Thursday, June 2, 2011

Putting it Together

In June 1959, actress Mildred Dunnock offered director Word Baker the opportunity to present an evening of three one-act plays at the Minor Latham Theatre, way uptown in Manhattan, with a combined budget of one hundred dollars. Baker called Schmidt and Jones and told them if they’d condense Joy Comes to Dead Horse into a one-act, he’d include it in his show. They’d have to do the show very minimalistically and they’d have to have the new version done in four weeks. The budget dictated the physical style, and it forced the authors to focus on the essence of the story, minus all the trappings of a "usual" Broadway musical, in the process "celebrating the restrictions of the theatre rather than trying to disguise it in any way," as Jones later put it. They discarded all the Rodgers and Hammerstein baggage and the show’s Texas setting, and allowed into the piece their joint sense of Beat poetry and intellectual whimsy, which had been struggling to get into the show all along. Like the Beats, they now rejected mindless conformity (the ubiquitous Rodgers and Hammerstein model), they rejected convention for convention’s sake (like the "fourth wall" and realistic sets), and they broke through to something more pure, more primal, more truthful.

(By Scott Miller in Inside The Fantasticks)

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