250 YEARS AGO (1765)
According to an article this month in the South Carolina Gazette, one Mr. Douglass, manager of the American Company of Comedians, is expected to bring to Charleston “the English Comic Opera, a species of entertainment that has never yet appeared properly on this side of the water.” Such a production, the paper writes, “is likely to be performed here this winter to great advantage.”
190 YEARS AGO (1825)
The Stage Yankee stock character (also featured in Our American Cousin, during a performance of which Abraham Lincoln will be assassinated) makes one of its first appearances when Samuel Woodworth’s The Forest Rose; or American Farmers opens at the Chatham Theatre in NYC. In portraying Jonathan Ploughboy—the archetype will come to be known alternately as a “Jonathan” character—Alexander Simpson becomes the first native-born American performer to take on the Stage Yankee role in a full-length play.
130 YEARS AGO (1885)
Actor, director, producer, and dramatist Sophie Treadwell is born in Stockton, Calif. Though she will write 40 plays, she will become best known for Machinal (1928), which depicts the 1927 murder trial of Ruth Snyder, a work considered a milestone in feminist literature and in U.S. expressionist theatre.
90 YEARS AGO (1925)
Stanley McCandless, a faculty member in the brand-new Yale School of Drama, begins teaching the university’s first stage lighting course. A prolific designer, McCandless will influence stagecraft not only in the classroom but also through his books, which he will publish during nearly four decades in the post.
75 YEARS AGO (1940)
José Ferrer plays his first of many leading roles on Broadway, Lord Fancourt Babberley in Charley’s Aunt. Born in Puerto Rico, Ferrer will go on to be the first artist of Latin American heritage to win a Tony (in 1947, the awards’ inaugural year) and the first Latina/o actor to receive an Oscar (in 1950), in both cases for playing the lead in Cyrano de Bergerac.
55 YEARS AGO (1960)
Claudia McNeil, who earlier in the year became the first black performer nominated for a best actress in a play Tony for A Raisin in the Sun, brings her lauded portrayal of Lena “Mama” Younger to Ford’s Theatre in her native Baltimore (not to be confused with the theatre in D.C.). She tells the Afro American, “As far as the future of the colored actor or actress in the theatre is concerned, I think the public is demanding that there be far greater integration in what they see and what they accept.”
55 YEARS AGO (1960)
Judy Holliday, a skilled comedienne who won an Oscar for Born Yesterday (recreating the part she’d played on Broadway), tries her hand at drama, but health issues get in the way. The pre–New York Philadelphia tryout of Laurette, a play about legendary performer Laurette Taylor (who originated the role of Amanda in The Glass Menagerie), shuts down when Holliday can’t complete the run. During surgery to remove a throat tumor, doctors discover that she has breast cancer. Though she will appear on Broadway in Hot Spot three years later, the illness will lead to her death in 1965.
50 YEARS AGO (1965)
Mary Martin stars in Hello, Dolly! in a hangar at Bien Hoa air base in Vietnam, part of the production’s 10-day tour at military posts in that country. Later in the month, the engagement will be the cover story in Life magazine.
20 YEARS AGO (1995)
When Tommy Tune breaks his left foot while appearing in the new musical Busker Alley at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (later renamed the Straz Center for the Performing Arts) in Florida, he continues the run on crutches, singing and speaking his role while the show’s choreographer and a member of the ensemble pick up his dancing part. Though the Big Guava stint marks the final stop in an 11-city pre-Broadway tour, the piece never makes it to the Great White Way.
15 YEARS AGO (2000)
Teatro Luna, the Windy City’s first and only all-Latina theatre troupe, mounts a little taste, or “probadita,” of what will become its first production, Generic Latina. The show, which will be revisited and revisted regularly over the years, is initially developed by the company and directed by Aarati Kasturirangan. The group was established in June by Coya Paz and Tanya Saracho because, in the troupe’s words, “The stories and experiences of Latina/Hispana women were undervalued and underrepresented not only on the Chicago stage, but beyond.”