Current Playwrights, Dude Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past

Feline Theatre (Florence Bell, Irene Woodbridge Clark, Frances Sankstone Mintz, Alan Rejón)

This post was prompted by a conversation with our friends over at Strange Company.

UPDATE/NEWS/EXCITING STUFF: This blog was recently featured in The Dramatist magazine (sorry, online edition only available to Dramatists Guild members – if I were in charge, I’d change this)

Beyond the musical Cats and beyond that Tennessee Williams play, — and beyond The Cat and the Canary lies a feline theatre ripe for exploration.

The Cat and the Fiddle

Our first example of said theatre is The Cat and the Fiddle – straight out of…..Screen Shot 2019-04-29 at 10.43.34 AM

The book starts with some magnificent advice for adults regarding children’s plays, which is the following:

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If only the foul Mrs. Holbrook who directed our 3rd grade version of Stone Soup had such wisdom.

For those who don’t know, Hey Diddle Diddle/The Cat and the Fiddle is a well-known nursery rhyme in the English-speaking world. It goes like this:

 

It might date back as far as the 16th Century but the version most resembling what we know now was published in 1765.

This is a dramatization of that rhyme, published in 1922 when the author was 72 years of age.

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From the start: CONFLICT!

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Let’s explore that in detail…

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I don’t blame the dog, given the nightmare fuel in this movie clip of a cat playing a fiddle:

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Well, dog – that’s some skill you got there…

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Emojipedia time!!!

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Supposedly “over the moon” comes from the nursery rhyme – or not. Makes more sense if the moon is near the ground.

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Lady Bell was kind enough to add sheet music:

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I can’t read sheet music, but I heard if the notes go up, the voice goes up.

The cat gets all mad:

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“Impertinence” – such a cat word.

“day week” <<< is this a typo? Does anyone know???

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“You’re so vain”…of course you’ll get Carly Simon’s famous song, but in Canadian French and produced by the dude who married Celine Dion.

So the dog and cat make a bet. If cat loses, cat must leave…

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Oh snap!!! Bye bye kitty cat…

The author, Lady Florence Bell, had a somewhat interesting life. She was born to an well-known Irish physician in Paris. She married another well-known chap. Through this marriage she was stepmother to Gertrude Bell, who became an archaelogist and apparently a founder of modern Jordan and Iraq (?!) – seriously, look it up.

Wikipedia claims she was “one of the few representatives of His Majesty’s Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection”

Anyhow, her stepmom Florence (our playwright) wrote a bunch of plays and books and you can read some of them here.  The Cat and the Fiddle is right here.

Before we move on to the next “cat fancy” play, we must leave you with two videos…

Here is someone rapping Hey Diddle, Diddle…I bet little kids love him.

I wish my uncle were that cool. The video and rapper right there is one of the awesomest discoveries made while researching this blog.

Now, on to the next play – The Egyptian Cat

The Egyptian Cat

I think most the world knows Ancient Egyptians worshipped cats.

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Revered cats, turned into fertilizer by the usual suspects.

Thus the setting for this 1916 opus is a land full of reverence for cats.

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42 bucks!!! [This is pretty much more than my plays ever made] 

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Pictured: If American theatre were an emoticon.

The play opens with some serious instructions for a a giant artificial cat to be built:

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“Spit fiercely.”

And it even comes with DIAGRAMS!!!!

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A LOBSTER!!!!!!

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The stuff dreams nightmares Satan’s nightmares are made of. 

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“not too frequent”

Oh, and this is a shadow play. I don’t think wayang puppetry has anything to worry about.

This is a love story about a maiden with three suitors, of whom she loves one.

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Like all cats, even special ones require cream…

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Typical cat….

The Maiden asks the cat to help her get the one guy she loves…they need to escape. The cat has demands.

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“GIVE ME THAT SPIDER”

The maiden does the cat’s bidding.

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She explains what she needs.

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The cat takes care of business…

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Tough kitty – bye bye not-in-love suitors….

By the way, the word “vain” pops up here again. I know this is a different meaning of vain, but we get to hear a DIFFERENT version of Carly Simon’s song.

This English version comes from Surabaya-born Indonesian singer Ervinna ….

And like many stories, there is a happy ending.

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That’s one content cat. Except they stroke her the wrong way…

The only thing I could find about the author is that she apparently lived in North Carolina, USA.

The Wolf and the Cat

This pièce de résistance appears in the 1915 tome Story-Hour Plays by Frances Sankstone Mintz.

It is taken from a fable collected by Ivan Krylov. The play is really, really short. Like short  enough for the whole play to be included right here.

But you should totally check Krylov out because according to the Wiki Gods :

“A multitude of half-legendary stories were told about his laziness, his gluttony and the squalor in which he lived,”

In this play, a big bad wolf meets Vaska, the cat.

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Did y’all get that moral? Don’t be mean to people because they won’t help you later. Burning bridges.

The Hen and the Cat

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An illustration is worth 1,000 words.

This fun piece of theatre is supposedly based on an African fable, but I have yet to find it.

This first scene is awesomely short:

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Talk about exposition.

And so it goes. The cat, being a passive-aggressive weirdo, sends its child to the Hen.

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And the Hen sends her kid to talk to the cat.

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The cat is more “controlling stalker” than friend.

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They finally get going and the plot takes a twist as aberrant as the cat’s mind:

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The cat seizes her kids???? Really???

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Yes, you just read the real-life true story of why cats and hens aren’t friends.

In real-life, I’ve seen chickens puff themselves up to scare cats. I should write a play about it.

The play ends with a question for the kiddos:

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Good question. And I have found the answer. It must’ve been a VERY slow news day in Toronto. Probably ran out of poutine-interest stories.

The author, Frances Sankstone Mintz, appears to have been a night school/immigrant English class teacher in the American state of New Jersey.

All her other books are about turning foreigners into good Americans.

Have a gander.

Here is the book of plays she wrote, containing The Wolf and the Cat and The Hen and the Cat. Time for a sequel: The Wolf and the Cat and the Hen and the Mercedes Benz. Any takers?

And now for a real treat, there is an author out there who is continuing the tradition of cat plays and I don’t mean plays that have the cat’s head explode and get nominated for a Tony.

El Gato y el Ratón/The Cat and the Mouse

Alan Rejón has written some very interesting short plays, all in Spanish and they are on a website with plays written by others.

The plays are short enough to include here. This one has a very unique twist.

I’ve included the original Spanish, followed by a translation. And look for the twist!

Historia: Un pequeño ratón se da cuenta que está a punto de ser cazado por un gato, intentando salvarse nuestro pequeño amigo comienza una pequeña charla.

(El ratón está de espaldas cuando de repente el gato comienza a correr hacia él.)

Ratón: ¡Espera!, ¡Espera!

Gato: ¿Qué quieres?

Ratón: ¿Por qué haces esto?

Gato: ¿Qué cosa?

Ratón: Cazarme.

Gato: Pues, porque tengo hambre.

Ratón: Bueno, ¿Te gusta mi sabor y la textura de mi piel?

Gato: Humm, de hecho no, odio cuando la cola pasa por mi garganta y todavía después de unas semanas sigo escupiendo bolas de pelo blancas.

Ratón: Entonces ¿Por qué cazas ratones? No tiene sentido.

Gato: Tal vez, pero en la iglesia de Doraemon el gato que vino del futuro, nos enseñaron que para estar cerca de él debemos comer ratones pues ustedes no lo aceptan a él como el único viajero del tiempo y salvador de la comunidad gatuna.

Ratón: No puedo creer que esa sea la razón.

Gato: Hagamos un trato, te dejare libre si aceptas a Doraemon como único viajero del tiempo y salvador de la comunidad gatuna.

Ratón: Claro que no lo aceptaré, para empezar por que no existe y segundo, si lo hiciera, entonces no me convendría creer en él ya que solo quiere salvar a los felinos.

Gato: No te atrevas a decir que no existe, rata blasfema, porque está en todos lados y puede desatar su furia, además en mi iglesia tenemos una comunidad de ratones creyentes a los cuales dejamos en paz.

Ratón: Doraemon sólo era la caricatura de un gato azul, ¿Cuántos gatos azules conoces?

Gato: Yo creo que para demostrar su divinidad Doraemon eligió el color azul para que ninguna raza sea discriminada y la televisión fue la manera de extender su mensaje en nosotros.

Ratón: Bueno, explícame esto, Doraemon era un robot, ¿Por qué tendría que comer ratones si ni estomago tiene? Yo creo que tu iglesia ha inventado todo sólo para poder controlarlos.

Gato: Pues, pues… (El Gato se come al ratón) Tanta plática me abrió el apetito.

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Doraemon, a hint of terror to come.

Setting: A small mouse realizes that he is about to be hunted by a cat, trying to save himself,  our little friend begins some small talk.

(The mouse is on its back when suddenly the cat starts running towards him.)

Mouse: Wait! Wait!

Cat: What do you want?

Mouse: Why are you doing this?

Cat: Doing what?

Mouse: Hunting me.

Cat: Well, because I’m hungry.

Mouse: Well, do you like my taste and the texture of my skin?

Cat: Humm, in fact no, I hate when the tail goes through my throat and even after a few weeks I keep spitting white balls of hair.

Mouse: So why are you hunting mice? It makes no sense.

Cat: Maybe, but in the church of Doraemon the cat that came from the future, we were taught that to be close to him we must eat mice because you do not accept him as the only time traveler and savior of the cat community.

Mouse: I can not believe that’s the reason.

Cat: Let’s make a deal, I’ll let you go if you accept Doraemon as the only time traveler and savior of the feline community.

Mouse: Of course I won’t accept it. To begin with because it doesn’t exist and secondly, if I did, then it would not make sense for me to believe in it since it only wants to save the felines.

Gato: Don’t you dare to say that it doesn’t exist, blasphemous rat, because it is everywhere and can unleash its fury, in addition in my church we have a community of believing mice whom we leave in peace.

Mouse: Doraemon was just the caricature of a blue cat, how many blue cats do you know?

Cat: I think that to demonstrate his divinity Doraemon chose the color blue so that no race is discriminated against and television was the way to spread his message in us.

Mouse: Well, explain this to me, Doraemon was a robot, why would he have to eat mice if he doesn’t even have a stomach? I believe that your church has invented everything just to control them.

Cat: Well, well … (The cat eats the mouse) So much talk opened my appetite.

Say what??? A play that began as a typical Tom & Jerry thing escalates into an anti-organized religion polemnic featuring its own Molloch anime character demanding dead mice.

Fortunately for us, there are several Youtube videos of this play, including one college production from UPN Morelos. And one we should term “paper bag theatre” –

Escenografía: Un callejón, con algunos botes de basura.

Personajes:
Perro Dóberman (Voz fuerte y babeando)
Perro Akita (Orgulloso y callado)
Perro Chihuahua (Trembling, talks in a singsong manner)
Perro Vagabundo (Perro/gato)
Introducción: Un día como cualquier otro 3 perros amigos paseaban por el callejón buscando algo para comer, mientras se acercaban a los botes de basura vieron a lo lejos a otro de sus amigos, un perro algo raro (flaco y con poco cabello, el perro vagabundo) al que llevaban meses sin ver… Bueno, excepto por el Chihuahua quien tendría un chimes que contarles.
Chihuahua: Oigan, oigan, adivinen qué me contaron del vagabundo.
Dóberman: No sé, dinos.
Chihuhua: ¡El pobre enloqueció y se cree un gato!
Akita: ¿Estás seguro? Yo creo que sólo son habladurías de la gente.
Chihuahua: Pues seguro, seguro, no pero…
Dóberman: (interrumpiendo) Pues vamos a ver, llamémosle.
Akita: Si es cierto no hay que burlarse de él, hay que ayudarle.
Chihuahua: Claro, claro.
Dóberman: ¡Hey vagabundo, ven!
(Vagabundo los mira y corre hacia ellos.)
Vagabundo: ¡Amigos, tiempo sin verlos!
Akita: Sí, mucho tiempo, para ser sinceros te hablamos para saber si es cierto algo que han estado diciendo de ti.
Vagabundo: ¿Qué cosa?
Akita: Pues…
Dóberman: (interrumpiendo) Que te crees un gato…
Vagabundo: Jajaja, claro que no me creo un gato…
Akita: Eso creí…
Vagabundo: ¡Soy un gato! Miren como hago Miau.
Chihuahua: No lo puedo creer.
Dóberman: Claro que no eres un gato.
Vagabundo: Sí lo soy mira como digo Miau.
Akita: Amigo no eres un gato y te lo podemos demostrar.
Vagabundo: ¿Cómo?
Akita: Bueno, para empezar si fueras un gato nosotros te perseguiríamos y no lo hacemos.
Vagabundo: Eso es porque soy un gato rudo, mira como hago Miau (con voz ruda)
Chihuahua: Eso no demuestra nada, si fueras un gato te gustaría el pescado y no te gusta.
Vagabundo: Bueno, lo que pasa es que soy un gato vegetariano, mira como hago Miau (con voz elegante y chupándose los dedos)
Dóberman: No, no, no, si fueras un gato podrías trepar a los árboles y estoy seguro que no puedes.
Vagabundo: Claro que no puedo y eso es porque soy un gato pesado, sólo mira como hago Miau (voz pesada)
Akita: Si fueras un gato serias flexible y podrías lavarte a ti mismo con la lengua.
Vagabundo: Claro que puedo, miren. (Improvisa movimientos gatunos)
Chihuahua: ¡Santos caninos!
Dóberman: Esto es muy perturbador.
Akita: Ok, ok eres un gato pero deja de hacer eso.
Vagabundo: ¿Ven? Soy un gato y digo Miau.
Dóberman: ¿Cómo aprendiste a hacer eso?
Vagabundo: Yoga.

Setting: An alley, with some garbage cans.

Characters:
Doberman (loud voice and drooling)
Akita dog (Proud and silent)
Chihuahua dog (Tembloroso, cantadito speaks)
Vagabond Dog (Dog / cat)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pics from here, here and here.

Introduction: A day like any other 3 friendly dogs walk through the alley looking for something to eat, as they approach the trash cans saw in the distance another of their friends, a somewhat weird dog (skinny and with little hair, the vagabond) who has not seen them for months … Well, except for the Chihuahua who is telling them.

Chihuahua: Hey, listen, guess what they told me about the tramp.
Doberman: I don’t know, tell us.
Chihuhua: The poor guy went crazy and thinks he’s a cat!
Akita: Are you sure? I think they are just gossiping about people.
Chihuahua: Sure, sure, no, but …
Doberman: (interrupting) Well let’s see, let’s call him.
Akita: If it’s true, don’t make fun of him, you have to help him.
Chihuahua: Sure, sure.
Doberman: Hey vagabond, come!

(Vagabond looks at them and runs towards them.)

Vagabond: Friends, long time, no see!
Akita: Yes, a long time, to be honest we’re talking to you to know if what they have been saying about you is true.
Vagabond: What did they say?
Akita: Well …
Doberman: (interrupting) That you think you’re a cat …
Vagabond: Hahaha, of course I don’t think I’m a cat …
Akita: I thought so …
Vagabond: I am a cat! Look how I meow.
Chihuahua: I can’t believe it.
Doberman: Of course you’re not a cat.
Vagabond: Yes I am, look like I say “meow”.
Akita: Friend, you’re not a cat and we can prove it to you.
Vagabond: How?
Akita: Well, to begin with if you were a cat we would chase you and we do not.
Vagabond: That’s because I’m a rough cat, look at me meow (with a rough voice)
Chihuahua: That doesn’t prove anything, if you were a cat you would like fish and you don’t.
Vagabond: Well, what happens is that I am a vegetarian cat, look at me meow (with an elegant voice and sucking fingers)
Doberman: No, no, no, if you were a cat you could climb trees and I’m sure you can not.
Vagabond: Of course I can’t and that’s because I’m a heavy cat, watch me meow (heavy voice)
Akita: If you were a cat you would be flexible and you could wash yourself with your tongue.
Vagabond: Of course I can, look. (Improvises cat movements)
Chihuahua: Holy dogs!
Doberman: This is very disturbing.
Akita: Ok, ok you’re a cat but stop doing that.
Vagabond: See? I am a cat and I say “meow.”
Doberman: How did you learn to do that?
Vagabond: Yoga.

Another twisted tail tale. So here we have another reference to the fact dogs can’t climb trees.

And fortunately for us, we have some Youtube videos of this play in action:

That last one comes with bloopers!!!

 

I don’t know much about the author. I’m assuming he’s Mexican because all the productions appear to be Mexican.

The plays are available on the website and they have a Youtube page with some videos.

And along with the Spanish theme + cats, here is a Spanish-language cover of The Cure’s The Love Cats, which against all odds and Mother Nature, manages to be weirder than the original….

 

And as a final, final special treat, here’s Catwoman herself (and Yzma) – Eartha Kitt – singing about being a different kind of cat….I dunno…she still jumps on furniture.

 

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I’d eat mice for her any day, but not for that false god Doraemon.
Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

Geographical Plays by Jane Andrews

[Full disclosure: I had a 4,000 word post ready about a living playwright but at the last minute said living playwright had second thoughts. Thus, I am up at 2 a.m. writing about a dead playwright and feeling like one, too]

Geography!!! I have a long history with the topic. So imagine my pure joy and horror when I discovered this gem from 1896:

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Much like a Talking Heads song, it could be really terrible and amazing at the same time.

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The only likeness I could find of her.

It seems earlier editions were printed in the 1880s.

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Boston, 1896.

Let’s take a gander. Here a stranger enquires about how to travel from Boston to San Francsico. Boston is home to several of our playwrights, including Greg Hovanesian, Martha Patterson and the late, great Angelina Weld Grimké.

 

The kids answer:

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That’s pretty cool. And it shows exactly the route the train would’ve taken. Hint: I was born in one of these towns (not the suspension bridge).

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Train and engineer at Niagara Suspension Bridge before 1886.

But then it comes to Europe boasting about their colonies:

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Go F yourself, Holland. There’s a reason why Indonesia changed the town’s name from Batavia to Jakarta (because Batavia is just another word for Holland).

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Entrance to the zoo in Batavia, 1896.

In the play entitled “World Commerce” Cuba mentions how fun it is to be a Spanish colony with Chinese laborers:

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“Strangely enough.” Sigh.

Manila must boast as well and then Java gets its turn:

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Now for grade school kids, this is actually a decent description of Dutch economic policy in the Dutch East Indies. The play forgot to mention the forced labor aspect of it, but selling cash crops to the Dutch overlords at a fixed price, which the Dutch government then exported overseas for a profit. They then supposedly gave a surplus back to the native Indonesians. Somehow I don’t think it worked as prettily as described, but it is neat that the play goes into so much detail regarding the economics on Java in the 1890s.

[it is now 9:41 a.m. I did sleep a little bit  (30 mins?) and had a dream my friend lost an insane amount of weight and my other friend’s wife kept trying to talk to me alone. It was kinda weird]

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Calle Palacio in Manila in the 1910s.

The book of plays begins with….

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“Perhaps we are not so old nor so wise as some other countries…”

Understatement of the year right there.

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Massachusetts is right about the cities on the Merrimac: textiles, textiles, textiles.

And Lawrence would later have a very famous, very violent strike. But for now…

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Whoa!!! Hold on there, southern states

Massachusetts is all like “Let’s not have another war, please.”

Then the “western” states get in on the action.

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I just hope New York doesn’t think Philadelphia is a western city.

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Not another city-measuring contest. Sigh.

A couple of things here.

  1. The playwright goofed. California delivers this line over a hundred pages before Washington Territory ever shows up. And that’s in the Commerce of the World play.

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BTW, Maulmain is now Mawlamyine in Myanmar.

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Mawlamyine has a neat pagoda. This photo is from 1895. I doubt Seattle had a better one.

 

But PiL never made a song about Mawlamyine:

Maybe that’s a good thing?

The common theme among the American states is that they’re a bunch of whiny braggarts:

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Insecure Texas, always trying to show off. I think it’s fun the Alaskan gold rush hadn’t happened yet. The Wikipedia page claims the “legacy” of this is North to Alaska, but I don’t know if they mean the song or the movie. If you watch the movie, you can see John Wayne’s wig fall off. It’s pretty funny.

As entertaining as an insecure, yet severely dysfunctional family like the United States can be, it’s time for us to move on to Europe, that one place in the 1890s where everything was going fine…

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Yours for only 75 clams.

Oh, more colony-measuring here…

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Holland owns half of St. Martin. Don’t you forget it.

And Denmark calls St. Croix by its Spanish name.

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“Venice of Northern Europe” Broooo.

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Amsterdam in 1899.. I guess they’re doing Dutch stuff.

If anyone is up for alcohol, there’s this:

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Meanwhile, poor Spain gets nostalgic for its empire…might wanna lock up the sherry.

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Ah yes, Spanish Guinea, where I set my thriller play that’s never been produced (English here, Spanish here).

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Spanish Guinea in 1890.

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Someone calls out Austria on its BS regarding Poland, only to get mansplained by Prussia and their king (who doubled as German Emperor). We all know how that turned out.

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Did you know you can wear an emoji?

Love that burn on Russia…because Russia totally had a thing for Turkey.

As we prepare to leave Europe, we have a positive message from Kazan:

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Let’s see where the plays are going to next:

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I bet they’re going to Asia. I like the descriptions of how one would’ve traveled back then.

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“To Bagdad, did you say?”

“And Bassora, too.”

Japan seems pretty happy about its relationship with America.

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Do you know what’s worse than Commodore Perry‘s gunboat diplomacy?

It led to another John Wayne movie.

Japan seems very eager to learn from its friends. The epitome of this knowledge-quest seems to be when someone discovered Tom Tom Club‘s Wordy Rappinghood.

This was the result:

And we learn about Japanese dental customs.

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I guess facelifts were in their infancy, so would could be the cause of the “surprised look”?

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Ouch. Except this was banned in 1870.

Now it gets a case of the weirds. The next play is South America and Africa, because of course it is.

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“My vanilla is bigger than your India rubber tree!”

“Yeah? I can touch the Mediterranean.”

They’re portrayed like children, similar to the US states.

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“I am here by the right of colonization.” You do you, Cape Town.

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Cape Town, 1896.

Africa is so proud of its European towns. Sadly proud.

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BURN!!!

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I LOVE Liberia calling the US out over slavery.

BÜTTIKOFER(1890)_1.03_Monrovia,_Ashmun_Street
To be fair, Ashmun Street looked like a long lawn back in 1890 Monrovia, Liberia.

 

Liberia, the West African country colonized by the US, with a really interesting history.

Check out that flag:

It also makes for an interesting play.

The next play is about islands and Australia. Because I’m kinda close to near-collapse, I just found the most pathetic island. Pathetic because it’s so lonely.

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The last play involves commerce. It’s quite funny:

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Vera Cruz and Naples, know thyselves.

veracruz-plaza-1885-95-1890d-cornell-university-library-1885-95-blog
Vera Cruz around 1890.

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And really, opium is definitely the best companion drug for ginger.

In summation, theatre would be an excellent method to teach geography – but it would need to be cleansed of this “pro colonization” mumbo jumbo. And it should mention Utah. And Idaho.

[Note: this post was about 90% done before I collapsed from exhaustion around 530 pm. I had a dream about kids from high school. Kids I didn’t even like. It was like a foretaste of Hell. I woke up around 1030 and now will post the blog. Sorry for the delay.]

The author

Jane Andrews was born in 1833 and died in 1887, meaning this copy of the plays was published well after her death. She was the daughter of a minister and grew up in Massachsuetts. As a teenager, she taught night classes to the cotton mill workers where she lived. Her reference to these cotton towns is a bit more poignant.

She was the very first student at Antioch College when it opened, but had to withdraw due to a “spinal affliction.” She was an invalid for six years.

She opened a primary school where one of her future students was future feminist Alice Stone Blackwell. Poor health forced her to close the school after 25 years.

Her children’s books were very popular, being translated even into Japanese and Chinese. They were still used 50 years after her death.

For our other paywrights, please check here.

Some of her works can be found here, including our plays.

A sketch of her life by her sister.

A memorial sketch by someone who knew her.

Her Wikipedia page is here.

Her sister describes her school.

Join us Monday for more hot, hot monologues and next week for another dead playwright!

 

 

Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

María de Soto y Sáez

A beautiful milestone has ocurred today: we’re finally profiling our first foreign language playwright! It is also the first time we profile the author of plays for children.

Her name is María de Soto y Sáez and she truly is exceedingly unknown.

Paraphrasing from the only bio I could find, her birth and death dates remain unknown. She was active in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century in Spain and there are at least six works that she authored.

Her first play, El robo de anoche [The Theft of Last Night], survives in manuscript form.

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It survives right here. Note that it is a one act play. Her co-author was kinda prominent.

It’s possible this play was never performed (something this play has in common with 95% of my plays…teeheehee). The play was written around 1890.

On December 6, 1890 she had a one-act play, La Esperanza [The Hope] debut at Teatro Variedades in Madrid. The comedic plot concerned jealousy in a marriage and relies on puns and misunderstandings for its source of humor, which would probably qualify it for an Amazon series now, but would still be light years funnier than the worst sitcom birthed by Satan. The play was subsequently published by José Rodríguez.

It’s possible she co-authored a play, Don Juanito, under the pseudonym of Modesto Aria –

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No preview for you – from here.
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Someone compiled a bibliography of Don Juan.

In 1909, the prominent printer Saturnino Calleja y Fernández printed six of Soto’s works together in one volume, El teatro de la infancia [Childhood Theatre]. All the plays are one acts, in verse, and for children. The volume consists of:

La banda de honor [Sash of Honor] – One act. Kids competing for a “sash of honor.”

El manojo de claveles [The Bundle of Carnations] – One act comedy.

El Portal de Belén [The Entrance of Bethlehem] – One act drama, in verse. 

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Welcome to Bethlehem, via here.

El recreo [The Recess] – One act comedy. Verse. Kids hanging out at recess.

El Día de Año Nuevo [New Year’s Day] – One act comedy.

ff4fb3ec-82b1-11df-acc7-002185ce6064_1
Why isn’t it Old Year’s Day? From here.

La revoltosa [The Troublemaker] – One act comedy. Verse. An interesting study of the title character but also the kids who surround her. 

This is pretty much all that’s known about this author.

Several of her youth plays were also published again in Chile. This has led some Chilean sources to suggest Soto y Sáez was a Chilean author. This doesn’t appear to be the case, but with what little is known about her, she may have been.

From these one acts, we’ll profile two: The Sash of Honor/La banda de honor and The Recess/El recreo.

The Sash of Honor’s plot is pretty dang straightforward: Set in a school for girls, apparently a school for excessively cruel girls, all the girls want the sash – for which they have to be examined by a panel of teachers. Most of them are arrogant, except for poor, humble Carmela, who prays and also has a rich, kind friend in Rosa who helps her gain confidence and, and, [spoiler alert] – wins the sash!

It’s like Mean Girls set in a Spanish Catholic school in 1909.

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HIGHLIGHTS:

  1. There are parts for eight girls here. And no boys. Hehe. Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 11.05.15 AM
  2. There are some genuinely funny bits in the play.
  3. It’s in verse, specifically silva arromanzada. For those heavy into meter, these are lines, usually between 7 and 11 syllables, including 7 + 7 alexandrine schemes and assonant rhyme in even lines. All for a children’s play. Thank you to  Professor Enrique Gil Miguel for helping me with this and thanks to my playwright friend Beatriz Cabur for introducing him.
  4. It tackles the subject of bullying.

LOWLIGHT:

  1. It’s kinda cheesy and simplistic.

OTHERLIGHT:

  1. It’s exceedingly Catholic. Modern schools may welcome that, others not so much.

Let’s do a walk-through of this play. Before we start, translating Spanish isn’t something I do every day and I want to thank my friend and fantasy writer (and Spanish speaker) Kristin Jackson for answering all my questions. Nevertheless, any mistakes in this translation are mine and mine alone. I tried to convey the meaning while maintaining some semblence of faux-poetry. I didn’t attempt a silva arromanzada.

Carmela is lamenting the fact that everyone is mean to her, but she has Rosita’s friendship:

(I cut some stage directions for fun)

CarmelaSceneIV

CarmelaSceneIVpart2

Scene IV

Carmela

I do nothing to them, oh my!

They make me upset …

Nobody has affection for me.

Except Rosita, Yes she

the most noble, who is a duchess,

the richest and most elegant,

That speaks to me so happily

and she even hugs me and kisses me.

I do not know what I would give

for being able to pay

She knows how to treat well

Those who were born poor.

[break]

My God, if I go wrong

How they are going to laugh! (kneels before the image of the Virgin)

To you, blessed Virgin,

day and night we acclaim you,

before you we prostrate ourselves,

and fix our gaze on you,

we ask in the affliction

the same as in joy,

May you be, Virgin Mary,

always our salvation.

(At the end of the last verse appear behind Clara, Luisa, Paca and Sofia mocking her)

 

Now the bad girls, aka demonic hellions, show up.

SceneV

Scene V

Carmela, Luisa, Paca and Sofia

Clara. Look at the poor thing’s fear

Paca. Pray, girl, pray,

God does not hear you

Sofia. You win a prize?

Luisa. What a shame!

Paca. Poor thing!

Clara. Do not make yourself up …

Sofia. Don’t deceive yourself …

Clara. You do not know anything …

Paca. You’ve been a fool …

Clara. You should leave

before they see you.

Paca. With that dress

You are going to get hit …

Sofia. Poor girl.

Luisa. But how poor!

Carmela. But, my God,

I have to put up with this! (cries)

Clara. How fragile!

Sofia. No, girl, do not cry!

(the four of them surround her, mocking her)

 

Carmela isn’t having the best day.

But then, her pal Rosa shows up and DISHES IT OUT!

SceneVI

Scene VI

[Others from before] Enter Rosa, from behind. 

Rosa. What’s this, why do you enjoy yourself?

in bothering Carmela?

That is not worthy, nor is it noble,

nor good friends.

Clara. She has such a sad face!

Sofia. That seems to be punched ..

Paca. Or her cat has died …

Rosa. Shut up and go outside.

Clara. Whose order?

Rosa. Mine,

and woe to the one who does not obey …

Luisa. Well, she’s fuming! …

Clara. As the daughter of a duchess!

(The four exit.)

Carmela, despite being high-born (a duchess or daughter of a duchess) is kind and warm-hearted to the poverty-stricken [apparently] Carmela. She even gives Carmela a beautiful necklace to wear at the competition…

Later Rosa tells us exactly how the examination goes –

Scene XI pt1

SceneXIpt2

Rosa. You will see. She came in and, waving

to the audience,

it was before the teachers

Waiting for them to speak to her.

She firmly replied,

without hesitation, with a clear voice,

admired by the whole world

for her sweetness and her grace.

There were many questions.

difficult, risky,

the schoolgirl replied to

all with aplomb

And seeing such a brilliant test,

the court stood up

Until she walked to them

after congratulating her,

and lavishing Carmela

a thousand words of praise on her,

On her noble chest she puts

as a great prize the sash.

All hands applauded her

before the exciting act,

and everyone congratulated her

and all admired her.

And look, the classmates

that mocked her before,

in triumph until here they bring it.

and one after the other they embraced her.

 

Yay for Carmela! Sadly, the mean girls weren’t boiled in oil at the end. Our next play is The Recess. The summary of this play is basically kids hanging out at recess.

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50 céntimos and it’s yours! Via here.

HIGHLIGHTS

  1. An all-girl cast. No boys allowed. Large cast of 14. How fun is that?

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2. Positive messages about appearance and body image. More on this later.

3. Very in-depth characterization.

4. Still in verse.

5. A lot of the play is like a series of monologues, with several characters getting their own solo pieces.

6. Ample use of humor.

LOWLIGHTS:

  1. That in-depth characterization comes at a price, namely plot. The closest thing to a plot is Paca/Paquita’s struggle with Sagrario over Sagrario’s slavish fawning over the mirror.

OTHER LIGHTS:

  1. Still very Catholic.

We’ll take a brief cruise through this play. Again, I want to thank Professor Enrique Gil Miguel, my playwright friend Beatriz Cabur and my fantasy writer friend and Oaxaca native Kristin Jackson.

Again, if the translation sucks, it’s my fault.

The play opens with the recess bell. In scene 2, we see Elvira has a poetic streak, but her friend Rosario has other things on her mind. This is some of that characterization I mentioned.

 Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 12.15.53 PM

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ELVIRA

What beautiful flowers!

The view is refreshing! 

Delightful gardens,

Who does not dream to see you?

MAGDALENA

You feel romantic.

ELVIRA

And who didn’t feel so

on hearing the chirps 

of those birds that fly;

by breathing the air

that comes embalmed with

of tuberoses, of jasmine,

of roses and violets … 

to see the butterflies

how happy they play

Kissing from flower to flower

a thousand, if a thousand are there?

Here the soul widens, 

and full of illusions

the mind was ecstatic …

If I were a poet!

ROSARIO

You would be a boy

with blonde ringlets 

long and curly,

fine as silk;

you would play the lyre,

when your governing muse

inspires you, in the hours  

in which others dream.

MAGDALENA

That is very well said!

ROSARIO

You do not have to be a poet

to say two pretty sentences,

If you’re stubborn.  

ELVIRA

You have a noble soul!

ROSARIO

Also yours is beautiful.

ELVIRA

Come see the flowers;

the view is refreshing;

white butterflies  

like the lilies;

the crystal-clear springs;

the birds that fly.

MAGDALENA

Wow, it’s a pity

that you were not a poet!  

ELVIRA

I die for art.

ROSARIO

I prefer a snack.

(All three exit.)

 

“You go do your poet stuff, beatnik. I wanna eat.” I like Rosario’s style.

Later in the play, we learn that Sagrario is obsessed with her looks in particular and mirrors in general. We also learn that Paca hates mirrors. She tries to convert Sagrario to non-Mirrorism. The conflict arises.

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PACA

I want to take away that vice,

which is very ugly, dear Sagrario.

Holy and good that you, in fixing yourself,  

you study yourself alone in your room,

and ask the mirror for advice

to thus enhance your charms.

And once you get an answer

and be as beautiful as a day in May,  

you do not remember that there is a mirror

Don’t worry about bows and ribbons.

The woman who is honest and simple,

is the angel that God has created

to do what in his eyes of glory  

is considered in a clearer mirror.

And having that mirror in your eyes,

it’s not good to see it in your hands

a mirror that is worth very little

compared to the one I talk about. 

But there is something deeply pathological about Paca’s mirror-vengeance. As we learn through more characterization:

PACA

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Mirror2 2018-11-08 at 12.47.01 PM

PACA:….and it produces dislikes

Like someone gave me once and I won’t forget it

And it was a day that I, playful

and greedy, I took out of a closet 

a large jar of sweet syrup

that I had long ago besieged.

And that seeing the square undefended

I decided to attack,

and capture it without them knowing

because nobody came to save it.

I had eaten at least

More than half of that jar,

When I heard a … Holy Virgin! and my eyes

they turned and, speechless with horror,  

reflecting, they looked at my image

in the mirror of a golden frame,

so grotesque, so sad and ridiculous,

that until this time I have not forgotten it.

And my mother following me,  

and my afflicted face and my lips

all filled with sweet syrup

that the mirror inhumanely reflected.

I fell at the foot of my mother, tearful,

promising not to do such a sin, 

and throwing the mirror

It cracked into 20 pieces like sabers.

Since then, seeing a mirror

I look at it on two or three sides,

and bringing my mouth to her mirror  

I repeat furiously … What a fake!

And that’s why I want that she

not look in the mirror anymore,

that I have declared war

on mirrors of all sizes.  

(Exit.)

Even though Paca is helping her friend, she has some serious latent reasons why.

Later Emilia tells a story about a grandpa, boy and donkey.

Summarizing the story: When the grandpa rode the donkey and the boy walked behind, the villagers said it was too cruel to make the boy walk. They switched. When the boy rode and the grandpa walked to the next village, the people said how cruel to make the grandpa walk. So they both walked and the next village told them how sad it was that the donkey didn’t have a load, etc. The point being people will complain no matter what you do. (Good point)

Then Emilia tells Amparo the evils of slander, using old snowball/sun metaphor:

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EMILIA

It is envious like slander,

as a snowball that, unsuspecting,

they are making, so that they

those who only hurt the world

enlarge it

But the Sun, shining in the sky, 

he undoes it with its pure rays,

and it turns into foam bubbles

what bad hands had made.

See how they all went

when they have seen how I speak to them.  

The truth is bitter to the people,

who in the world live with deceit.

(Very slowly the last quatrain, after which she wraps the waist of AMPARO with her arm, and they disappear slowly.)

It seems Emilia really, really likes Amparo.

Meanwhile Amelia and Teresa have a scheme worked out where Amelia cheats for Teresa in exchange for candy.

Towards the end, Sagrario has learned her lesson about looking in the mirror and society’s treatment of women.

Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 3.37.03 PM

We live to please,

since we are born, 

and the kindness of girls

It is a gift from heaven.

If you chatted to your devil

your false mirror,

it was to correct you 

by that means.

(She takes out the mirror and brings her face closer to PAQUITA’s, making her look at it at the same time as her.)

I love you, girl

how I love you …;

look with what affection

They send us a kiss!

(They both smile in the mirror and go arm in arm.)

Looks like Sagrario and Paquita are the best of friends.

The following scenes do a brief wrap up, the bell rings and recess is done.

 

In preperation for this I also read La revoltosa and parts of Don Juanito.

There’s no evidence of these plays ever having been performed.

In writing for children, Soto’s has several themes in common: the plight/situation of girls in school, the role of religion and humility rewarded and there are some vicious, vicious girls in Spanish schools circa 1910.

I’m not sure what relevance these plays would have to a child of today. Perhaps some of the monologues could be used/adapted for an actor wanting to do a legit period piece.

However, these plays offer an interesting glimpse into children’s theatre in the early 20th Century in Spain. As such, they definitely should be studied and translated into languages besides Spanish. I believe theatre aficionados, scholars, teachers and playwrights could learn a lot by reading these old plays.

A couple thoughts regarding children’s theatre – it really gets no respect. Despite awesome playwrights like Don ZolidisClaudia Inglis Haas and Daniel Guyton building careers in the subgenre, there’s still not much respect. Hopefully by knowing the history of children’s theatre across cultures, languages and centuries, we can understand it more and make better theatre.

For all of our playwrights, please click here.

Before adding a link dump for Ms. Soto, let’s see what Madrid looked like in 1910:

 

And you can rock out to one of the most popular singers of the age, La Fornarina.

 

Here’s most the stuff online related to María de Soto y Sáez, all in Spanish:

Her life.

El robo de anoche

Don Juanito, a play she may have co-written under a pseudonym

El portal de belén

El recreo

La Revoltosa AND La banda de honor are here in this Chilean anthology.

El día de año nuevo