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Everyman in America Earl G. Schreiber To speak of Everyman in the twentieth century is somewhat imprecise, for there are two traditions of Everyman. The first is that of the late medieval play which many have seen in a variety of productions or at least have read. The second is that of von Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann, which many have likewise seen or read but which has had the greater influence on twentieth-century drama. The traditions are by no means independent, and their production histories and influences are complexly intertwined. My purpose is to sketch briefly the production histories of the two plays (especially in America) and to suggest that although Everyman is widely known it has remained relatively free of major American adaptation and reshaping. In contrast, von Hof­ mannsthal’s Jedermann has been the basis for serious reworking of the story of man’s summoning and final accounting, and it is, therefore, indirectly better known than the medieval Everyman. Diverse plays have been suggested by Jedermann (such as Frisch’s Biedermann und die Brandstifter and Hochhuth’s Soldaten ), but I consider here only the two major American adap­ tations: Walter Sorell’s Everyman Today (1948) and Geraldine Fitzgerald’s and Jonathan Ringkamp’s Everyman and Roach (1968). Both plays have been very successful; Everyman Today has been produced over 110 times, and more than 500,000 spec­ tators in New York City have seen Everyman and Roach.1 Although the text of Everyman had been readily available since the late eighteenth century, it was not until William Poel’s production in 1901 that it gained wide notice. Poel’s mother had recently died, and A. W. Ward, Poel’s close friend and advisor for an earlier production of Doctor Faustus, suggested a produc­ tion of Everyman under the auspices of Poel’s Elizabethan Stage Society. Following its premiere at the Charterhouse in July 1901, Poel’s production was a critical and popular success, and per99 100 Comparative Drama formances followed at University College, Oxford, in August 1901 and at St. George’s Hall in May 1902. In partnership with Philip Ben Greet, Poel transferred the production to the Imperial Theatre, London, for a series of performances in July 1902, and thence to a tour of the provinces. Poel, however, was repulsed by the play’s theology, and in 1903 he sold the rights and goodwill of die production to Greet, who, in association with Charles Frohman, brought the production to America for two extended tours. Greet, like Poel, played Adonai, and the then-famous actress Edith Wynne Mathison played the title role.2 As in England, Everyman was enormously successful, and the tour was unusual in its length and geographical scope. With various changes in the cast and management, Greet’s production ap­ peared well into the ’30’s in this country, and one playbill adver­ tises a one-night stand for the benefit of the Harrisburg PTA.3 The effect of the Poel-Greet production was immediate and pervasive. Since 1902 there have been more than 40 printings of Everyman (exclusive of anthologies); these are primarily edi­ tions, modernizations, acting scripts, minor adaptations, and ver­ sions with music.4 No one has tallied the great number of profes­ sional and amateur productions, but the incomplete evidence in the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts is impressive. Everyman also moved quickly into the other media. In 1926 Dailey Paskman directed a radio version of Everyman with music on WGBS in New York, and in 1938 Blevins Davis slightly adapted Poel’s script (which was based on the copy originally in Lincoln Cathedral?) for a nation-wide broadcast on NBC. In 1954, NBC-TV presented a puppet version by Helene Oosthoek, and in 1960 BBC-TV produced a modernization with a jazz score, which has subsequently been televised at least twice in this country by NET. The play has been filmed only once in a somewhat abridged version (38 minutes) by Richard Hilliard in 1957.6 Finally, Peter Amott has incorporated Everyman into his repertory of marionette plays.7 Thus, it is obvious that in mid-century America the story of Everyman is well known. Such currency, however...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 99-115
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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