot on the earth earthy... With taste and grace, the courage of inexperience, and a radiating personality, that woman has done whatever it has struck her fancy to do, and put it and herself over-openly. She never knew that society could and did cut her; she went ahead, and opening her house, let who would come to her salon. Her house was a great old-fashioned apartment on lower Fifth Avenue. It was filled full of lovely, artistic things; she dressed beautifully in her own way.... Mabel Dodge managed her evenings, and no one felt that they were managed. She sat quietly in a great armchair and rarely said a word; her guests did the talking, and with such a variety of guests, her success was amazing."

Mabel Dodge gave generously of her time and money to support the various causes she believed would liberate Americans from the shackles of their Victorian past. She helped to sponsor the watershed Armory show which introduced post-impressionist art to a largely unfamiliar American audience; contributed to The Masses, the leading left-wing literary and political journal of her day; wrote a syndicated newspaper column popularizing Freudian psychology and encouraging free-thinking in working class women and housewives, and she supported a host of liberal organizations.

Collecting people, particularly males, was the favorite occupation of Mabel Ganson Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan (1879-1962), for some a woman of pretense—greedy, possessive, and strong willed—for others a passionately free spirit who defied convention and brought luster to the lives of all who entered her orbit. Once widowed and twice divorced, Mabel finally found in  her fourth husband, Taos Pueblo Indian Tony Luhan, a man she could live with the rest of her life.  Her romantic life reads like a Harlequin romance. 

She was remarkably adept at having her way with the other men and women who attracted her, and there were many, some lovers, some “almost-lovers”: Violet Shillito, whom the young Mabel adored for her “genius” and “delicious” hands; Karl Evans, her first husband, whom she married to prove she could snatch a man away from a stunning blonde; Dr. John Parmenter, the married family physician who delivered her son John (she disliked the whole system of giving birth); second husband Edwin Dodge, whom she wanted around as master of the Villa Curonia in Florence and as a father for John, since Evans had died in a hunting accident; beautiful Marchese Bindo Peruzzi de Medici, the gay graceful, aristocrat whom she thought heroic, but who shot himself when at Edwin’s insistence she cut him dead; Gino, her handsome peasant chauffeur, who resembled a man “out of a Florentine painting” over whom she attempted suicide, once ingesting glass mixed with figs, and surviving that, overdosing laudanum; intelligent and perceptive Paul, John’s tutor; Carl Van Vechten, arts journalist and photographer, whose appetite for gaiety and people matched Mabel’s;  Maurice Sterne, the highly regarded American artist who became her third husband, capturing her with “a dark brown look” and regretting it for years afterward; Gertrude Stein, who wrote the “Portrait of Mabel Dodge” and one day teased her with such a “strong look” that Alice Toklas, livid, left the room; Tony Luhan, Native American, stalwart, always fresh looking in his handsome toga of a blanket; and of course curly-haired radical John Reed, the youthful, vigorous lover who night after night used the silken ladder leading down to her sumptuous Florentine bathroom.

Their affair with Reed was tempestuous, chaotic and, as usual in her liaisons, she denied sex to her lover until it could no longer be put off. What Mabel wanted was power, and she thought that if she gave in physically to a man, she would lose it. Reed had bought them twin rings. In the end she sent hers back, and he threw his in a river.
Men and women who enchanted Mabel one day irritated or bored her the next. “Every time some little mystery was solved, she lost a small world. The truth was never as attractive as the story she had made up about it.” For Hutchins Hapgood she was “like a cut flower. . . . It was her lack of roots that accounted for Mabel’s restless energy; she was, perhaps, always looking for the nourishment that came naturally to other people.” Her foremost thought on seeing any person, place, or thing she desired was, “I will make you mine”.

John Reed (1887 – 1920) "The Speech of My Body to Your Body ..."

ReedJohn "Jack" Silas Reed was an American journalist, poet, and communist activist. Reed first gained prominence as a war correspondent during the first World War, and later became best known for his coverage of the October Revolution in Petrograd, Russia, which he wrote about in his book Ten Days That Shook the World.  He was also a playwright and actor, and helped launch the Provincetown Players.  Walter Lippman, a journalist contemporary of Reed's, said that "revolution, literature and poetry, they are only things which hold him at times,  incidents merely of his living ... He is many men at once, and those who have tried to bank on some phase of him, to regard him as a writer, a correspondent, a poet, a revolutionist, or a lover,  lose him."   As Mabel Dodge was soon to discover.

John Reed was born in Portland, Oregon.  His father, Charles Jerome Reed, was a prosperous businessman, who paid for him to be educated privately.
In the early 1900s Charles Jerome Reed became associated with Theodore Roosevelt in his attempt to tackle corruption in Oregon. Reed was appointed as a United States Marshal. During this period he became friends with radical Lincoln Steffens, Steffans"muck-raking" journalist investigating government and political corruption.  He wrote to provoke outrage with examples of corrupt governments throughout urban America.  He was a powerful, connected central figure in the lives of the progressive Greenwich Village bohemians.  Steffens was introduced to John Reed and was later to help him in his chosen career.

At Harvard University Reed showed little interest in politics, despite his future notoriety, and only occasionally attended the Socialist Club.  He preferred to be the football team's star cheerleader.  Reed shopped around, too, at the Single Tax and Anarchist clubs, the Harvard Men's League for Woman's Suffrage, and the other causes enlisting enthusiasm on the campus: modern art, thesis drama, anti-puritanism - an apprenticeship for the life he was to find in Greenwich Village.

In 1911 Steffens took Reed to New York City and introduced the young poet and playboy to the world of radicals and non-conformists in New York.  As Steffens pointed out:

"His father, U.S. Marshal Charles Reed, whom I had known intimately in the timber fraud cases in Portland, Oregon, had asked me to keep an eye on his boy, Jack, who, the father thought, was a poet."

According to Steffens his father had said:

"Get him a job, let him see everything, but don't let him be anything for a while. Don't let him get a conviction right away or a business or a career, like me. Let him play."

Reed began work for the American Magazine. Steffens watched his young protege with considerable delight:John

"When John Reed came, big and growing, handsome outside and beautiful inside, when that boy came ... to New York, it seemed to me that I had never seen anything so near to pure joy. No ray of sunshine, no drop of foam, no young animal, bird or fish,and no star, was as happy as that boy was."

Reed began work for the American Magazine. Read was soon expressing in verse his sense of wonderment at the city:

This city, which ye scorn
For her rude sprawling limbs, her strength unshorn
Hands blunt from grasping, Titan-like, at Heaven,
Is a world-wonder, vaulting all the Seven!
Europe?  Here's all of Europe in one place;
Beauty unconscious, yes, and even grace.

Floyd Dell, a writer and mid-west transplant, also on "The Masses" later recalled: "He was a great, husky, untamed youth of immense energies and infantine countenance."

Reed's time in New York City turned him into a left-wing activist and during this period he joined the Socialist Party of America.

"I couldn't help but observe the ugliness of poverty and all its train of evil, the cruel inequality between rich people who had too many motor-cars and poor people who didn't have enough to eat. It didn't come to me from books that the workers produced all the wealth of the world, which went to those who did not earn it."

Mabel Dodge's biographer has observed that Reed :

"...wanted a woman, like himself, yearning for the unattainable and sublime induced by an arch-Romantic and mystical imagination.  He wanted a female compounded of earth and heaven, "full of beauty, love and joy, and ready to follow her man anywhere - be a virtual slave - if only he spoke the magic words, "I love you.""  Writer Floyd Dell, co-worker on The Masses, described him as a "hero out of a fairy tale background" who sought a heroic battle and a love to fight it, for in a modern world that had "no sufficient heroic tasks for such persons to perform, he was one of those epic characters who arise to make new laws for themselves and to rely on their own powers."

Mabel Dodge was bound to notice him when he attended her salon.

The Affair

It could be said that the rise of iconic Villager John (Jack) Reed was born in the legendary salons (and arms) of Mabel Dodge.  Dodge’s Salons were, in her own words, created “To dynamite New York!”  Sometimes hundreds of guests would gather at 23 Fifth Avenue to debate radical politics, free love, psychoanalysis, the single tax, birth control, Wobblies, cubism, and women’s suffrage, just to name a few of the topics.  Enlightened individuals of all stripes would convene within the walls of Dodge’s Greenwich Village apartment; writers, artists, journalists, socialists, anarchists, feminists, labor leaders, clergymen, psychiatrists, poets, playwrights…  they were there to “upset America with fatal, irrevocable disaster to the old order!”

A genius at managing people without anyone’s knowledge, Dodge would act as a channel or an instrument of thought and discourse.   On the subject of art she emphasized modernist painting and prose, in the conversation around sex she would guide toward the question of women’s rights, and in politics, she focused discussions on the labor movement.

At one such Labor Movement salon, the primary topic was the recent “Paterson Strike.”Paterson
                                                          SIlk Strike

Paterson, New Jersey was known as the “Silk City of America.”  More than one-third of its 73,000 workers held jobs in the silk industry.  In 1911 silk manufacturers in Paterson decided that workers, who had previously run two looms, were now required to operate four simultaneously. For this and other grievances, in January, 1913, 800 employees of the Doherty Silk Mill went on strike when four of the workers’ committee were fired for trying to organize a meeting with the company’s management.  Within a week, all silk workers were on strike and the 300 mills in the town were closed.

Dodge’s evening gathering, this time held at the cozy apartment of Margaret Sanger, was convened to discuss the strike.  Big Bill Haywood, a founding member of the IWW and an executive committee member of the Socialist Party of America, was the key speaker and throngs of enraptured Villagers came to hear Big Bill, just released from jail, report on the strike.  Dodge suggested that, because there was a news blackout on the topic, something must be done in order to create interest in the strike and educate New Yorkers about the plight of the workers. She declared that the strike should be brought to New York and shown to the workers.

Why don’t {you} hire a great hall and reenact the strike over here?  Show the whole thing!  In Madison Square Garden!

A voice from the back of the room said, I’ll do it.”  And Jack Reed emerged from the shadows.  “That’s a great idea.  We’ll make a pageant of the strike.

Jack Reed had made his mark as a crusading journalist, published in both the commercial press and the radical Masses before his mid-20s.  Reed was on his way to successfully forge solidarity between the intelligentsia and the workers, a common theme in Dodge’s salon.

Mabel Dodge later described their first meeting:

"His olive green eyes glowed softly, his high forehead was like a baby's with light brown curls rolling away from it and two spots of shining light on his temples, making him lovable. His chin was the best... the real poet's jawbone... eyebrows always lifted... generally breathless!"

After that night, Dodge and Reed proceeded to scheme on the event.  They wrote the scenario together, enlisted painters, and designers, prepped Madison Square Garden, rehearsed the striking silk workers in their insurrectionary slogans and songs to the tune of “Harvard, Old Harvard,” and created, what was reported by one New York paper, to be an event with such poignant realism “that no man who saw will ever forget.”

Dodge took great pleasure in her role as coordinator, financial backbone and de facto producer, all the while setting her sights on Reed for her next sexual conquest.  Friends noticed their stolen glances and attempts to restrain flirtations.  Hutch Hapgood: "When I saw the look on her face, I knew it was all over for Mabel for the time being and also probably all over for Reed."

Reed, Dodge and others organized a Paterson Strike Pageant in Madison Square Garden in an attempt to raise funds for the strikers. Dodge later wrote:
"For a few electric moments there was a terrible unity between all of these people. They were one: the workers who had come to show their comrades what was happening across the river and the workers who had come to see it. I have never felt such a pulsing vibration in any gathering before or since."
However, it is hard work to fill Madison Square Garden. The dollar and two-dollar seats remained almost empty until workers and strikers were let in free or at ten cents a seat. Instead of making money, the pageant ended with a deficit. The strike fund was unable to raise enough money and in July, 1913, the workers were starved into submission.

But John Reed and Mabel Dodge did not stay to receive the results.  The day after the Paterson Strike Pageant, Dodge whisked John Reed on a tour through Europe.  Reed had determined his most urgent business was to conquer Mabel afer they set sail for Florence.  But Mabel held off making love to Reed as long as possible because she sensed that her sexual submission would destroy their delicate balance of power.  On board ship she denied Reed entrance to her cabin  "in order to preserve the intense life we had created togerher without descending into the mortality of love .... Something in me adored the high clear excitement of continence and the tension that came from our canalized vitality."

When she refused his entrance to her cabin, he wrote a seduction poem in which he argued that their sexual union would precipitate "A New Age" and their love replace an indifferent godhead:

I cried upon God last night, and God was not where I cried;
He was slipping and balancing on the thoughtless shifting planes of sea.
Careless and cruel, he will unchain the appalling sea-gray engines—
But the speech of your body to my body will not be denied!

In her autobiography, Dodge wrote about their lovemaking, openly praising Reed for his skills.   He is quoted as whispering to her, "I thought your fire burned crimson but you turn blue in the dark."

In the light, however, and in the world, she chafed at his divided attention:  "I hated to see him interested in Things.  I wasn't, and didn't like him to even look at churches and leave me out of his attention.  Everything seemed to take him away from me and I had no single thing left in my life to rouse me save his touch."

When visiting Venice, Mabel rather resented Reed's delight at "the things men have done!" and his wish to be among the doers.  "I tried to wrest him away from Things, especially man-made things.  He was sturdily loyal to his own wonder.  The terror of seeing his eyes dilate with some other magic than my own."Mabel and

On their return, by November 1913, Reed and Dodge were living together in her Fifth Avenue apartment, his growing reputation as a literary journalist further spiced by his romantic relationship with a woman known as "Man-Eating Mabel."  Her attempts to monopolize Reed's time continuously clashed with his relentless pursuit of stories and adventures for their own sake. When he secured the assignment in Mexico that would take his journalist reputation to an international level, Mabel chased after him.  His departure he claimed was the end of the their relationship:

"Good-bye, my darling. You smother me. You crush me. You want to kill my spirit. I love you better than life but do not want to die in my spirit. I am going away to save myself. Forgive me. I love you. I love you. Reed"

But she caught up with him in Chicago and they made wild love all the way to El Paso, when he set his sights on chasing down Pancho Villa and she returned to New York.

By February 1914, his reports from Mexico, published in the Metropolitan Magazine put him in the first rank of American literary journalists.  He and Mabel reconnected  in New York and for most of 1914 they considered themselves a couple.  Their dueling interests - Mabel insisting upon his complete surrender to the relationship and his unflinching commitment to writing, kicks and fame - defined their tempestuous relationship. Yet he had returned, and the torment continued. Suddenly, after a year and some months, love for Reed died in her as swiftly as it had flared up.

Yet he continued to count on it, had editors send her reports on him, wrote her of brief affairs with other girls and his enduring love for her.

"What a marvelous thing is the result of soul. You are so beautiful to me for just that soul of yours and so alive.  You are my life."
He broke up with her in Europe via transatlantic cable while covering the Great War - he had fallen in love with a married woman. That affair was short-lived, and when he returned to the States, he bought two gold ring and showed them to Mabel - not as a formal proposal but as a sign of commitment to each other.   She rejected him and he went into a drinking tailspin.  It wasn't until 1916 that Reed accepted the end of their relationship.

Constancy: Theatrical ConsiderationsBoyce_in_Constancy

Mabel in FLorence
Royce describes Moira as being dressed in a robe of brocade with straight lines, brilliant in color.To the left, Mabel Dodge in her bedroom, beside a bedpost in her brocade robe with straight lines. To the right is Neith Boyce, effectively recreating Dodge's ensemble.  Boyce played the role of Moira\Mabel when the Provincetown Players would present the play.

There was an actual silk ladder, famed in gossip and story.  The Provincetown circles must have taken great delight in its inclusion in the play, and in the idea that John Reed had scaled the ladder for their mutual pleasure.  Dodge wrote in "European Experiences" that her medieval-style chamber featured a silken ladder descending from a trap door above to
her bed below.  Her hopes for the ladder did not pan out, at least not with her husband, Edwin Dodge.

"Overhead in the ceiling there is a square opening large enough for a man to come through. When he opens it, he would find a long silken ladder coiled, hanging on a golden hook. Edwin’s and my whim one day. (Very Renaissance, really.) It was for Edwin to come down on, instead of going along the long corridor to the stairs. This silken ladder was also for haste, lover’s haste. But Edwin never hastened down it except once to see if it would work, and it did, perfectly."

The house and the guests it attracted, several of whom became Dodge's lovers, absorbed the romantic desires she had channeled fruitlessly into her marriage.  In the picture above right, the actual silk ladder that was discovered by the gentleman to the left, Marco Tornar, a Mabel Dodge Italian translator
and expert.  This is the very ladder down which John Reed descended into Mabel Dodge's waiting arms.SilkLadder

O, Swear not by the Moon, th' Inconstant Moon

Another R&J
Just as interesting is the ladder's allusion to the adolescent ardour of "Romeo and Juliet."   The ladder, in fact, is one of many elements in Boyce's play that brings the young lovers to mind as a comment on these supposed sophisticates.   The references are unmistakable, for Boyce has put us in a Renaissance setting, with balcony in the moonlight,  echoing the most famous lines about constancy and romance:
Lady, by yonder blessèd moon I vow,
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops—

O, swear not by the moon, th' inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circle orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

In Act II, Scene 4, Romeo tells Nurse to later meet a servant of his behind the abbey wall. There, the servant will give Nurse a rope ladder, and that's what Romeo will use to climb Juliet's balcony and enter her room for their secret wedding night, as we see in Romeo's lines:


And stay, good nurse, behind the abbey wall.
Within this hour my man shall be with thee
And bring thee cords made like a tackled stair. (II.iv.173-75)
The word "cords" refers to ropes, while "tackled stair" can be translated as "rope ladder," showing us that Romeo plans to use this rope ladder to climb into Juliet's balcony and bedroom

In Act III, Scene 2, Juliet originally asks her Nurse to obtain "a cord" so that Romeo may climb this rope and enter her chambers in order to consummate their marriage; however, after she learns the tragic events involving Tybalt and Romeo, Juliet considers using the rope to commit suicide, echoing the mention of suicide in Boyce's play:


Come, cords.—Come, Nurse. I’ll to my wedding bed.
And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead! (3.2.137-138)

An Evening's Amusement Among Friends

Clipping of participants
What actually went on in the summer of 1915 is now lost in a cloud of myth. But we do know one thing: Boyce’s play Constancy, performed on Thursday, July 15 on the porch/veranda of 621 Commercial Street, Provinceton MA, did set in motion a revolution in theatre, staging, acting, and a whole new way of living.

Provincetown was then a ramshackle village, a have for Portuguese fisherman, sailors on benders, bohemians from Greenwich Village, and artists and intellectuals fleeingthe war in Europe.  It was a place where conventions were shed and parties got out of hand. In 1915, the summer before Eugene O’Neill arrived, a group of friends had come
from Greenwich Village to Provincetown.  They were into theatre, Freud, Marx and free love.

Mary Heaton Vorse (1874–1966) was an American journalist, labor activist, social critic, and novelist.  She married journalist Joe O'Brien, (1870 - 1915) a socialist from Virginia whom she met at the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike.  They were closest to two other literary couples— Neith Boyce and “Hutch” Hapgood, and playwright / novelists Susan Glaspell and George “Jig” Cram Cook. For some summers, this little group was together almost exclusively. The three couples habitually spent part of the day writing and the rest of the time with their families in the open air—swimming, sailing, picnicking on the dunes.

The Provincetown Players and its legacy began as an amusement among three couples, who were friends (clockwise Jig Cook; Susan Glaspell; Joe O'Brien and Mary Heaton Vorse;  Neith Boyce;  Hutchins Hapgood).

Among these six rebel sophisticates, the question of sensual freedom danced in and out of their thoughts and conversations, enlivening their social gatherings, creating fantasies of endless youth, blunting the knowledge that though their bodies were bursting firm and healthy, they would be long bound through long lives to marriages that were now new, that the opening of one door inevitably meant the closing of another, and, in actuality, hearing in their separate lives and mutual relations the muted tones of initial discord. Yet they were still young, and their children cherished, and the beaches white and very beautiful. And so they attempted to combine a bohemian pattern of thought with the contradictory daily demands, traditional and limiting, of caring for one’s children and making one’s living through the production of salable prose.

Indeed, Provincetown was full of people that summer—people who usually would have de-camped for Europe, but 1915 was the second year of World War.  According to Hapgood, "Everybody in Provincetown was depressed about the war." According to Vorse's biographer, Dee Garrison, this trio of women (Glaspell, Boyce and Vorse) along with their husbands, "formed the nucleus that would bring the town its renown as a suburb for the Villagers and as the birthplace of the Provincetown Players."

It began one evening when Vorse and O’Brien, Boyce and Hapgood, Glaspell and Cook, and writer Wilbur Daniel Steele and his new bride were sitting around a driftwood fire on the beach. Cook was vehemently blasting the commercial, bourgeois theatre. Even the new little theatre, the Washington Square Players in the Village had refused to risk the production of Suppressed Desires, a play he and Glaspell had written that satirized the Freudian gospel.  Boyce mentioned that she had written a play called Constancy that spoofed the love affair of John Reed and Mabel Dodge. Boyce and the others had been mightily amused the year before at the thought of Dodge and Reed creeping away each night for lovemaking in Dodge’s silken tent pitched on the beach. The group around the fire giggled at the memory of this sunset rendezvous. They suddenly decided: Why not put on these plays themselves, for fun?

                                                          StreetA profoundly therapeutic party-game.” That’s how Robert Károly Sarlós, in Jig Cook and the Provincetown Players, described the plays given there in 1915.

Most accounts of the first performance of plays by this group in Provincetown assign the date and time as July 15, 1915 at 10pm at Hapgood and Boyce’s rented home, the Bissell Cottage at 621 Commercial Street, and often present the event as if it were something that occurred almost spontaneously.  However, Hapgood wrote to his father eight days before on July 7, 1915: “Last night read a clever one-act play to several people here and we all liked it.  We are going to act in it.  Or, rather, as there are only two characters in it, Neith and Jo [sic] O’Brien will be the actors and the rest of us spectators.

This “reading,” then, took place nine days before the July 15 performance.  Also, the letter mentions that “we all liked it,” thus a group, perhaps the “regulars,” was there at the reading.  It also had clearly been decided that night that a performance would take place with Boyce and O’Brien in the roles; the two of them did indeed play the roles on July 15.  A number of accounts also give the impression that Boyce’s play just suddenly appeared, perhaps written as an after-thought to Cook’s great idea to present Suppressed Desires.  Glaspell’s account in Road... could be read to imply this with her simple statement that “Neith Boyce had a play —Constancy.  We gave the two in her house one evening.”   Declaration of a performable version of Suppressed Desires, “inspired by more talk, Neith Boyce sat down with pencil and paper and rose up with 'Constancy' in hand."  Rehearsals were held “on the beach and in back yards.

Constancy required a sea set: Boyce transplanted Dodge’s Florence villa where Reed and Dodge had stayed to a house by the sea.  The famous silk “ladder” that Reed had climbed up to Dodge’s bedroom from his own was replaced in the play with a rope ladder down to the sea that the female character Moira has symbolically removed, thus requiring the male character Rex to enter through the door. 

The performance took place on the oceanside veranda of Boyce and Hapgood’s rented cottage.  Edna Ken
ton, a member of the first Provincetown Players company, reports that the house had “a great living room large enough to hold a few players and a fair audience.” 

Robert Edmond Jones performed duties the night similar to those he’d become famous for: turning unusual spaces into theatrical settings.  Kenton describes the set pieces for the play as “a long low divan heaped with bright pillows,” and “two shaded lamps, one on either side of the doorway” as the lighting.  Glaspell wrote that Jones “liked doing it, because we had no lighting equipment, but just put a candle here and a lamp there.”  He used the wide doors that opened onto the veranda into a kind of proscenium arch, the actors performing just beyond it with the “sea at high tide the backdrop and the sound of its waves was its orchestra, while Long Point Light at the tip of Cape Cod carried the eye ‘beyond.’

The fifteenth July, 1915. About ten o’clock, after the children had been put to bed, neighbors and friends toted their own chairs into the living room of the Hapgood cottage for an evening of theatre featuring two short plays.  It was reported that “The Hapgood house was crowded for that first performance . . .

Joe O’Brien, as Rex/Reed, began the play by whistling from down below on the beach and then walking around and up to the veranda for his entrance.

At the conclusion of Constancy, the audience was requested to turn their chairs around, where they could watch Glaspells's Suppressed Desires performed in the living room.

The actors and the audience were so pleased with the experience that they decided to repeat the performance later that summer, adding two additional one-act plays to make a bill for which they could charge admission.  Mary Heaton Vorse owned a wharf with three buildings, one of which was emptied out in order to convert the building into a rude theatre, with a capacity of about 100.The two plays were such a hit that the cast agreed to an encore.  Boyce wrote to her father-in-law two days after the performance:

"You’ll be amused to hear that I made my first appearance on the stage Thursday night!  I have been stirring up the people here to write and act some short plays.  We began the season with one of mine.  Bobby Jones staged it on our veranda.  The colors were orange and yellow against the sea.  We gave it at 10 o’clock at night and really it was lovely—the scene, I mean.  I have been mightily complimented on my acting!!!"

On July 1, Hapgood wrote to Mabel Dodge that “play fever was on.”

wharfThe charismatic Jig Cook, often acknowledged as the force that created the Players, convinced Mary Heaton Vorse into the use of a fish warehouse on her recently purchased Lewis Wharf as a theatre. Then he talked Margaret Steele out of using the fish house as her painting studio.  The group assessed each person five dollars for alterations. Boats, nets, and oars were cleared from the wharf into a rude theatre, with a capacity of about 100. In her trunk Vorse found a stage curtain she had used as a child for theatre productions in Amherst.

And so the performance of Constancy and Suppressed Desires and a second bill of other plays was produced on September 9, offering similar far, satirizing Village events and personalities. The second run still required attendees to bring their own seating.  Lamps were held as illumination.  Opening a wharf door on the sea gave Neith's play another moonlit backdrop.

Vorse wrote: "I sat in the audience on the hard bench, watching the performance, hardly believing what we had done.  The theatre was full of enthusiastic people - a creative audience.  In spite of its raining in torrents, everyone had come down the dark wharf lighted here and there by lantern.  People had leaned their umbrellas against one of the big timbers which supported the roof.  I noticed an umbrella stirred, then slid down an enormous knothole to the sand thirty feet below.  With the stealth of eels, other umbrellas leaning there went down the knothole to join their fellows under the wharf.  The dark interior, the laughing audience, the little stage with its spirited performances, and the absconding umbrellas are all part of the memory of the first night of the Provincetown Players."

The following summer, Cook took over the plans to refurbish the theatre on the wharf.  Electricity was installed, an ingenious stage was built in sections that could be moved by hand, circus-style seating was installed, and the theatre was painted.  The Provincetown Theatre officially opened on July 13, 1916.  The bill included three one-act plays: a revival of Suppressed Desires; a new realistic play by Neith Boyce, Winter’s Night; and John Reed’s send-up of Tom Sawyeresque romanticism, Freedom. The second bill of the summer is a good indication of what the Provincetown Players was about to become: it included Eugene O’Neill’s Bound East to Cardiff.

macdougalThat fall they took their experimental theatre to Greenwich Village and opened a small playhouse in the a building next door to the Liberal Club on MacDougal Street. They opened with O'Neill's Bound East for Cardiff and The Game with John Reed acting in it written by Louise Bryant, Reed's girlfriend who replaced Mabel Dodge.

The theatre group was up and running and became organized around anarchist principles in 1916. They still needed, however, a statement of purpose for their new take on theatre. Susan Glaspell wrote that

"Jig and Neith said it together. Here is their credo: One man cannot produce drama. True drama is born only of one feeling animating all the members of a clan—a spirit shared by all and expressed by the few for the all. If there is nothing to take the place of the common religious purpose and passion of the primitive group, out of which the Dionysian dance was born, no new vital drama can arise in any people."

Revolutionary beginnings, indeed: one night on the wooden porch of a cottage by the sea, where Neith Boyce and a small band of artists introduced a new generation of thought and work that is still influencing us today.

Boyce and Provincetown

Starting with the group’s first production in 1915, Boyce wrote, acted in, and directed three other plays with the Provincetown Players.  She may well have written her next play, Winter’s Night, in 1915, with the Players in mind. This work features a romantic triangle, a familiar device in O’Neill’s plays, and a grim Midwestern farmscape in winter—very similar to that used in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, also produced by the Provincetown Players. Mary Heaton Vorse became famous for her bloodcurdling scream that heralds the suicide at the end of Boyce’s second play with the group.  Later came The Two Sons, featuring another set of brothers competing for the same woman in a romantic triangle.  And they produced Enemies, the dialogue she cowrote and performed with her husband. 

Postscript:  Constancy was again presented in the summer of 1916.  On the same bill was a play, The Eternal Triangle by John Reed, who was an active member and playwright with the Players. Reed with great charm wrote in the program for his play, “The audience is earnestly requested to remain for the second play which is respectable.” referring to Constancy, the remount of Neith Boyce’s play based on the break-up of his relationship with Mabel Dodge and which did not throw a very positive light on Reed.  Reed shows his playful and good-sport attitude by requesting the audience to stay for the play he so labeled. 

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