Women Writers of the Provincetown Players: A Collection of Short Works
For someone whose theater knowledge is limited to a high school rendition of Cheaper by the Dozen, the compilation of plays that comprises Women Writers of the Provincetown Players were both easy and enjoyable to read.
Prefaced with a twenty-three -page introduction outlining the history and significance of the group of women included in Women Writers of the Provincetown Players, the book quickly but adequately fills in the reader. Many of the plays are between ten and twenty pages, and range in subject from feminism to love, or simply intellectual entertainment. The opening line of the introduction prepares the reader for the impact these playwrights had, as “during the opening years of the twentieth century, women’s designated place in the theater was in the audience.”
To counter this irritating—to say the least—situation, a number of women writers joined the Provincetown Players, a group of radical visionaries, but hardly outcasts. These educated middle class citizens summered in Provincetown and joined together to “oppose the status quo of their conservative hometowns and [dedicate] themselves to supporting artistic innovation, questioning the capitalist system, reevaluating relations between women and men, and challenging traditional sexual mores.”
From the first play in the collection these goals are evident, yet apropos to the time. Winter’s Night by Neith Boyce opens the book on a strong feminist note by posing the radical notion that the lead character, Rachel, “is less a victim of the two brothers than of the assumption that marriage is the ideal situation for all women.” While by today’s standards the main plot of the story may appear to be an uncomfortable love triangle between a woman, her recently deceased husband, and his living brother, the real aim of the piece is to broach a touchy idea: that marriage may be more of a trap for women than the assumed salvation.
In addition to the opening chapter informing the reader to the significance of the works in Women Writers of the Provincetown Players, each play is accompanied by a short (roughly three pages) introduction giving background on the author and where the included work fits in the Provincetown Players' repertoire.
Many of the woman who contributed to this book with their theatrical works were better known for other uncommon feats for their time. Susan Glaspell, for example, was publishing long before she began her secondary education at Drake University; others, such as Rita Wellman, had been publishing since childhood. Edna St. Vincent Millay was a known poet before joining the group, and Djuna Barnes is described, impressively, as a “novelist, playwright, journalist, theater reviewer, and poet.” The book is a pleasant read, seeing the progress of women in both art and society.