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Getting Unmarried

by Winthrop Parkhurst


The 1919-20 season’s opening bill ended with a play by Winthrop Parkhurst titled Getting Unmarried, which Woollcott called a “dully saucy fragment”(1) and Sarlos says the Players he interviewed uniformly said they remembered it “with horror.”  Published in Smart Set in April of 1918, the play is a domestic satire whose two characters, Harold and Mary States, have been married for ten years, but both are clearly unhappy with it.  The play takes place in their dining room as they talk over breakfast about their marriage; in the beginning it is mostly Mary accusing Harold of being in love with another, not caring about her, anything just to get him to respond.  Eventually, Harold decides that their problem isn’t that they don’t love each other but it’s the legal aspect of being married that is making things stale, so he suggests they get divorced and continue to live together.  They agree this might help because “any day I may disappear, and any day you may disappear,” they would always be on their “best.”(2)  Since it will take too long to actually get divorced, he suggests “we can pretend we have left our lawyer this morning.  We can pretend that everything’s all settled up.”  When Mary says “how wonderful that would be,” Harold admonishes her to not spoil it, but to wait until he’s given a signal somewhere in the middle of their typical quarreling.  So they resume their quarreling and, in the middle of a retort, Harold stops, changes the mood, puts his arms around Mary and says, “I haven’t any right to ask you.  But will you run away with me—today?” to which she replies, “My dear! My dear, I haven’t any right to say yes. So, I’m going to!”(3)  The curtain closes as the couple kisses.  Woollcott wrote that the play could be “dismissed as a bit of 1896 insurgency which very likely was not printed in the Ladies Home Journal of that year with illustrations by Alice Barber Stephen, but which easily might have been.”(4)  Macgowan writes that it’s a play “that gives the actors almost no assistance.”(5)  Drucker never even mentions the play in her review.  The playwright, Winthrop Parkhurst, had written a few short satirical plays and a Biblical one-act.  Also a composer, Parkhurst would go on to write many articles and books about music, including a 1930 guide to music theory titled The Anatomy of Music.

Ida Rauh directed Sidney K. Powell and Norma Millay in the play, Millay indicating to Sarlos she had been given twenty-four hours to prepare, though gives no reason why.(6)  She also tells she was “learning a lot”(7) from Rauh during rehearsals [in twenty four hours?] and that she wore a blue batik negligee printed by Charles Ellis.(8)  Macgowan claims that Millay’s “good acting—quite as charming and capable as half a dozen leading Broadway women,” still can’t save the play. Macgowan’s primary fascination is with Marguerite Zorach’s set, writing that it “is so striking, in fact, that it ought to ruin its play by drawing all the attention from the actors.  It seems, however, that the preachers of armed neutrality for scenic backgrounds have got their arguments wrong.”(9)  Black sites a Boston Evening Transcript critic who described the set as “futurist,” which indicates her set was more abstract against the realistic text of the play.(10)  Kenton writes that the Zorachs “came back to design the set,” indicating they’d not been involved in the Players, and the playbill credits Marguerite Zorach as the set designer and that it was “executed” by her husband William.(11)  Black points out that this is significant because it’s the only time Marguerite received an “independent credit for design.”(12)  Unfortunately, it was also the last set design she would undertake for the Players and, as Black shows, the last by any woman at the Provincetown.(13)

Despite the general dismissal of the Parkhurst play, the first bill produced by the new leadership was overall received well by the critics, which is who the group was clearly trying to please.  Drucker writes that though she overheard an audience member complain, “This is the sixth season of their existence, and I cannot see that they have arrived at anything.  They do not seem to know their own minds yet,” the critic hoped the group would never know their own minds as it might “be the end of that buoyant experimenting that is the unique justification of their existence.”  She writes that the group provides “New York playgoers much that is worth seeing, for which our regular scheme of theatres does not provide house room.”  She felt the bill provided “at least three provocative and extremely interesting plays,” which proved they have kept “the edge of their freshness and surprise keen.”(14)  Woollcott begins his review by saying “It is a provocative and almost continuously interesting evening that is provided in Macdougal Street” and then describes how the theatre is “cramped and dismal” and “where the dramatic pauses are sometimes rudely interrupted by the boisterous hubbub of nearby plumbing.”  However, he says that it’s to the Players that the theatre community “must now look for any considerable exploitation of the one-act play,” likening the group to the Washington Square Players in their best days.(15)  Macgowan gives honor to the Zorachs for “asserting” that, in spite of the dismal Parkhurst play, “the eternal vitality of a human being on a lighted platform dominates, as it always had dominated and always must dominate. That is the eternal secret of the things we call the stage.”(16)

The playbill for the bill announced the Players “under the direction of James Light and Ida Rauh”; continued to tell that “Christine’s up-stairs is open to associate members and their friends for luncheon and dinner”; that the published plays of the group could be found at the Washington Square Bookshop, which had moved to West 8th Street; and that “furniture and accessories” had come from Sidney Powell’s shop on East 8th Street.  Kenton writes that, in response to the Chapin play and even perhaps the Parkhurst play, “no more reproductions of plays fathered by other theatres.  The rule had been broken once.  It was not to be broken again.”(17)

© Jeff Kennedy, 2007.

(1) Alexander Woollcott, “Second Thoughts on First Nights,” New York Times, 9 November 1919: XX2.

(2) Winthrop Parkhurst, “Getting Unmarried.” Smart Set, vol. 56, April 1918: 98.

(3) Parkhurst 99.

(4) Alexander Woollcott, “Second Thoughts on First Night.” New York Times, 9 November 1919: XX2.

(5) Kenneth Macgowan, New York Globe, 3 November 1919.

(6) Sarlos, Provincetown288-289.

(7) Black, Women 107.

(8) Batik is a technique of hand-dyeing fabrics by using wax as a dye repellent to cover parts of a design, dyeing the uncovered fabric with a color or colors, and dissolving the wax in boiling water.

(9) Macgowan, New York Globe, 3 November 1919. 

(10) Black, Women 120.

(11) Kenton 107.

(12) Black, Women 120.

(13) Black, Women 121-122.

(14) Rebecca Drucker, New York Tribune, 16 November 1919, col 2: 7.

(15) Alexander Woollcott, “Second Thoughts on First Night.”  New York Times, 9 November 1919: XX2.

(16) Kenneth Macgowan, New York Globe, November 3, 1919. 

(17) Kenton 108.