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Sauce for the Emperor

by John Chapin Mosher


Sauce for the Emperor, John Mosher’s play on the fourth bill, which had “nine protagonists,” Kenton reports, “almost finished us.”(1)  Bryant writes Reed on Thanksgiving to say that “Susie T. is producing Sauce for the Emperor but she hates Virginia Tobey and probably will put her out.”  She tells him to not worry about producing his play Silver Spangles “because Rob Parker and Susie Treadwell could.”(2)  One assumes that “Susie” is a nickname that Bryant is using for Sophie Treadwell.  John Chapin Mosher’s play Sauce for the Emperor was placed on the fourth bill for performance and the letter indicates she was producing it, making Treadwell, as Cheryl Black points out, “the first woman to assume individual control of a production.”(3)

The play that Treadwell supervised, Sauce for the Emperor by John Chapin Mosher, is a somewhat satirical comedy set in ancient Rome in which the Emperor Nero has begun a competition among cooks to find the best sauce in his kingdom.  Thinking that he may have overlooked her fiancée’s sauce, a peasant girl named Paula ambitiously serves it to Nero herself, enticing him with her beauty.  Nero declares Donor, her fiancée, the winner, but intends to take Paula as his own, allowing that Donor can be their cook.  Before he follows through, however, Nero discovers that his servants have been sneaking the sauce entries to Lady Aglaia, and when her beauty is described to the Emperor, he forgets Paula and goes to deliver the winning sauce to the woman himself.  While Donor is thrilled to be united with Paula, Paula is miffed at Nero’s rejection and ends the play declaring, “I don’t believe she is a bit more beautiful than I am.  Her nose is curved like a boat-hook.”(4) 

Treadwell must have had her hands full trying to maneuver nine different characters on the small stage at 139 Macdougal, recalling Kenton’s comment quoted earlier that the play “almost finished us.”(5)  The play also calls for a number of period props and costumes.  The cast included Justus Sheffield as Nero, Richard Silvester as Macronius (a courtier of the Emperor), Allen Norton as Donor, Betty Turner as Tritor (another cook in the competition), Elsie Harrison as Octavia (Nero’s wife), Margaret Nordfeldt as Adora (a Vestal Virgin), Pierre Loving and John L. Baker as the two servants, and Virginia Tobey as Paula, who, unlike Bryant suggested in her letter, Treadwell seems to have not “put out” of the show.

© Jeff Kennedy 2007.

(1) Louise Bryant, letter to John Reed, Thanksgiving 1916, Harvard MSS. Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

(2) Cheryl Black, The Women of Provincetown, 1915-1922 (Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama Press, 2002)96.

(3) Kenton 47.

(4) John Chapin Mosher, “Sauce for the Emperor” The Smart Set 51 (1917): 208.

(5) Kenton 47