I am hiding out from pain and fever, as well as relationships and frozen -- skinless -- boneless --soulless -- chicken breasts.
Yes, yes, I know -- sorry.
Some of you have also probably been watching Tim Robbins' movie Cradle Will Rock this afternoon. It's sloppy fun, nervous intelligence, semi-marxist Marx Brothers zaniness but oh-not-really. And a cast of thousands!
Robbins tells the story of the efforts by Orson Wells, as director, and John Houseman, as producer, to stage the play The Cradle Will Rock, written by Marc Blitzstein, an allegorical treatment of sociopolitical tensions common to the 30s -- mostly, organized labor versus corporate greed and corruption as found in Steeltown, USA. Robbins succeeds in ways the play could not with this meta treatment -- sadly, though, he succeeds more precisely because today's audience could well care less. [Oops. Reminder to self: edit attitude.]
He brings in Diego Rivera* and the famed mural for the lobby of the Rockefeller Center as successful foil and contrapunto. PBS Culture Shock tells the story this way:
By 1930, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera has gained international favor for his
lush and passionate murals... His outgoing personality puts
him at the center of a circle of left-wing painters and poets, and his talent attracts wealthy patrons, including Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. In 1932, she convinces her husband, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to commission a Rivera mural for the lobby of the soon-to-be-completed Rockefeller Center in New York City...
Rivera proposes a 63-foot-long portrait of workers facing symbolic crossroads of industry, science, socialism, and capitalism. The painter believes that his friendship
with the Rockefeller family will allow him to insert an unapproved
representation of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin into a section portraying a May
Day parade. The real decision-making power lies with the Center's building
managers, who abhor Rivera's propagandistic approach... [T]hey order Rivera to
remove the offending image. When Rivera refuses, offering to balance the work
with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the opposing side, the managers pay his
full fee, bar him from the site, and hide the mural behind a massive drape.
Despite negotiations to transfer the work to the Museum of Modern Art and
demonstrations by Rivera supporters, near midnight, on February 10th, 1934,
Rockefeller Center workmen, carrying axes, demolish the mural. Later, Rivera
recreates the frescoes in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, adding a
portrait of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in a nightclub. Rivera never works in the
United States again...
Theresa Burns and Robbins co-authored Cradle Will Rock: The Movie and The Moment in which the political and artistic marriage of concerns is mapped out and amplified. E. L. Doctorow notes: "Like a good writer, Tim Robbins has found a story to hang a whole decade on..."
Originally set to open at the Maxine Elliott Theatre with elaborate sets and a
full orchestra, the production was shut down due to "budget cuts" within the
Federal Theatre Project—though it was widely believed that this was instead
because of its very favorable communist slant. The theatre was padlocked and
surrounded by armed servicemen, ostensibly to prevent anyone from stealing props or costumes, as all of this was considered U. S. Government property. They even impounded leading man Howard Da Silva's toupee.
On the spur of the moment, Welles, Houseman, and Blitzstein rented the much larger New Century Theatre and a piano, and planned for Blitzstein to sing/play/read the entire musical to the sold out house which had grown larger by inviting people off the street to attend for free. Blitzstein encouraged cast members to say their lines from the audience, to exercise their right of free speech.
Just after beginning the first number, Blitzstein was joined by Olive Stanton, the actor playing Moll, who joined in from the audience, since she (along with the rest of the cast) was forbidden by Actor's Equity to perform the piece "onstage". During
the rest of the performance, various actors joined in with Blitzstein and
performed the entire musical from the house. Actors sang across the theatre to
Many who attended the performance, including poet Archibald
MacLeish, thought it to be one of the most moving theatrical experiences of
their lives. Performances to this day rarely use elaborate sets or an orchestra,
instead preferring a spare set and single piano in homage to this event.
All of this to say... I wanted to find the script to the original play and couldn't seem to put my paws upon it, when I happened across this: The Federal Theatre Project Materials Collection, temporarily housed, and forever digitized, at George Mason University:
The Federal Theatre Project (FTP) was a division of the Works Progress
Administration (WPA), which was established to provide work for unemployed
citizens during the Great Depression (1929-39). The FTP began in August 1935 and flourished as the first and only federally-sponsored and subsidized theater
program in the United States until its closing in 1939. In order to advertise
FTP productions, the Federal Art Project (FAP), a section of the WPA, developed
a poster division. Using then-new silk-screening techniques, the FAP Poster
Division created the posters which graced theater lobbies from New York to San
Francisco and hundreds of other towns and cities in between. The FTP also
utilized professional set and costume designers, who, along with the FTP workers
who sewed the costumes and constructed the sets, added some dramatic realism to the productions.
In 1974 George Mason University professor Lorraine Brown discovered the Federal Theatre Project Collection in a Library of Congress storage depot and arranged for the collection to come to GMU on temporary loan.
The materials were placed in the care of GMU's Research Center for the Federal
Theatre Project headed by Dr. Brown. Among the many types of archival materials in the collection were original posters and set and costume designs for nearly
six-hundred FTP productions. These materials, though fragile after decades of
storage, still retained their vibrant colors. Beginning in August of 1981, as a
preservation measure, 35mm color slides were made from each of the posters and
set and costume designs in the collection. These slides are housed the
University Libraries' Special Collections & Archives department.
The Federal Theatre Project (FTP) Materials Collection contains nearly one thousand different 35mm slides taken from original posters, set designs, and costume designs. These images are of the original designs used on posters to advertise FTP plays in many different American cities from 1935 to 1939. Also included are playscripts for twenty-two productions. The images are indexed by title, author, subject, theater, place, date, and related names.
You guessed it. One of the 22 scripts? The Cradle Will Rock! And for those who love the tactile, the mystique and drama of textiles? A treasure trove.
Why all this jabber? Why this commentary for a play heralded as a heavy-handed leftist baby blessed with a sense of humor that's just out of reach of the... rabble? Why was I searching for the script at all -- given that it is generally acknowledged as being a tepid thing?
I'd like to give you a hundred dollars
But I've only got thirty-six!