Barrie Stavis's Themes and Some Reviews
as shown on the book jackets


Barrie Stavis Home page
Harpers Ferry
Man Who Never Died
Coat of Many Colors
Lamp at Midnight

Book jacket of Harpers Ferry (1967)
 
Harpers Ferry is a dramatization of events that took place more than a century ago.   It is the story of John Brown's preparation for the raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia; the raid itself; and the aftermath of the raid.  John Brown and his band of 21 men hide, prepare, and wait for supporting forces that never arrive, and wrestle with their individual reasons for being in this rented farmhouse.  They are unified by John Brown's sense of purpose and his unwavering vision of man's responsibility to his fellow man.  Finally, in the cold night of October 16, 1859, they move on the town.  They capture the Arsenal.  The raid is an astonishing success.  The situation turns.  They are overwhelmed by superior forces.  The raid crumbles.  Most of the men are killed; the others are captured.  John Brown, the wounded leader and the father of two dead sons, is held for trial.



"Barrie Stavis has found a style splendidly suited to a story which, although the events occurred only a century ago, has already assumed legendary proportions.  It is a style which avoids, on the one hand, inflated and self-consciously heroic diction, and, on the other hand, flatness and triviality of realistic conversation .... He has selected and simplified, not with the intention of grinding a moral or political axe, nor to magnify or minimize John Brown's achievement, nor to glorify or denigrate his character; but rather to show that a person of such character cannot, literally cannot, act otherwise than has he believes is right."
   --- Tyrone Guthrie
Barrie Stavis was born in New York City in 1906.  After high school he worked in a textile house and, at night, went to Columbia University.  He wrote his first full-length play at 19; he continued to write plays and in 1931 had his first production of a play.  In 1947 a theatrical group, New Stages, started the revival of the off-Broadway movement with a successful production of his play Lamp at Midnight, which has been produced many times, most recently on Hallmark TV Hall of Fame.  His play The Man Who Never Died, has been translated into eighteen languages; it has been commissioned as an opera, scheduled to open in 1968.  His publications include Lamp at Midnight, The Man Who Never Died, and Home, Sweet Home! (a novel. Stavis lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

It is the essence of of nature and of man to undergo continual change.  New forms evolve from old, mature, and as the inevitable concomitant of their maturation, induce still newer forms which replace them.  This is the historical process.

This process of change is gradual; it is not always perceived nor clearly apparent.  Yet it is constant and inexorable; and at a given moment when historical conditions are ripe, a catalyst enters and fragments the existing culture, setting into motion a new alignment of forces, a new series of relationships, which gradually become stabilized, codified.

It is this process of change that I endeavor to capture in my plays -- the precise moment in history when society, ripe for change, gives birth ot the catalyst who sets the dynamics of change into accelerated motion.  I have been exploring in a tetralogy the problems of men who have ushered in new and frequently drastic changes in the existing social order.

The four plays in their order are: Lamp at Midnight (Galileo Galilei); The Man Who Never Died (Joe Hill); Harpers Ferry (John Brown); Coat of Many Colors (Joseph in Egypt).  In the first of these plays, Lamp at Midnight, I dramatize the story of Galileo Galilei, the first human being to turn his new, powerful telescope to the night skies, there to discover the true motion of our solar system, a discovery unleashing a host of scientific and social consequences which heralded the coming Industrial Age. In The Man Who Never Died, I dramatize the story of Joe Hill, troubador, folk poet and trade union organizer, who was framed on a murder charge and who during the twenty-two months of his prison stay, grew to heroic proportions.  In Harpers Ferry, I dramatize the story of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, a raid which was the precursor to the Civil War.  In Coat of Many Colors, I dramatize the story of Joseph in Egypt, the world's first great agronomist and social planner, and in the play I explore the theme of power and its uses.

Galileo Galilei, Joe Hill, John Brown, Joseph -- these men have certain things in common.  They were put on trial for their thoughts and deeds; found guilty and punished; and their very ideas and acts achieved their vindication by later generations.  Thus does the heresy of one age become the accepted truth of the next.

-- Barrie Stavis



Book Jacket of The Man who Never Died
 
Joe Hill was shot by the State of Utah on November 19, 1915.  He had been found guilty n the charge of murder.  Yet no connection was ever made between Joe Hill and the murder of which he was convicted.

The adherents of Joe hill say that he was framed because he was Je Hill, labor's poet; because he was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, the I.W.W., the "Wobblies," the most militant section of the labor movement at that time. 

At Joe Hill's funeral service some 30,000 peole marched in the procession. One reported wrote, "what kind of man is this whose death is celebrated with songs of revolt and o has at his bier more mourners than any prince or potentate?"

For several years after Joe Hill's death a good deal was written about him, though there was no "hard" biographical information detailing his family origins and background.  Then a curious curtain of silence descended.  Though his songs continued to be sung all over the world, knowledge of the man and his deeds began to fade. 

In 1948, Barrie Stavis received a Fellowship from the National Theatre Conference (renewed in 1949) to work on material about Joe Hill. He soon discovered that the bulk of the records of the trial had disappeared from the District Court of Salt Lake County; that the Federal Government had raided the I.W.W. headquarters and seized many of hits official records; that a fire which gutted the I.W.W. headquarters ahd destroyed other valuable records.

It took five years to uncover the material and to write The Man Who Never Died.  When the play was first introduced to the public, there was an immediate and electric response.  It has since been translated into 18 languages and an opera based on the play opened at the Berlin Staatsoper on September 19, 1970.

Based on the many productions over the years, Barrie Stavis continually made notes for possible changes in The Man Who Never Died.  Gradually, his file begban to assume sizable proportions.  this new edition contains over 200 changes.

 

About the Author

This publication of the Man Who Never Died completes the uniform edition of the four plays of Barrie Stavis's powerful tetralogy.  These four plays are Lamp at Midnight (Galileo Galilei), The Man Who Never Died (Joe Hill), Harpers Ferry (John Brown), and Coat of Many Colors (Joseph in Egypt).  Galileo Galilei, Joe Hill, John Brown, Joseph in Egypt -- these men have certain things in common.  They were put on trial for their thoughts and deeds; found guilty and punished; and their very ideas and acts achieved their vindication by later generations.  Thus does the heresy of one age become the accepted truth of the next.  Through these four men who had an awareness of social and moral responsibility, Barrie Stavis expresses faith in man's capacity to resolve his problems despite the monumental difficulties facing him

The reputation of this series of four plays is world-wide.  They are in constant production, are taught in universities, and no theatre collection is complete without them.


Book Jacket of Coat of Many Colors
 
 
This is the final play of a tetralogy on which Barrie Stavis has been working for many years.  The four plays are separate works, each independent of one another; they have a common theme, but each play is explored from a different axis of observation.  Gallileo Galilei in Lamp at Midnight, Joe Hill in The Man Who Never Died, John Brown in Harpers Ferry, and Joseph in the present Coat of Many Colors were put on trial fro their thoughts and deeds, found guilty and punished, but were vindicated by  later generations.  Thus, the heresy of one age becomes the accepted truth of the next.

Unlike the other three plays which are concerned with history and fact, Coat of Many Colors deals with a legend.  Other writers have been intrigued with this legend of Joseph going down ot Egypt as a slave and rising to the positono f Prime Minister, and there have been widely varying treatments of the story.  But it has required the provocative talent of Barrie stavis to set forth this legend of Joseph as an affirmation of the genius of Man.

In the early days of his existence, Man painstakingly created his own tools and with them altered his environment.  Yet he ascribed the results of this transformation to magic and to supernatural powers; Man denied his own genius.

Coat of Many Colors is the story of Joseph's struggle to affirm that Man's genius emanates from Man himself -- that Man must assume personal and social responsibility for his environment and its transformation.  Joseph becomes a social man; the story of his earning is the story of what it means to become a social man arrayed against those formidable forces whose power and authority are derived from belief in magic and the supernatural.

This universal theme is developed with amiable venom and acerbic wit.  Situations are examined with an inverted logic, severe in their own terms but highly comic to the audience.  the result is a tragicomedy of great irony and scope.

Born in New York City, Barrie Stavis had the usual elementary and secondary public school education.  After high school he worked in a textile house during the day and went to Columbia University at night.   In 1947, a theatrical group, New Stages opened its theatre with the successful production of his Lamp at Midnight.  Historically, this play is credited with starting the revival of the off-Broadway movement.  Lamp at Midnight has since been staged many times, including the recent Hallmark TV Hall of Fame Production (1966).  His play The Man Who Never Died has been translated into eighteen languages; it has been commissioned as an opera and is scheduled to open in 1969.  Harpers Ferry, his play about John Brown, and the honor of being the first new play to be produced in the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis; the production there was directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie.


Book Jacket of Lamp at Midnight
 
"In lamp at Midnight Barrie Stavis has demonstrated that there is no conflict between idea and emotion in the theatre, and that when successfully combined these two can form a work of art in the high classical tradition.

"Morally and intellectually, Lamp at Midnight is the most mature play yet written in America.  I should like to see it performed annually in all our universities, as a regular part of the curriculum.  I cannot imagine a better way to bring home to our students the meaning and dignity of that freedom of mind which is our noblest heritage.

"Lamp at Midnight states, in terms of passion and pity, the major ethical dilemma of our own generation, so that, in the life of a sevententh-century astronomer named Galileo Galilei, we are confronted squarely with the image of our own torment and confusion.

"Today, when Galileo's field of physics has been explored far beyond anything he would have believed possible, the modern counterpart of his tragedy is being played out all over again in the torn and tortured minds of our own contemporary physicists.  For the men who split the atom, and who, by so doing, lent an urgency to the solution of man's ethical problems, what is their sorrow but the same old Galilean agony?  What do they fear but that they, like Galileo, have become men of chaos, men whose work might destroy the world they claim to love?"

--John F. Mathews
Brandeis University
"I believe, with Chekhov, that 'every playwright is responsible not only for what man is, but for what man can be.'  With Aristophanes, I seek to banish the 'little man and woman affair' from the stage and replace it with plays which explore ideas with such force and clarity as to raise them to the level of passion.  Today, especially, it should be the responsibility of the playwright to search out those situations which, by the inherent nature of the material, will capture the motions of the intellect of an audience and focus it on men fighting creatively for a positive goal."
-- Barrie Stavis

What They Say About Lamp at Midnight

"Mr. Stavis has written a serious and engrossing play about the great scientist whose intellectual discoveries lead him into spiritual diaster...deeply moving with a passionate theme and a resolute point of view...  There are scenes of great spiritual agony.  For Mr. Stavis represents Galileo as a progressive scientist who also believes in the spiritual authority of the Church." -- The New York Times

"A play play of surging and inspiring beauty ... Lamp at Midnight has sweep, clarity, concentration and drama.  It has the tense suspense of great conflict, honestly depicted...  The play builds with a sense of heaving excitement.'"  The New York World-Telegram

"It will become a classic...The dramatist probes deeply...Barrie Stavis' Lamp at Midnight is a profound experience through which one may undersigned the tragic problems inherent in the development of the mind." The Protestant

"Absorbing throughout its many scenes, it follows the struggles of a scientist to reconcile his science with his faith..."  The Catholic World

"A beautiful, powerful and impressive play.  Its beauty is due to its intellectual appeal and to Mr. Stavis' art; its power and impressiveness may be attributed, in part, to its pertinence to life today." -- Linus Pauling

"A drama of classic dimensions. Lamp at Midnight reveals with eloquence and depth the ever-present conflict between the spirit of inquiry and traditional dogma.  But more than this, it presents Galileo's personal tragedy, as a man of science and a man of deep religious faith, in human terms. Lamp at Midnight is a work of dignity and power which every student should be required to see."  -- F. Curtis Canfield

"Lamp at Midnight is a mature and eloquent drama.  It should be seen and will be enjoyed by all those concerned with man's continuing endeavors to extend the frontiers of human knowledge." -- Arthur Miller
 

Return to Barrie Stavis home page

Page provided by Ben Stavis, April 17, 2003