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Notes Toward a Play



“Theatre” is certainly not in my blood (though my husband is a semi-retired costumer and I hung around college and community theater as a consequence). But for some unexplained reason, theatre is a frequent theme in the Agincourt story, I think, because it adds another dimension and, especially, because it potentially involves an entirely different cast of characters, some real, some imagined. There is also the architectonic aspect of stage set design, though I have no aspirations in that direction. In the meantime, a former student and friend in the Chicago theatre community has acted as yenta and linked Agincourt (m with possible collaborators.

My first inclination was the unfulfilled story of Dr Reinhold Kölb, Austrian refugee from the 1920s, who came to town to visit his sister Edith Wasserman and stayed. Kölb was a disciple of Freud and Jung and a friend of Jacob Levy Moreno, who himself emigrated to the U.S. shortly thereafter for more obvious reasons: Moreno was Romanian Jew and a target following the Anschluss. [As I continue with this rambling story of theatre in Agincourt, I’ll boldface the names of imagined characters and italicize real persons who’ve been conscripted for the narrative.]

Moreno, after his arrival in New York, developed something in psychiatric practice he called “Drama Therapy” where patients act out and potentially though their psychoses. Kölb maintained a correspondence with Moreno and put his own spin on that innovative therapy, hybridizing it with both puppets (marionettes) and Japanese Noh (about which I know just enough to be dangerous). The idea was to imagine Kölb‘s private mental hospital, “Walden Retreat” at the end of Thoreau Avenue (too obvious, I know) and an example of his technique.

Somehow I had a “Marat/Sade” sort of play-within-the-play in mind, perhaps three acts, maybe just scenes: 1) Dr Kölb interacting with his patients, perhaps welcoming a new resident. The ensuing conversation with begin to outline the various reasons for each character being in therapy; 2) Dr Kölb’s introduction of “drama therapy”, which would be familiar to some and new to others; the beginning of their interaction, both writing the play and crafting the marionettes; and 3) the play-within-the-play itself, during which the characters improve and some may even be “cured”, represented by their puppet disappearing from the stage and the person subtly joining the audience. I thought the illusion might be carried out by carefully introducing a big-screen TV monitor and videotaped activity of the marionettes, so the audience wouldn’t notice the actor’s disappearance.

[As I write this, I’m reminded of a chamber opera by Samuel Barber, “A Hand of Bridge“, with four dysfunctional characters (two couples) playing a hand of bridge, while each reveals their troubling inner monologue to the audience. My love for that opera probably lies behind the Kölb episode.]

I suspect the real reason for the marionette theatre is an unfulfilled desire to design both a stage — probably looking like a lilliputian Radio City Music Hall on acid — and a stage set. These links below are the principle blog entries relating to Kölb in particular and theatre in general.

The Play’s the Thing

Mächen on Stage

Drama Therapy 1.something

Agincourt Redux…again

“Your talent is in your choice” — Stella Adler

Night Court

Frederick Judd Waugh

Art and Therapy

The Alienist

One of a Kind

I probably ought to come back and flesh out each of these links with a summary of what will be found there.

The above entries also introduce at least two other opportunities to create scripts, though I hadn’t thought of carrying each of them that far at the time. One of them is “Night Court”, a purported unfinished play inspired by a painting I bought on eBay. And, similarly, “The Cave of the Heart” would have been a play inspired by another painting, a dance performance by Martha Graham, and music once again by Samuel Barber. I seem to have a Barber thing going.

  • “Night Court” was written by E. G. Fromm, a left-wing playwright and political activist during the McCarthy years and the Cold War.
  • “The Cave of the Heart” had no particular storyline in mind. It was simply an excuse to incorporate a painting into the narrative.

There was also another character introduced in all of this, Seamus Tierney, director of the community theatre group, but also based on the life of a cantankerous friend of mine James O’Rourke whose life had been devoted to art, rather than theatre.

Either all of this will make sense, build enthusiasm, and attract collaborators, or it won’t.


PS: As if this weren’t enough, I just recalled that back in 2013 the Theatre Arts department at NINS [Northwest Iowa Normal School] celebrated the 100th anniversary of the death of Frederick Rolfe, a.k.a. Baron Corvo, with, among other things, a production of “Hadrian the Seventh”, a play based on Rolfe’s book of the same title. All of these are real (the person, the novel and the adapted play), by the way.

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