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The Slave With Two Faces
by Mary Carolyn Davies


The fourth bill, which opened on January 25, 1918, and ran for seven nights, began with The Slave with Two Faces by Mary Carolyn Davies.  Davies was a member of the Others group, having had her poem “Songs of a Girl,” which invites readers into the private space of young woman's bedroom, published in their first issue of the magazine.  Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, she attended the University of California and won prizes for poetry, including the Bohemian Club prize, the winnings from which she used to come to New York City.  Like so many writers in the Village, she was making her living selling stories, poems, or whatever she could to make ends meet.  A Slave with Two Faces appears to be Davies’ first play and it is subtitled in its published form “an Allegory.”  This is also her first known involvement with the Players, and one assumes that Kreymborg, editor of Others, introduced her play to the group.  On its surface, Slave with Two Faces, with a lead character named Life, appears similar to Bryant’s The Game.  In 1923, Percival Wilde referred to Davies’s play as following the form of an ancient morality play, writing that it “becomes unconcealed allegory; the theme, powerful, effective in its simplest statement, is announced as a text at the beginning of the action. What follows is its elaboration in terms of fancy sufficiently near actuality to be impressive.”(1)  

The story opens on two girls, the First wearing a crown and the Second carrying one.  Once they find they’ve both come to meet Life, the First instructs the Second that the trick to not allowing Life to hurt and torture them is to know the secret: he is a slave.  So the First tells the Second she must never let Life see her without her crown and that she is only safe “as long as you remain his master. Never forget that he is a slave, and that you are a queen.”  Life enters walking “like a conqueror” but with “something ugly in his appearance.”  However, when he sees the girls in their crowns, “he cringes and walks like a hunchback slave. He is beautiful now.”(2)  They prove what the First Girl has spoken by ordering Life to do and get many things for them.  When he leaves to accomplish the tasks, they continue talking about Life, but when they hear “sounds of moaning and cries and a harsh voice menacing some unseen crowd,” they hide behind a bush.  First tells Second that Life is “watching for the first sign of fear,” which can begin with a thought, and Life can see one’s thoughts of fear.  “If we say we’re afraid we will be more afraid, because whatever we make into words makes itself into our bodies.”(3)

We then see Life commandeering those who have empowered him with their fear: a Woman, a Workman, and a Young Man; Life uses his whip, dancing with fury, laughing at them, choking a cripple with his hands, and some even fall dead.  Life drives them off the stage and goes off himself.  The First girl leaves the Second by reminding her, “never kneel, little queen.”  When Life returns, the Second girl, now by herself, begins strongly, commanding and winning Life’s submission.  However, he begins to seduce her by saying that she is beautiful, getting her to remove her crown and then give it to him, and then he asks her to dance for him.  By the time the dance is finished, they have reversed roles: Life is now the Second Girl’s master and threatens her when she shows any resistance to his demands.  He kicks and beats her, eventually choking her to death, laughing as he leaves her body and goes offstage.  The First Girl returns, singing, but when she sees the body, she whispers “But he was too strong…too strong… (She stands, trembles, cowering in terror.) Life has broken her…Like has broken them all…Some day…I am afraid.”  But when Life re-enters, she sees him first and “straightens up just in time to be her scornful self before his eyes light upon her.  As she speaks Life becomes a slave again.”  The play ends with First Girl flinging a rose that falls onto the Second Girl’s body as she commands “Life! Bring me a fresh rose!” and Life, now her slave, “goes to do her bidding.”(4)

One of the things difficult to recreate is how the play looked and sounded with the musical score written and played by Kreymborg.  Kenton recalls that the play was “done to song and incidental music.”(5)  Though the script never indicates where music begins or ends, one must assume that one place for accompaniment is Life’s dance, described in the script as “a mocking dance, dancing himself into greater fury”;(6) another likely place would be the dance the Second Girl performs on his command.  The First Girl’s entrance at the end of the play, just prior to her finding her dead friend, has her “skipping merrily, singing:”

Heighho, In April, Heighho, heighho,
All the town in April, Is gay, is gay!
(She plucks a rose from bush)
Heighho, In April, In merry, merry April
Love came a-riding, And of a sunny day
I met him on the way! Heighho, In April,
Heighho, heigho—

When she sees the body, she stops her song, “and stares without moving.”(7)  There is no other description of the music or where it occurred; perhaps two musical themes were created to help the audience distinguish the two personalities of Life, as slave or master.  The First Queen was played by Blanche Hays, her first play with the Players; The Second Queen by Dorothy Upjohn; A Woman by Alice MacDougal; A Workman by O. K. Liveright; and A Young Man by Hutchinson Collins.  An interesting casting decision was made by having Ida Rauh in the role of Life.  The play was directed by Nina Moise and the set designed by Norman Jacobsen, who was new to the Players as a designer but had drawn cartoons for the Masses.  There is one available photograph of the set, showing the actors in the scene where the two Girls are standing to the stage right side watching (not behind a bush as the script asks) and Life, with whip in hand, is in control of the cowering Woman, Workman and Young Man.  The set has layers of trees on each side of the stage, with birch trees the most forward downstage, the leaves and branches enveloping the stage by connecting overhead in the center, similar to earlier sets by Nordfeldt and the Zorachs.  Rauh appears to stand on a ramp of some sort, elevated and giving the illusion of being a mound that continues off to stage left.  The costumes are flowing and gown-like, taking on a medieval tone; no costume designer is listed in the program. 

While the play’s straight-forward allegory of life is somewhat obvious, Judith Barlow sees an “allegory about gender relations” as “far more powerful.”  She offers that the play “can be seen as a parable about the dangers of a woman being seduced into playing the traditional subservient role: once she feigns weakness and gives a man the title of master, he takes advantage of his position and destroys her.” The Second Girl’s fate is contrasted with the First’s, who “survives precisely because she retains her power (symbolized by her crown) and her autonomy.”(8)  This would certainly coincide with the content of much of Davies’ poetry and life; Harriet Monroe wrote in A Poet’s Life that Davies “was another wild and willful girl poet. Her flame burned fitfully with little flashes, her mood and muse were as changeable as the wind.  One day she would be penniless in her native Oregon, and the next—so it seemed—starving in New York. . .”(9)  Barlow then raises interesting questions that follow when one considers the casting of Rauh as Life: “Was the casting of Rauh as Life an attempt to mute the gender implications of this bitter allegory about relations between the sexes?  Or did Rauh, a committed feminist, relish playing the male role and slyly revealing the gender dimension?(10)  The part did not call for any particularly difficult acting skill, which makes one believe that one of the two possibilities Barlow presents above are most likely the reason.

© Jeff Kennedy, 2007.

(1) Percival Wilde, The Craftsmanship of the One Act Play (New York: Little, Brown and Co. 1923) 66.

(2) Mary Carolyn Davies, “The Slave With Two Faces” The Provincetown Players, ed. Barbara Ozielbo (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994)185.

(3) Davies, Slave 187.

(4) Davies, Slave 194.

(5) Kenton 74.

(6) Davies, Slave 189.

(7) Davies, Slave 193.

(8) Judith Barlow, “Susan’s Sisters,” Susan Glaspell, Essays on Her Theatre and Fiction, ed. Linda Ben-Zvi (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press, 1995) 268-269.

(9) Harriet Monroe, A Poet's Life: Seventy Years in a Changing World (New York: Macmillian and Co, 1938) 426.

(10) Barlow 269.