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From Portland to Dover
by O.K. Liveright


The first play of the third bill of the 1918-19 season was From Portland to Dover by Otto K. Liveright.  After appearing in the two Maxwell Bodenheim plays in the fall of 1917, Liveright seems to have voraciously committed to working with the Players from that point, appearing in five more plays that season.  Deutsch describes his foray into acting as “having a glorious fling in the hours he stole from business.”(1)  Liveright was the chief margin clerk for the banking and brokerage firm of Sinclair and Chester, one of the leading financial organizations in Philadelphia, and then he moved to their New York office.  He was the son of the owner of some Pennsylvania coal mines and the older brother of Horace Liveright, who was to become one of the youngest and perhaps most flamboyant publishers of books in New York in the 1920s and early 1930s.  At some point, most likely in the early 1920s, Otto became a well-known literary agent; among his most successful clients was Sherwood Anderson.(2)  Lmiveright was voted onto the Provincetown Players Executive Committee that past spring and continued in that role through the end of the 1918-1919 season.  He wrote, directed, and performed in From Portland to Dover, which opened the season’s third bill on January 17, 1919.  The play (of which no extant copy is known) was described by critic Heywood Broun as telling “the story of a man who is much more interested in his project to raise pigs than in his dying wife.”(3)  The program states, “The action takes place in a railroad passenger day coach between Portland, Maine, and North Berwick.”(4)  Kenton described that the set’s interior for the play “was hideously painted on the afternoon of the opening night,” which might explain why Fritz Tidden in the Dramatic Mirror says the plays on the bill should “receive less crude scenic investiture” when he also suggests the plays should be moved to Broadway.(5)  Broun writes “The theme of the story would lose nothing in strength and gain much in accuracy if it were painted with more delicate strokes,” which raises the question if he wasn’t also referring to the set and the play’s structure simultaneously.(6)  There were fourteen characters in the play, and the Morning Telegraph states that the play asks for a great many actors, “but the staging is dexterous in preventing any of them from falling into the audience.”(7)  Broun wrote the play “contains observation, but the author cannot resist the temptation to heighten his effects.  For instance, every time the husband is asked about the health of his wife he immediately replies with some remark about the pig culture.”(8)  Tidden also mentions the play’s “clever observation” and writes that it was a “play of characterization that contains a fertile idea effectively presented by able dialogue.”  He mentions that the author appears in the play and “gives the best performance of the cast,”(9) which contained many of the Players’ regulars, including Cook as a neighbor of the Abner Drake, Liveright as Drake, Lewis Ell as the conductor; and Mrs. Cora Millay, mother of Edna and Norma, as Miss Sarah. 

© Jeff Kennedy, 2007.

(1) Liveright had a decidedly memorable 1915 debut in the theatre when he was asked by friend Lawrence Langner to perform in his play Licensed, which was to inaugurate the opening of the Washington Square Players uptown at the Bandbox Theatre on February 19, 1915.  The role was of a corpse that was present onstage as the curtain rose on the play, requiring Liveright to simply lie still on the couch of the set.  In the female lead role was Ida Rauh, prior to her total commitment to the Provincetown Players.  Langner tells the story of what happened: “Otto, one of our best comedians, did his part exceedingly well on the opening night; but on the second night, perhaps overconfident after reading the newspaper notices, he was in a sitting up position when the curtain rose.  With a frightened look at the audience, he threw himself down on the couch and covered his head with the sheet.  The audience roared with laughter, and Ida Rauh, backstage, refused to go on with the play” (Langner, Magic Curtain,97).  The curtain was brought down.  Finally, Edward Goodman, a director of the Washington Square Players, convinced Rauh she had no option but to go on and perform the play, which she did, but not without first arguing for twenty minutes.

(2) William Sutton, ed. Letters to BAB: Sherwood Anderson to Marrietta D. Finley, 1916-33 (Urbana, IL: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1985). In a letter written in August of 1922, Anderson tells his friend “Otto Liveright . . . is a literary agent here and who has come to me and asked me to let him handle my work.”

(3) Sarlos, Provincetown246.

(4) Program of Provincetown Players Third Bill 1918-1919, Museum of the City of New York.

(5) Dramatic Mirror, 8 February 1919, 197.

(6) New York Tribune, 23 January 1919.

(7) Morning Telegraph, 20 January 1919.

(8) New York Tribune, 23 January 1919.

(9) Dramatic Mirror, 8 February 1919, 197.