cement hands

3 Men, 1 Woman

Cement Hands represents “Avarice” in Wilder’s projected cycle on The Seven Deadly Sins.

Diana Colvin, 21, rich and “the finest girl in the world,” is engaged to marry Roger Osterman, 27, very rich and “the finest young fellow in the world.” With the help of a mystified waiter, Diana’s uncle (her lawyer and guardian) sets up a play within a play to make sure Diana knows what she is getting into: marriage to a supreme tightwad who can give away millions to charity, but can’t leave a tip. The action–full of high-jinks as well as a serious message–takes place in a fancy New York City hotel.

Wilder began writing this play–originally entitled The Cabots–in the fall of 1958, describing it in his journal as about “the neurotic avarice of Massachusetts millionaires, and on the deformations in character caused by great wealth.” Though he stopped working on the play in 1960, it was not performed publicly until April of 1997.

Cement Hands received its premiere as part of the MacDowell Colony’s celebration of the Wilder Centenary as a staged reading at the University Club in New York, directed by Liz Diamond, with Kevin Kline as the uncle. Wilder’s long interest in how character is shaped by (too much) wealth also manifests itself in the character of Horace Vandergelder in The Matchmaker, and in the behavior of certain denizens of the great “cottages” in Newport, Rhode Island, in the novel Theophilus North.

A Note on Publication:
Cement Hands was first published in 1997 by TCG in The Collected Short Plays of Thornton Wilder, edited by Donald Gallup and Tappan Wilder. It is also included in Collected Plays & Writings on Theater edited by J. D. McClatchy, published by The Library of America in 2007.