New Addition to My Collection: The Wren

About a decade ago, my wife Jenn and I disbanded Dramatic Insights Ministries, the drama group I had led for close to ten years.  Jenn’s health was taking a pretty severe turn for the worse, and I had developed the idea for “Motivity,” a mobile theatre group that could stage stripped-down versions of obscure stage plays and perform them for senior citizens groups and the like in their own facilities.  It would be much easier on Jenn for us to work with a closed group of players presening one-off performances rather than mounting full-scale productions.

The first play I developed for motivity was an adaptation of Tarkington’s Beasley’s Christmas Party, which was subsequently also adapted as a short off-Broadway play by the Keen Company.  (Another group also independently developed a musical.) We had a single staged reading of my own adaptation before the idea of Motivity was scrapped as well.

Another play I was looking at, based on a description in James Woodress’ biography of Tarkington, was The Wren–about the relationship between an aging sea captain and his daughter.  It was mounted on Broadway in 1922, written by Tarkington expressly for Helen Hayes, but flopped.  Tarkington took the play’s failure very hard.

But look as I might, I couldn’t find a copy anywhere.  It was as if the play never existed, though Tarkington’s bibliography did state that it was published by Samuel French (Russo and Sullivan, p.64).

Last year, thanks to the inevitability of technology and the inexorable drive of the free market, The Wren is now available in facsimile edition.  Who knows why, but someone finally got the notion that putting this public-domain work back in print would be a great idea.  And who knows?  Maybe it is.  As it was published in 1922 and its copyright was never renewed, it’s in anyone’s purview to see what the market will bear.  But if you want to read these editions, they will still set you back $20.00 or more after shipping… unless you simply download a free copy from one of any number of “Open Library” sources.

For a serious collector, though, like me, simply reading it will not be enough.  I finally managed to track down a copy of the original 1922 Samuel French edition on ABE Books, and am anxiously awaiting its arrival.

Here’s the description from Woodress:

Laid in a Maine summer boarding house, The Wren dramatizes a low-keyed contest between Seeby Olds, the quiet daughter of an invalided sea captain, and Clara Frazee, a neurotic city boarder, for the affections of Roddy, a young artist guest … and in the last two acts the romance between the Maine girl and the painter blossoms with minor complications and a minimum of action.  When the Boston Transcript reviewer called the play an exquisite miniature with “some excellent subtleties in character and dialect,” Tarkington replied that he intended it to be a little play and added: “it’s taken me 30 years to learn how to make ‘em little.”

Leslie Howard was brought over from England to play Roddy.  The play opened in Boston, but closed in New York after only three weeks.

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