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Ivan's Homecoming

by Irwin Granich (Mike Gold)


Irwin Granich (Itzok Issac Granich) was born in 1893 on the Lower East Side of New York City to immigrant parents living and working in what was considered the Jewish ghetto.  Granich was the oldest of three brothers and had dropped out of high school to work in factories and as a shipping clerk, supporting his family after his father’s death.  In April 1914, when he was 21, he happened upon one of the famed workers’ rallies in Union Square and heard the likes of Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman and Elizabeth Gurly Flynn rail against capitalism, only to have the police break up the assembly by beating up participants, including Granich.  “I have always been grateful to that cop and his club,” said Granich later, claiming that “he introduced me to literature and revolution”; as he “grew so bitter because of that cop,” he “went around to the anarchist Ferrer School and discovered books.”  In his new state of consciousness, while working as a night porter for the Adams Express Company, Granich “sweated, but in my mind I lived in the idealistic world of Shelley, Blake, Walt Whitman, Kropotikin . . .”(1)  Filled with new ideas of anarchist politics and seeking his place and a sense of mission, he soon left for Boston, studied for a short time at Harvard, and joined the strike activities of the I.W.W.  After a year, Granich returned to New York City, moved to the Village, and became an editorial assistant to Max Eastman and Floyd Dell on The Masses, contributing articles and learning from those on the staff.  Granish (Gold) wrote a poem titled MacDougal Street in 1916 and published in The Masses that expressed his experience in the Village during this time:
Bill, pipe all these cute little red doll’s houses

They are jammed full of people with cold noses

And bad livers

Who look out of their windows as we go roaring by

Under the stars

Disgustingly drunk with the wine of life

And write us up for the magazines—(2)

Early in the 1920s, Granich changed his name to the protective pseudonym Mike Gold because of the Palmer Raids and is more commonly known today by that name.(3)  His long journalistic career would eventually earn him being called the most known American Communist Writer and leading Proletariat writer.  Gold friend and scholar Michael Folsom writes that The Masses and the Provincetown Players became his “schoolhouse,” with Eastman, Dell and Cook becoming his “great teachers.”(4)

Gold was working on an autobiography at the time of his death in 1967 and, though it is clearly was left in a very early and unedited form, certain portions of it portray elements in the life at the Provincetown Playhouse in a very vivid way.  While I believe that Gold has confused some of his facts between plays and when incidents took place, his descriptions nonetheless provide great insight.  He tells that he knew of the Players early on because he had some of his free verse poems printed in The Masses, and that he “made it my business to see their first bill in New York.  It contained among other short plays Bound East for Cardiff by Eugene O’Neill and Freedom by the legendary John Reed.”  To Gold, Reed was the “legendary writer-hero I worshipped, as did most of my generation in the radical movement.”  Sometime after attending their first bill, “for several nights, I found myself moping on the stoop of a house across the street from the Provincetown Theatre.  I watched the young actors and writers of Bohemian abandon passing in and out of the little house of magic.”(5)  He remembered seeing Reed and Bryant coming out, “kissing gaily,” Gold recognizing him from his picture in Metropolitan magazine.  At some point Gold, still known as Irwin Granich, approached Cook with his play.  The meeting Gold describes here is definitely a discussion of his play Down the Airshaft, but that was not produced by the Players until their second season, so the question arises: is Gold confusing the plays or did he not meet Cook and have the encounter about to be described until much after the presentation of Ivan’s Homecoming.  The specificity of detail about the conversation makes one believe that Down the Airshaft was the play that Granich first gave to the Players and had his initial contact with Cook about, but, as we see with other playwrights’ works, his Ivan’s Homecoming was presented first to the membership and it was clearly chosen for its war theme.  If this is true, then Down the Airshaft was saved for the next appropriate bill.

Gold gives a detailed account of what ended up being a long but awe-inspiring evening for him.  He met Cook at what he called “a little ‘art’ restaurant” near the theatre, “brooding by a lighted candle in the ‘artistic gloom.’”  In their early conversation, Cook asked him a number of questions: “What work do you do? Have you read the Brothers Karamazov? Are you a socialist?”  Cook took him back to the playhouse because “it is easier to talk about a play before an empty stage. One can imagine it coming to life there. The mind has room to create.”

He led me into the dark little theatre, and lit a solitary bulb on the stage.  The stage was littered with the chaos of a romantic junkyard, carpenter’s tools, a step ladder, a wobbly hat-rack, a green paper tree, and a table on which stood a whisky bottle and a glass.  “To the right is the door leading to your bedroom.  Your airshaft window is at the left and the boy, when he calls to the flute-playing neighbor on the top floor, saying ‘Don’t call me
flute. . . She stands at center and pleased with him.  In a production we must plan tightly, as in building a house.  Every word, every movement, must fit into a spiritual pattern.  It has grown in the author’s mind, that the director has perceived.  Your boy is a prisoner in the dungeon of poverty, and beats his wings against the bars.  He dreams of an escape to freedom.  Prison—the capitalist prison of our time—is the key symbol of your play?”  “Yes, I think so,” I said timidly.(6)

Cook continued analyzing the play, how he thought it should be produced, even suggesting actors.  He also made their policy clear that the playwright had the final word on all aspects of production.  When Granich explained that he sometimes worked twelve-to-fifteen hour days and had no way to control his schedule—he was working for the Adams Express freight company at the time—Cook responded, “The rehearsals will wait for you every night, whatever time you get through working.  Do you want to direct the play yourself?  You are free to do so.  If not, maybe Jimmy Light or I can direct it.  I want you to understand that this theatre exists only for you, the young playwright.”(7)

Granich writes that they talked until almost midnight, and then Cook led him out of “dark and frozen temple” and to the Golden Swan, better known as the “Hell Hole,” and there he was introduced to whiskey and to O’Neill, Hapgood, Light, Edith Unger, Hippolyte Havel, Christine Ell, and Kemp.  He said their discussion of books and plays was “like a magical classroom to me.”  He declares that he can’t begin to describe the “overwhelming effect of the interview with that slow massive Indian prophet George Cram Cook”:

Nobody of his intellectual stature had ever spoken to me in such terms.  He made me feel important, made my thinking seem necessary to him and to the world.  He respected me, that is the way to teach youth—respect it first, give your confidence and respect.  He talked to me of things in his deepest heart, of Dreiser, Yeats, Dostoevsky, and Blake and at length about the Greek theatre, that had been the temple of the national spirit, and of the American national soul that is not yet born, and that all of us have the task of creating.  His talk was thrilling as a voyage to the moon, as profoundly moving as love. (8) 

            Unfortunately, no extant copy exists of Ivan’s Homecoming, Gold calling it a “very naïve one-act.”(9)  He described the play to Sarlos in a 1964 interview, remembering only that,

The action centered around the visit of a Russian soldier’s ghost to his wife and child, Elena and Marya.  They are surprised by his sudden return from the front-line and welcome him with great joy, not realizing that he is dead, until his unawareness of the war’s recent events betrays him.  The theatrical effect of the playlet lay in the audience’s knowledge and Elena’s ignorance of the fact that Ivan is a ghost.(10)

Sarlos notes the irony that the Kerensky Revolution was in progress while the play was being performed and would in just a few weeks overthrow the Tzar of Russia and create a new government in which the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet shared administrative authority over the country.  The role of Ivan was played by Lew Kirby Parrish, an illustrator and artist in the Village who was known for decorating the Native American-themed Village tea room Wigman in Sheridan Square.(11)  Ivan’s wife Elena was played by Mary Pyne and their daughter, Marya, by Magda Boris.  Nina Moise is not listed as the director of this play, but Kenton says that “she had full charge of this bill.”(12) 

© Jeff Kennedy 2007

(1) Michael Folsom, ed. Mike Gold: A Literary Anthology (New York: International Publishers, 1972)209-210.

(2) Folsom 23.

(3) Named for , Attorney General under Woodrow Wilson, Palmer and his 24-year-old assistant, J. Edgar Hoover, orchestrated a series of well publicized raids against apparent radicals and leftists, using the Epionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1916. Victor L. Berger was sentenced to 20 years in prison on a charge of sedition. (The Supreme Court of the United States later threw out that conviction)

(4)Folsom 12.

(5) Gold Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan.

(6) Gold Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan.

(7) One must remember that James Light did not join the company until the second season, so this statement confuses, again, whether this is Gold remembering with a memory that is compressing events or the timing of this meeting was not until sometime in the second season. 

(8) Gold Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan.

(9) Deutsch 41.

(10) Sarlos, Provincetown 125-126.

(11) Anna Alice Chapin, Greenwich Village(New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1917)138-139.

(12) Kenton 52.