AMERICAN THEATRE | This Month in Theatre History
Anne Pitoniak and Kathy Bates in the A.R.T. premiere production of ”Night, Mother.’ (Photo by Richard Feldman)
December 1907 (115 years ago)
Avrom (Abraham) Goldfaden’s final play, Ben-Ami, premieres at the People’s Theater in New York City. Goldfaden had struggled to get the play, which he based on George Eliot’s Daniela Deronda, staged at other Yiddish theatres, until actor and theatrical impresario Boris Thomashefsky agreed to take on the work. The play concerns the personal transformation of a wealthy European aristocrat who discovers his Jewish heritage and migrates to Israel, settling into a humble life on a farm. During the production process, Goldfaden seemed to disagree with Thomashefsky’s choice to have so much music in the work—composed by H. Friedzel, with lyrics by Sigmund Mogulesko—but he ultimately relented and went along with Thomashefsky’s vision. Goldfaden proudly attended the premiere on Dec. 25 and received great praise for the work. He attended the next five performances before taking ill at the sixth. Goldfaden died on Jan. 9, 1908, aged 67. Ben-Ami would run for six more months following his passing.
December 1972 (50 years ago)
Eric Bentley’s docudrama Are You Now or Have You Ever Been? opened at Yale Repertory Theatre under the direction of Michael Posnick. The play used transcripts from the House Un-American Activity Committee (HUAC) hearings of actors, artists, and citizens as its textual dialogue, and its characters included actor Zero Mostel, singer Paul Robeson, playwright Lillian Hellman, film director Elia Kazan, and many others. The committee had used the hearings to find “subversives,” such as communists, perceived fascists, homosexuals, and others whom the committee deemed dangerous to the American body politic. Bentley’s play eventually moved to Broadway, settling into the Century Theatre on Feb. 6, 1979, and ran for 32 performances.
December 1982 (40 years ago)
Kathy Bates and Anne Pitoniak took the stage at Boston’s American Repertory Theater in the searing premiere production of Marsha Norman’s ‘Night, Mother. Directed by Tom Moore, Norman’s play follows Jessie (Bates) and her mother Thelma (Pitoniak) navigating their complicated relationship, only made more complex by Jessie’s sincere plan to commit suicide that evening. Critics and audiences responded positively to the work, and it transferred to Broadway’s John Golden Theatre in 1983. ‘Night, Mother also received four Tony Award nominations and earned Norman the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
December 2007 (15 years ago)
After nearly 47 years in the same theatrical space, the Nashville Children’s Theatre finally opened their newly renovated theatre. The theatre was founded in 1931 as part of a rash of children’s theatres opened by the Junior League, a woman’s organization aimed at improving education, health, and other social issues in local communities. The theatre is one of the oldest continuously running professional children’s theatrical organizations in the United States. The $6.3 million renovation in 2007 gave the theatre a second floor, new classrooms, a costume shop, and a beautiful new stage to serve the Nashville community for many years to come.
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