Category Archives: 2022 Publications

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.

The Plea: The True Story of Young Wesley Elkins and His Struggle for Redemption (University of Iowa Press, 2022)

With this new book in the Iowa and the Midwest Experience series, Patricia L. Bryan and Thomas Wolf add to their already indispensable legal/historical work relevant to Glaspell’s oeuvre, which began with Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland (Chapel Hill, 2005), their exhaustive study of the Margaret Hossack case upon which Glaspell based Trifles /  “A Jury of Her Peers”. The Plea: The True Story of Young Wesley Elkins and His Struggle for Redemption tells the story of 11-year-old Wesley’s crime in Iowa in 1889—the murder of his abusive father and stepmother—and his incarceration as a child in an adult prison.  During the next twelve years, he educated himself, argued eloquently for his release, and won the support of prison wardens, educators, newspaper editors, and politicians.  For Bryan and Wolf, it is a story of heroic perseverance and an exploration of the social, political, and legal systems of the era.

Bryan and Wolf’s research continues to be an invaluable resource for Glaspell scholars. As a young reporter, Glaspell took an interest in youthful offenders, covering the Mitchellville Girls School riot of 1899 and, four years later, she wrote “In the Face of His Constituents,” based on the case of Wesley Elkins.  When Glaspell included the story in her 1912 collection, Lifted Masks, she retitled it “The Plea.” In this book, Bryan and Wolf devote part of a chapter to Glaspell’s reporting on the Mitchellville riot, and a full chapter to her fictional portrayal of the legislative debate over Wesley’s release from prison.

The Plea is not just an impeccable piece of historical scholarship, but a gripping work of narrative nonfiction. Devoid of any taint of sensationalism, the book vividly reconstructs the fascinating, long-forgotten case of an eleven-year-old committing parricide, the boy’s long struggle to rehabilitate himself, and his ultimate redemption. An immensely readable and thought-provoking book—one with particular relevance in our own age of increasing juvenile homicides—it will captivate both American history buffs and fans of true crime.”—Harold Schechter, author

The Plea: The True Story of Young Wesley Elkins and His Struggle for Redemption (Iowa and the Midwest Experience): Bryan, Patricia L., Wolf, Thomas: 9781609388393: Amazon.com: Books