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Women in Turmoil

Six Plays by Mercedes de Acosta

Edited and with an introduction by Robert A. Schanke

Publication Year: 2008

In this first publication of six plays by the flamboyantly uninhibited author, poet, and playwright Mercedes de Acosta (1893–1968), theater historian Robert A. Schanke rescues these lost theatrical writings from the dusty margins of obscurity. Often autobiographical, always rife with gender struggle, and still decidedly stageworthy, Women in Turmoil: Six Plays by Mercedes de Acosta constitutes a significant find for the canon of gay and lesbian drama.


In her 1960 autobiography Here Lies the Heart, de Acosta notes that as she was contemplating marriage to a man in 1920, she was "in a strange turmoil about world affairs, my own writing, suffrage, sex, and my inner spiritual development." The voice in these plays is that of a lesbian in turmoil, marginalized and ignored. Her same-sex desires and struggles for acceptance fueled her writings, and nowhere is that more evident than in the plays contained herein. The women characters struggle with unfulfilling marriages, divorce, unrequited sexual desire, suppressed identity, and a longing for recognition.


Of the six plays, only the first two were ever produced. Jehanne d’Arc (1922) premiered in Paris with de Acosta’s lover at the time, Eva Le Gallienne, starring and Norman Bel Geddes designing the set and lights. In 1934, de Acosta adapted it into a screenplay for Greta Garbo, then her lover, but it was never filmed. Portraying rampant anti-Semitism in a small New England town, Jacob Slovak (1923) was performed both on Broadway and in London, with the London production starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson.


The Mother of Christ (1924) is a long one-act play written for the internationally known actress Eleonora Duse. After Duse’s death, several other actresses including Eva Bartok, Jeanne Eagels, and Lillian Gish explored productions of the play. Igor Stravinsky wrote a score, Norman Bel Geddes designed a set, and Gladys Calthrop designed costumes. However, the play was never produced.


Her most autobiographical play, World Without End (1925), and her most sensational play, The Dark Light (1926), both unfold through plots of sibling rivalry, incest, and suicide. With overtones of Ibsen, Illusion (1928) continues the themes of de Acosta’s previous plays with her rough and seedy cast of characters, but here the playwright’s drama grows to incorporate a yearning for belonging as well as strong elements of class conflict.


What notoriety remains associated with de Acosta has less to do with her writing than with her infamous romances with the likes of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Isadora Duncan, Alla Nazimova, Eva Le Gallienne, Tamara Karsavina, Pola Negri, and Ona Munson. Through this collection of six powerfully poignant dramas, editor Robert A. Schanke strives to correct myths about Mercedes de Acosta and to restore both her name and her literary achievements to their proper place in history.

Robert A. Schanke has authored the original biography, “That Furious Lesbian:” The Story of Mercedes de Acosta, also available from Southern Illinois University Press.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-9


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pp. 10-11

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-13

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pp. xiii-15

My thanks go to the following: Alice Birney, Literary Manuscript Historian of the Library of Congress, for assisting in the discovery and photocopying of scripts Elizabeth E. Fuller, librarian at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia, and her staff for assisting in my research and for ...

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pp. xv-xxviii

BY 1924, MERCEDES DE ACOSTA, who was then only thirty-one years of age, had clearly established herself as an author on the move. She had published three volumes of poetry—Moods (1920), Archways of Life (1921), Streets and Shadows (1924)—a novel entitled Wind Chaff (1920), and a one-act play about World War I called For France (1917).1 The haunting quality of her imagery ...

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Jehanne d’Arc

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pp. 1-44

There is no scenery in this play. A glorious blue cyclorama is used throughout the entire play regardless of the change of properties. The stage is built architecturally upon planes or inclines, upstage being the highest of all. This remains as a permanent structure during the entire play and is painted, together with the ®oor, the same color blue as the cyclorama. Different ...

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Jacob Slovak

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pp. 45-94

A small town in New England. The ¤rst act takes place in the parlor– dining room in the New England farm house of Josiah Flint. It is about ¤ve o’clock of a Sunday afternoon in winter. Upstage, slightly to the right of the center, the front door is placed. Right of door there is a mirror and some pegs with coats, caps, and muf®ers hanging from them. Directly ...

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The Mother of Christ

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pp. 95-118

A room in MARY'S house. It is 9 o’clock at night. The room is extremely simple and in the style used in the poorer homes of Palestine. The walls (which are cracked from age in many places) are made of plaster tinted in blue, which has faded almost to white. The ®oor is earth. The room is small. A door which leads to the street stands upstage to the left. This door is closed. ...

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World Without End

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pp. 119-154

The setting is ROMOLA CHARRINGTON'S country home in England, a lovely old English house—mellowed by age and tradition. It is placed to the right of stage, with a brick terrace stretching out onto lawn. A huge tree grows in the center of the garden with masses of ®owers. Garden chairs are scattered about, and cooling drinks are on a table. To left of stage a box-hedge ...

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The Dark Light

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pp. 155-197

Early in September of the present time. The living room in the house of SVANHILD STRANDENES in a remote spot on the west coast of Norway. The room is comfortable and in taste. The walls are paneled a soft green. On the ®oor there is a deep brown rug. To the right there is a ¤replace with a lounge drawn up before it. To the left there is a large table with a soft ...

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pp. 198-252

A rough cabaret dive in Vancouver, frequented mostly by seamen. It is after midnight but still too early for the place to assume any life. The room is rather small with a low ceiling. Directly right upstage there is a swinging door, such as used in the old-time saloon. This door opens onto an alleyway. Almost to the middle of stage, directly upstage but a little to the left, there is a bar. In the corner to the left there is a platform. On the platform is a piano, three chairs and two music stands. ...

Back Cover

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pp. 286-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780809387373
E-ISBN-10: 0809387379
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809325108
Print-ISBN-10: 0809325101

Page Count: 286
Illustrations: 3
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1st Edition

OCLC Number: 606953187
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Women in Turmoil