Playlets

Several critics have suggested that Wilder’s work is informed by a kind of vague pseudo-Christian Platonism, but even this might be too reductive a categorization. It makes more sense to say that he is religious in a general way, in that he is constantly implying a higher order, a world beyond this world, a “something” which seems to be “pushing and contriving” human events so that mankind might reach a higher plane of existence. This vision is articulated with particular power in Our Town, but it seeps through most of his other works as well.

– A.R. Gurney, 1998

Mr. Wilder’s miniature plays will yield most to those readers who bring the most to their reading of them. They have the perfection of intaglios, the delicate beauty of finest lace, the spiritual significance of poetry, the elusive music of the distant bird. In them the author of The Bridge of San Luis Rey offers more than is apparent at first glance.

– New York Times Book Review, November 18, 1928

What’s a Playlet?
A playlet is a very short play. Thornton Wilder described almost all of his playlets as “three-minute plays for three persons”.These snapshots of the creative spirit at play explore a variety of complex characters that range from the ordinary to the biblical, the haunted to the mystical. From the tale of a conflicted composer with a strangely familiar tune stuck in his head (The Song of Maria Bentedos), to a pair of newlyweds who find themselves bizarrely affected by the color of their hotel’s tea room (Flamingo Red: A Comedy in Danger), all these tales — many told with great wit and humor — ask the thought-provoking questions of mortality, morality, and faith that Thornton Wilder is famous for asking.

Nascuntur Poetae…

“We are gazing into some strange incomprehensible painting of Piero di Cosimo. . . .”

 

Born to be a poet, a gifted boy learns that he has been chosen for this special role in life. The literary life, he is told, will not be all fun and games, however, and the boy quickly discovers that his destiny is both a blessing and a curse-both “wonderful and terrible.”

 

PROGRAM NOTE: This playlet was first published in the Yale Literary Magazine in 1918 under the title “The Walled City.”

 

Piero di Cosimo (ca. 1462-1521) was a Florentine painter known for his conventional religious art and his fantastical paintings of mythological subjects as well as for panels in which he fused mythology with his own imagination. Wilder drew his title from the Latin aphorism, “Nascuntur poetae, fiunt oratores,” or “Poets are born, orators are made.” It is important to print the ellipsis dots as part of the title as Wilder wrote it, to imply the second half of the statement. Does it stretch the imagination too far to see a foretelling of Wilder’s own life in this playlet?

Proserpina and the Devil: A Play for Marionettes

“A puppet show, Venice, 1640 A. D.”

 

This piece of madcap farce, featuring a play within a play, stars a Manager, two Manipulators (the term for people who manipulate marionettes), four lively marionettes, and a host of allusions to characters and places from the Bible, Greek and Roman mythology, and medieval and nineteenth century European theater. Is it any wonder that, as the Second Manipulator complains, “A person can’t tell which is his right hand and which is his left in this place”?

 

PROGRAM NOTE: This playlet was published in the Oberlin Literary Magazine in December of 1916, when Wilder was nineteen, and was reprinted in January 1920 in the “little magazine” S4N. Wilder has great fun here playing with the history of marionette plays, dating at least from early Greek and Roman theater, and including morality plays performed by marionettes, and operas performed by marionettes, especially in nineteenth century Europe. His reading and his vivid imagination are visibly at work as he plucks characters and places from the Old Testament, Greek and Roman underworlds, European fairy tales and folk lore, and the Commedia dell’Arte, and tosses them liberally into the rich stew of this short play.

Fanny Otcott

“Outside Mrs. Otcott’s home. . . MRS. OTCOTT, that great actress in the tradition of the Siddons, the Oldfield, Bracegirdle and O’Neill, is spending a quiet month in Wales. “

 

Mrs. Otcott is sorting through the artifacts of her past when an old lover appears. He’s a former actor, now married, a father, and nothing less than an Anglican Bishop with ambitions– i.e., a man of the cloth who needs to be sure that an earlier chapter of his life is safely buried away.

 

PROGRAM NOTE: Wilder wrote this play in the summer of 1917, between his last semester at Oberlin and his first at Yale. It was published as That Other Fanny Otcott in The Yale Literary Magazine in April 1918, and produced by the Yale University Dramatic Association in December 1917, together with The Message and Jehanne, the first performance of Wilder’s plays in New Haven, the community where he would live until his death in 1975. Fanny Otcott marks the first significant appearance of the actress as character in Wilder’s drama and fiction.

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came

“Near the scene of battle. . . The sun has set over the great marsh, leaving a yellow-brown Flemish light upon the scene.”

 

Badly wounded in battle and knowing himself to be at the point of death, Childe Roland pounds on the door of an ancient tower surrounded by a lonely marsh, believing it the portal to death and the final resting place for dead heroes and royalty. He is determined to join them. But a girl with red hair and a dark girl dressed in a gray robe bar the way.

 

PROGRAM NOTE: First published in the Yale Literary Magazine in 1919, Wilder’s senior year, Childe Roland has long been a subject for writers and artists, from Shakespeare to Robert Browning to Stephen King and his Dark Tower. Wilder’s title is drawn from Shakespeare’s “Child Rowland to the dark tower came,” a line from a Scottish ballad used in Act III, Scene 4 of King Lear, and also used by Robert Browning as the title for one of his best-known poems. Wilder’s description of the sunset over the marsh evokes some of the details of artist Thomas Moran’s oil painting by the same name which appeared in 1859. And can we not see a hint of Our Town in the Dark Girl’s line: “You gave us such little thought while living that we have made this little delay at your death”?

The Penny That Beauty Spent

. . . This little heartbreak takes place in a rococo jeweler’s shop in Paris. . .”

 

In this mini-melodrama, Gracile, the young prima ballerina, catches the eye of the King. He sends her to his jeweler to choose a lavish gift for herself — a path, we learn, that Gracile is not the first to follow. The dancer wishes to choose a gift for the young husband she adores. Despite his grave illness he carries her everywhere to protect her feet. The jeweler wastes no time laying out the rules, as life changes forever for the young lovers.

 

PROGRAM NOTE: This playlet, published in the Yale Literary Magazine in 1918, may have been inspired in part by James Ensor’s watercolor, ” Ballet Gracile ou la Danse Dans Clariene” (1910).]

Brother Fire

“A hut in the mountains of northern Italy. . . ANNUNZIATA is preparing the evening meal over the fire. . .”

 

None other than Saint Francis himself descends from a cold and rainy mountaintop after communing with Brother Wind, Sister Rain and the Queen of Heaven. His friends, a peasant woman and her eight-year-old daughter, take pity on him and invite him to supper. St. Francis proves to be a troublesome and enigmatic guest. It is the child rather than the pragmatic mother who comes closest to understanding his behavior.

 

PROGRAM NOTE: Wilder was an Oberlin College freshman when he wrote this playlet, published as Brother Fire: A Comedy for Saints in the May 1916 issue of the Oberlin Literary Magazine. Wilder’s favorite professor, Dr. Charles H.A. Wager, was a classical scholar and an expert on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, and it is likely that his contact with Prof. Wager led to a playlet clearly inspired by these lines from Saint Francis’s Canticle of the Sun, written in about 1224, two years before his death:

 

“Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.”

 

Wilder visited Assisi on his first trip to Italy in 1920-21. In the late ’50s and ’60s, Wilder attempted to write seven one-act plays depicting the Seven Deadly Sins. Someone from Assisi-representing the Sin of Lust–stars none other than the same St. Francis long before he became a saint. It ran successfully at off- Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theater in 1961-1962, alongside two “Ages of Man“. It was translated into Italian and was subsequently very well received by Italian audiences.

 

Wilder conceived this playlet to be part a series of “Footnotes to Biographies” suggested by the miniature portraits in Herbert Eulenberg’s Schattenbilder.

The Angel on the Ship

“The foredeck of the Nancy Bray, lying disabled in mid-ocean. . . The figurehead of the Nancy Bray has been torn from its place and nailed to the forepost, facing the stern. . .”

 

When God appears to have deserted the scene, can false gods suffice? Three exhausted survivors of a shipwreck in mid-ocean put this proposition to a test when they turn the figurehead of their broken vessel into the Great God Lily — and worship her. Miraculously, a ship arrives on the scene.

 

PROGRAM NOTE: This playlet was first published in the Yale literary Magazine in October 1917, Wilder’s sophomore year. Together with its sister playlet Mozart and the Gray Steward, it was republished in Harper’s Magazine in 1928, Wilder’s first appearance as a dramatist in a major national journal. In 1932, it was anthologized in Curtains! A Book of Modern Plays, also a Wilder first.

 

In his Foreword to The Angel That Troubled the Waters and Other Plays, published in 1928, Wilder explained that almost all the playlets in the book are religious, “but religious in that dilute fashion that is a believer’s concession to a contemporary standard of good manners.” He wanted to explore religious themes and questions without being preachy, or didactic. “Didacticism is an attempt at the coercion of another’s free mind,” he wrote, and that was not his intention. In fact, it was often his intention in such playlets as this one to stand the biblical story on its head -to shake up the language, as it were. He also said–about his plays dealing with religious themes and stories–that in “these matters beyond logic, beauty is the only persuasion.”

The Message and Jehanne

“A goldsmith’s shop in Renaissance Paris. . . The tops of the shop windows are just above the level of the street, and through them we see the procession of shoes, any one of them a novel or a play or a poem. . .”

 

Charles of Benicet, the goldsmith, is also a composer. Whether he is a better composer than goldsmith is not clear. It is to be hoped, however, that Tullio, his apprentice, will prove to be a better apprentice than messenger. Tullio mixes up deliveries of engagement rings, and changes lives in the process.

Read The Message and Jehanne

 

PROGRAM NOTE: This play was first published in the Yale Literary Magazine in November 1917, Wilder’s sophomore year. A slightly revised version appeared in Theatre Guild Magazine in 1928. This marked the first appearance of a Wilder play in a major magazine devoted to drama.

 

Of Note: The script for Wilder’s The Christmas Interludes II calls for a performance of the “sweet musick” Benicet composed for “those who play the viol by the Church of Notre Dame de Ytelle.” Jehanne is pronounced “Jean”.

Centaurs

“A Theatre . . . The usual chattering audience is waiting for the curtains to part…”

 

Are ideas original? Or do ideas float around, ready at a moment’s notice to be appropriated by the grasping artist? Shelley and Ibsen and Hilda Wangel, one of Ibsen’s most famous characters, star in this consideration of these questions. These three figures wait in the wings of a darkened theater for a performance of Ibsen’s The Master Builder: The curtains part–but before the actors can begin, Shelley steps forward to claim that he wrote at least part of the play. Hilda Wangel mediates the dispute that follows between poet and playwright on the topic of the sources of art and the “miracle” of ideas and “great poems.”

 

PROGRAM NOTE: The play was first published in April 1920 in S4N, a “little magazine” of the period, as The Death of the Centaur: A Footnote to Ibsen. Wilder wrote this playlet in the summer of 1918 when he was deeply worried about the impact of World War I on his generation. Would he and his peers survive the war to do the work they aspired to do? Or would they, like Shelley, die young? In a note accompanying the manuscript, he wrote that he felt “a regret for the unwritten work of young poets dead”–a theme voiced in a line in the play: “the work that has been lost through this war. . . .” Wilder conceived this playlet to be part a series of “Footnotes to Biographies” suggested by the miniature portraits in Herbert Eulenberg’s Schattenbilder.

 

Centaurs is an early example of Wilder intermingling time and history, as he would do later in such later works as The Cabala (1926) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1942).

Leviathan

“The mid-Mediterranean. . . Sunrise after a night of storm, with the sea swaying prodigiously. . .”

 

A mermaid is surprised to find a shipwrecked prince adrift on soggy pillows on the sea. The Prince is no less surprised! Is she an illusion born of dreams or songs or fevers? He offers to trade some of his great treasure for his safety. She will only be satisfied to if he pays with something she has heard about– a soul. He claims to have one but he cannot show it to her. Does she save him, or does she relegate him to the clutches of the Leviathan, the great sea serpent who now swims into the scene?

 

PROGRAM NOTE: Written in his junior year at Yale and first published in the Yale Literary Magazine in April 1919 under the title Not for Leviathan, this drama plays with cosmic questions: What is a soul? Where is it kept? Can it be stolen or given away? And deeper still, what is truth and what is illusion?

Now the Servant’s Name was Malchus

“The house of the Lord. . . In his father’s house are many mansions, and it is from the window of one of them that he stands looking out upon the clockwork of the skies. . .”

 

A minor figure in The Good Book, Malchus makes a pest of himself in Heaven trying to get in to see the Lord. He has a request to make. Finally getting by the doorkeeper –no less a personage than the Angel Gabriel — he asks the Lord to remove him from the Bible. The Lord is glad to grant his request , but then gets Malchus to change his mind.

 

PROGRAM NOTE: Malchus, one of Wilder’s most farcical playlets, was written in 1923 and first published in The Angel that Troubled the Waters in 1928. It is inspired by this passage in John 18: 10-11, the only appearance of Malchus in the Bible: “Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.”

 

NOTABLE PRODUCTIONS: Wisconsin Public Television, in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Repertory Company, televised this piece in March 1978 with three other playlets in a show titled “Producing the Unproducible .”

 

In his Foreword to The Angel That Troubled the Waters and Other Plays, published in 1928, Wilder explained that almost all the playlets in the book are religious, “but religious in that dilute fashion that is a believer’s concession to a contemporary standard of good manners.” He wanted to explore religious themes and questions without being preachy, or didactic. “Didacticism is an attempt at the coercion of another’s free mind,” he wrote, and that was not his intention. In fact, it was often his intention in such playlets as this one, to stand the biblical story on its head -to shake up the language, as it were. He also said–about his plays dealing with religious themes and stories–that in “these matters beyond logic, beauty is the only persuasion.”

And the Sea Shall Give Up Its Dead

“Atlantic abyss. . . The clangor of Judgment Day’s last trumpet dies away in the remotest pockets of space. . . .”

 

Judgment Day is upon the world! As the moment of utter extinction arrives, three characters are swaying in the waters deep in the Atlantic. Although long dead, they are still wrestling with earthly identities and passions. What a crew! — An Empress of Newfoundland, a theatre producer, and a Christian priest. How will it end for this curious bunch?

 

PROGRAM NOTE: This work, written in 1923, is one of only four Wilder playlets composed after he graduated from college. The title is drawn from Revelations 20:13. “And the sea gave up the dead in it…and all were judged by what they had done.” One critic, Donald Haberman, sees hints of Our Town here in the fact that the characters are “slowly liberating” their minds from “the prides and prejudices and trivialities of a lifetime.”

 

NOTABLE PRODUCTIONS: Wisconsin Public Television in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Repertory Company, televised this piece in March 1978 with three other playlets in a show titled “Producing the Unproducible.”

Hast Thou Considered My Servant Job?

“Another place. . . Now it came to pass on the day when the sons of God came to present themselves before SATAN that CHRIST also came among them. . . .”

 

Satan, Christ and Judas share the stage in this struggle between good and evil –and forgiveness. Who will win this cosmic battle?

 

PROGRAM NOTE: The play, written in 1924, and first published in The Angel That Troubled the Waters, is inspired by Job 1: 8: “And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

 

In a bold stroke, Wilder adds a new character to the ancient story of Job when none other than Christ enters the stage, after “going to and fro in the earth and walking up and down in it.” The playlet thus revamps the scene in Chapter I of the Biblical story of Job wherein the Lord offers Job as an example of a man who was “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” In Wilder’s version Christ moves from the New Testament to the Old for a tug-of-war with Satan over Judas, described by Satan as his servant, unique on earth, “an evil and faithless man,” and one who fears Satan and has turned away from God.

 

In his Foreword to The Angel That Troubled the Waters and Other Plays, published in 1928, Wilder explained that almost all the playlets in the book are religious, “but religious in that dilute fashion that is a believer’s concession to a contemporary standard of good manners.” He wanted to explore religious themes and questions without being preachy, or didactic. “Didacticism is an attempt at the coercion of another’s free mind,” he wrote, and that was not his intention. In fact, it was often his intention in such playlets as this one, to stand the biblical story on its head -to shake up the language, as it were. He also said–about his plays dealing with religious themes and stories–that in “these matters beyond logic, beauty is the only persuasion.”

Mozart and the Grey Steward

“Mozart’s quarters in Vienna. . . MOZART is seated at a table in a mean room orchestrating “The Magic Flute”. . .

 

A mysterious visitor wearing a mask and representing a prince offers Mozart the fabulous sum of 400 crowns to write a Requiem Mass. The offer is tied to an understanding that the composer will never,”by any sign, by so much as a nod of your head, acknowledge that the work is yours.” Mozart agrees to the bargain, Later, while Mozart is sleeping, the masked visitor returns to him in a dream, this time representing a different patron–Death.

 

PROGRAM NOTE: This piece, first published in 1928 in The Angel That Troubled the Waters, was one of Wilder’s last four playlets. Together with The Angel on the Ship, it was also published inHarper’s Magazine, in 1928, his first appearance as a dramatist in a major national magazine. Wilder conceived it as part a series of “Footnotes to Biographies” suggested by the miniature portraits in Herbert Eulenberg’s Schattenbilder.

 

Myth and mystery have long surrounded the circumstances of the composition of Mozart’s Requiem, which was incomplete at his death in 1791. As in popular versions of the story, this playlet brings an enigmatic stranger to Mozart’s shabby quarters in Vienna to commission a requiem. Who is the patron who challenges Mozart to compose the requiem-and for what purpose? Why does Mozart agree? Wilder refers in the play to Antonio Salieri and Count Franz George von Wallsett-Stupach and his wife Anna, all historical figures, and the count did requisition the Requiem in memory of his deceased wife. Historical accounts differ, however, as to whether the count intended to claim authorship of the requiem himself, just as historical accounts differ about the alleged rivalry between Mozart and Salieri as depicted in Peter Shaffer’s play, Amadeus(1979).

The Flight into Egypt

The Holy Land. Egypt. . . From time to time there are auctions of the fittings that made up the old dime museums, and at such an auction you should be able to pick up a revolving cyclorama of the Holy Land and Egypt, which is the scenery for this piece. . .

 

A loquacious donkey named Hepzibah, who moves along on her own time, stars in this comic drama as she transports Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt and safety, with Joseph traveling along on foot. Hepzibah alternately complains, gossips, and talks about politics and religion–and from her mouth comes a cosmic question that foreshadows some of the recurring questions in Wilder’s drama and fiction: What is the relationship between reason and faith?

 

PROGRAM NOTE: This comic piece was first published in The Angel That Troubled the Waters in 1928. In 1940, by then an internationally acclaimed playwright, Wilder wrote to his close friend Sibyl Colfax that this playlet was “one of the best things I was ever permitted to write.” The piece was inspired by the playwright’s boyhood experiences in church pageants, and by Hugo Wolf’s song “Nieu Wondre Maria.”

 

NOTABLE PRODUCTIONS: Wisconsin Public Television, in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Repertory Company, televised this piece in March 1978 with three other playlets in a show titled “Producing the Unproducible.

The Angel that Troubled the Waters

“A great pool of water. . . The pool: a vast gray hall with a hole in the ceiling open to the sky.”

 

A doctor in need, a newcomer, arrives at the site of a great pool to which come the blind and malformed seeking cures when the Angel stirs the waters. But the Angel denies healing to this healer on the grounds that his very illness is required in order for him to heal others. Instead, a mistaken invalid is made whole. The theme explored here, that to heal one must suffer, recurs throughout Wilder’s plays and novels.

 

PROGRAM NOTE: This is Wilder’s last playlet, written in June 1928, a month after he received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The title and setting are drawn from John 5: 12-14. “Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of invalid folk – blind, halt, withered – waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water. Whosoever then first stepped in, after the troubling of the water, was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

 

The pool at Bethesda in Jerusalem, found and excavated in the 1950s, has inspired art and place names around the world. Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain and its celebrated Emma Stebbins’ sculpture depicting the “Angel of the Waters,” were constructed in 1873 to celebrate the arrival of The Croton Reservoir, connecting New York City to its first consistent source of pure, life-giving water.

 

In his Foreword to The Angel That Troubled the Waters and Other Plays, published in 1928, Wilder explained that almost all the playlets in the book are religious, “but religious in that dilute fashion that is a believer’s concession to a contemporary standard of good manners.” He wanted to explore religious themes and questions without being preachy, or didactic. “Didacticism is an attempt at the coercion of another’s free mind,” he wrote, and that was not his intention. In fact, it was often his intention in such playlets as this one to stand the biblical story on its head -to shake up the language, as it were. He also said–about his plays dealing with religious themes and stories–that in “these matters beyond logic, beauty is the only persuasion.”

The Acolyte

“An old mission in South California. . . The scene is laid in the Vestry of the old San Jeronimus. . .”

 

An ancient and honorable mission, with roots back to the legendary Spanish missionary Junipero Serra himself, is in financial trouble. To pay bills the mission must sell off precious cloths and vestments. A mother with a trousseau in mind, and the bank account to pay for it, inspects the goods with her beautiful, soon-to-be married daughter. Questions involving faith and material possessions are soon injected into the scene through the presence of Jeronimus, a saint-like curate assigned to handle this unhappy business. Will the deal go down?

 

PROGRAM NOTE: Although first composed in 1917, this playlet was first published in 2009 byPlayscripts Inc. Wilder knew the Southern California coast as a boy. In 1927 he employed the name of one of Juniper Serra’s missions in this area, San Luis Rey, in the title of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

The Christmas Interludes

THE CHRISTMAS INTERLUDES I

 

“. . .The scene is the kitchen of that Inn in Bethlehem.”

 

It turns out that not everyone is pleased with the birth of a child in a manger in Bethlehem, and the more wondrous the events around the birth, the more skeptical the reaction. A cynical shepherd is angry when a servant girl brings news of the birth of a mystical child in the stable , now filled with people coming to pay homage.

 

THE CHRISTMAS INTERLUDES II

 

“. . . . The scene being made plain showeth forth that stable in Bethlehem. . . .”

 

This Interlude moves from the kitchen of the inn to the stable, where Maria rests with her new-born infant while Joseph watches over them. A serving maid enters bringing grain, news and irony-she has a sad younger brother whose name is Judas. Set in verse, Wilder’s odd-ball celebration of the miracle of the birth does not neglect the shadows that lie ahead, among them Judas and the shroud.

 

PROGRAM NOTE: These two Christmas Interludes were composed in 1916. Interlude I was published for the first time by Playscripts, Inc. in 2009. Interlude II appeared in the Oberlin Literary Magazine in December 1916, and was reprinted soon after in an anthology of Oberlin Verse, Wilder’s first appearance in an anthology. Among all of Wilder’s plays, short and full-length, Interlude II has the distinction of being the only work composed entirely in rhymed couplets. It is considered the best of the small number of Wilder ‘s published poems.

 

Wilder performed in Christmas pageants as a boy and remembered them fondly. In these playlets he seems to be saying, “If you want another Christmas pageant, let me show you how it might be done–and let’s be bold and playful about it!”

 

An especially playful element appears at the end of Interlude II where he suggests that the playlet be followed by The Second Shepherd’s Play, a medieval mystery play frequently performed during the Yuletide Season, and The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife, a comedy adapted from Rabelais by Anatole France and produced in translation in New York in 1915 by Granville Barker.

The Song of Maria Bentedos

“A composer’s studio. . . The rising young composer, GERALD MARVIN, is tearing up and down his room in an awful state. . . .”

 

A temperamental young composer thinks he will “go mad” if he can’t identify the source of a melody running through his head. He wants to use it in the finale of a sonata he is composing–but, he says, only if it is his own. His long suffering wife tries to help. Enter a Spanish peddler and seamstress who, while working on a button, quietly begins to sing a song that changes everything.

 

PROGRAM NOTE: This playlet, written in 1918, was published for the first time by Playscripts, Inc. in 2009. Here, Wilder revisits the question he explored in Centaurs, also written in 1918: What are the sources-and the “ownership”–of artistic themes and ideas?

The Marriage We Deplore

“The Living room of Mrs. Eva Hibbert-Havens, Boston.”

 

In this five-minute, five-person drawing room comedy, the mother, daughter and son of a blue-blooded aristocratic Boston family wrestle with social mores, hypocrisy and each other as they contemplate the hazards, fortunes and possible delights of marrying beneath themselves.

 

PROGRAM NOTE: This play, written in 1917 when Wilder was a Yale College sophomore, was first published by TCG Press in 1998 in The Collected Short Plays of Thornton Wilder, Volume II. The work foreshadows Wilder’s fascination, often hilariously depicted, with the deleterious impact of wealth and class on personality and community; see such works as The Cabala (1926) The Matchmaker (1954) and Theophilus North (1973).

Flamingo Red: A Comedy in Danger

“A hotel room. . . The Flamingo Red Tea Room of the Hotel Coeur de Lion is a medievally furnished room, toned to its own color in every possible detail. . .”

 

A young couple quibble and quarrel over seemingly inconsequential matters in the lavishly decorated Flamingo Red Tea Room at the Hotel Coeur de Lion. Madame Flamingo, the mysterious hostess, seeks to mediate and mitigate their dispute.

 

PROGRAM NOTE: This playlet was published in the Oberlin Literary Magazine in January 1916, Wilder’s freshman year. We wish we knew more about the sources of its inspiration.