Staging America: The Artistic Legacy of the Provincetown Players (University of Alabama Press, 2022)

Jeffery Kennedy began his career as a protégé of the great O’Neill biographers, Arthur and Barbara Gelb. Over the years he has collected the most comprehensive personal archive of Provincetown Players documents and photographs, as well traveling around the country and becoming deeply familiar with every academic and public archive. He is also the greatest raconteur of the Provincetown legends and stories, known and unknown, as well as an accomplished academic and theatre professional in his own right. Therefore his book, the first contemporary and comprehensive history of the Provincetown Players since Robert Sarlos 1982 Jig Cook and the Provincetown Players, has been long and eagerly awaited.

In Staging America: The Artistic Legacy of the Provincetown Players, Jeffery Kennedy tells the unabridged story of the innovative theatre group, from their roots in colonial American traditions to the tragic division of the O’Neill and Cook factions in 1924. In a meticulously researched and comprehensive narrative drawing on many new sources that have only become available in the last three decades, Kennedy modifies, refutes, and enhances previous studies, while shining new light at every turn on the history of the Provincetown Players.

Kennedy has placed a re-evaluation of George Cram Cook at the center of his study, tracing Cook’s mission of “cultural patriotism,” which drove him toward creating a uniquely American identity in theatre. Kennedy also provides many detailed narratives of the originating Provincetowners, adding significantly to the biographical record of the Players’ forty-seven playwrights, including Susan Glaspell, Neith Boyce, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Floyd Dell, Rita Wellman, Mike Gold, Djuna Barnes, and John Reed. Kennedy also examines other important artistic, literary, and political figures who influenced the Players, including Emma Goldman, Charles Demuth, Berenice Abbott, Sophie Treadwell, Theodore Dreiser, Claudette Colbert, and Charlie Chaplin. Finally, Kennedy re-evaluates the contribution of Eugene O’Neill to the Provincetown Players, and the company’s contribution to his development.

In the words of O’Neill’s most recent biographer, Rob Dowling: “Jeffery Kennedy’s Staging America, a major event for theatre studies worldwide, is a magisterial chronical of George Cram Cook’s leadership of the Provincetown Players—‘a little theater group’ orchestrated by the uniquely inspiring Cook, a Midwestern dreamer who was, without question, directly responsible for the birth of modern American drama.”

Jeff at the Provincetown Players Wharf site leading a tour during the 2015 centennial celebration.

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