Barrie Stavis's Themes
and Some Reviews
as shown on the book
Book jacket of
|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
"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."
|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,
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
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
|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
|"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,
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
--John F. Mathews
|"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
"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.
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