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by Florence Kiper Frank


The opening night of the 1918-1919 season in the new Provincetown Playhouse at 133 Macdougal Street began with the one-act The Princess Marries the Page by Edna St. Vincent Millay and was followed by Eugene O'Neill's Where the Cross is Made.  The last play on the bill was Gee-Rusalem!, a farce by Florence Kiper Frank.  Frank was a Kansas-born University of Chicago graduate who had established herself as a poet and short story writer while a member of the Chicago Literary Circle.  She knew Cook from his previous years in Chicago and had participated in the first season of the Chicago Little Theatre as a playwright when her religious play Jael was performed in 1914, for which she also played the lead.  Frank was a frequent contributor to Forum and the Little Review, and she wrote reviews for Bookman, the Nation, the New Republic and the New York Herald Tribune.  An active feminist, she wrote an oft-cited article in 1914 challenging American women playwrights to write about their feminism.(1)  Her maiden name was Kiper (her sister was actress Miriam Kiper) and, when she married Jerome Frank in 1914, she used “Kiper Frank” as her surname.  Gee-Rusalem! was substituted for the previously announced but untitled new play by Glaspell.(2)  In a letter written on October 24, 1918 from Cook to Glaspell, who was still in Provincetown, he tells her that he “announced a comedy by Susan Glaspell in the circular for the first bill, but if that hurries you too much we will play a bright new comedy by Florence Kiper Frank called Gee-Rusalem!—a play about Jews who are not Jews and not-Jews who are Jews”(3)  Glaspell chose to remain in Provincetown writing, in part so that she could write and publish some short stories that would pay the lion share of the couple’s bills.  Glaspell also appears to let Cook use his high-flying energy to inspire and build apart from her, choosing instead the quiet life of Provincetown as much as possible.  Whether their current separation was related to Cook’s affair with Rauh is not known.  Noticeable, however, is the lack of extant correspondence during this period between Glaspell and Cook.(4)  Obviously, at some point, Cook realized that the play he announced in the press and to the company (yet again without asking her for permission) would not be forthcoming; Glaspell was instead working on a full-length play and finishing Tickless Time.  When one considers the recent death of Cook’s mother and his stress at preparing the new theater, Glaspell’s distance from him—perhaps emotionally as well as physically—throws the status of their relationship into question.  Even if she had wanted to return sooner, Cook had donated their rent money to the new theatre building fund, and their new apartment at 61 West 11th “on the north side of the street—a few doors from Mary Pyne” was not going to be ready until the beginning of November.(5)

Gee-Rusalem!, as Cook’s letter to Glaspell intimates, is a comedy that portrays a family whose patriarch, Dr. Israel Levy, is a neurologist who is proud of his Jewish heritage.  His pride, however, has drawn some extreme reactions from his children.  His son, David, becomes a Zionist and vows to fight for a Jewish homeland, while his daughter, Silvia, wants to downplay her heritage and elope with a Gentile.  David and Silvia are shocked when Dr. Levy reveals that he and their mother are not really Jews at all, but had chosen to adopt Judaism so as to not “lose their souls,” as they perceived America to be doing.  Then his wife, Sarah, reveals for the first time to anyone in the family, including her husband, that she actually is a Jew and had married a Gentile to reject her own heritage. The cast, filled with new actors save for Norma Millay, included W. Clay Hill as Dr. Levy; Jean Robb as Sarah Levy, his wife; Norma Millay as their daughter Silvia; and Percy Winner as the son, David.  Heywood Broun wrote that the play was “of lesser importance but decidedly gleeful,” and that “Jean Robb and Norma Millay were both effective.”(6)  The Dramatic Mirror called the play a “neat satire” that is “continuously amusing and to the point.”(7)  The program lists the set design by Glen Coleman, a painter and a regular contributor of illustrations to “leftist magazines,”(8) and direction by Florence Enright.  Enright was an actress who had appeared with the Washington Square Players and later with the Theatre Guild and on Broadway.  She also would later have a career as a dialogue and acting coach for major film studios in Hollywood, with her students including Katharine Cornell, Virginia Mayo and Jane Russell.(9)

Broun mentions in his review a bizarre and disrupting incident that occurred on November 22 during the playhouse’s opening night.  While the performance of Where the Cross is Made was in progress, a city inspector and three policemen demanded that they be allowed to examine the wiring system in the theatre.  Broun wrote that “though no amateur actor can talk as loudly as a policeman, the thrill inherent in O’Neill’s play cut through the din.  Even the three policeman seemed inadequate protectors when the lights turned green and the ghostly seamen thumped up the stairs with the treasure chest.”(10)  Kenton reports that though there were “repeated protests” by the audience for them to leave, the play continued, the inspectors left before it was over (11) and, as Broun writes, even this incident was “unable to damage this thrilling drama on Saturday night.”  Broun called the performance “a good bill of one act plays,” writing that “if the only haven for short plays of this sort is the small theatre around the corner, then so much the worse for the big theatres and the street with the chewing gum signs”(12)

© Jeff Kennedy, 2007.

(1) Florence Kiper Frank, “Some American Plays from the Feminist Perspective” Forum 1914: 931.

(2) New York Times, 27 October 1918, section IV, col. 3: 2.  “They will begin their third season with a program of plays by Eugene O’Neill, Susan Glaspell, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.”

(3) George Cram Cook, letter to Susan Glaspell, 24 October 1918, Berg Collection, New York Public Library.

(4) Glaspell biographer Ozieblo suggests that perhaps Glaspell had destroyed Cook’s letters that referred to his mother’s death, since no existing letters mention it at all.  There is a gap in the correspondence from September 20 until October 24, 1918 (Ozieblo, Glaspell 128).  Perhaps these were also destroyed because of some discussion of their relationship at the time.  It is also widely held that Cook and Ida Rauh, who had split with her husband Max Eastman, carried on a sexual affair during this period (Ozieblo, Glaspell 135).

(5) George Cram Cook, letter to Susan Glaspell, 24 October 1918. Berg Collection, New York Public Library.

(6) Heywood Broun, New York Tribune, 25 November 1918, col. 4: 9.

(7) Dramatic Mirror, 14 December 1918, col. 3: 865.

(8) Sarlos, Jig Cook 184.

(9) Black, Women 104-105.  Black goes on to say that Norma Millay “credited Enright with teaching her how to act in a nonrealistic, ‘staccato’ style.”

(10) Broun, New York Tribune, 25 November 1918.

(11) Sarlos, Provincetown 227; Kenton “History” 115, Fales Collection, Bobst Library, New York University.

(12) Broun, New York Tribune, 25 November 1918.  The “chewing gum signs” Broun refers to are the ad marquees in Times Square near the Broadway theatres.