Monday, September 05, 2016

Horse Eats Hat

I recently stumbled on this striking if literal poster for a WPA Federal Theatre project written by Orson Wells and Edwin Denby, called HORSE EATS HAT. It was produced in 1936, and never again since then, going by the Playbill Vault.

I've never heard of this play before and so far have been unable to track down the script online.

Other than the fact that it has a huge cast, the play sounds like something Mac Wellman would write, based on the description in the NYTimes review, but in 1936 this approach to playwriting did not automatically merit the designation "genius."

The review, signed by "L.N." says:

…It was as though Gertrude Stein had dreamed a dream after a late supper of pickles and ice cream… As to what they were getting at, this corner wouldn’t know, but there has been nothing quite like it since Miss Stein’s trophy, “Four Saints in Three Acts,” a few artistic seasons ago... Probably it is bad, certainly it is not good in the usually accepted sense of the theatre... It has no beginning or end, and lacks rhyme and reason. It tells of a horse that eats a hat, and the owner of the horse must get the owner of the hat another hat because she can’t go home to her husband without it. Because - well, Edwin Denby and Orson Wells have adapted the play from a French farce, and French farces are what they are. They are so much so, in fact, that the WPA, in a throwaway leaflet, issues a sort of quit claim, pointing out that the original “has been studied in school.” It is, in other words, sturdy. On top of this framework, the authors have added various private flights of fancy: actors make speeches to the audience, actors falling over chairs, a fountain which sprays the cast, schemes that are early Joe Cook or late Rube Goldberg.

This one production had a cast of 22, including Mrs. Wells, Joseph Cotten, and Arlene Francis, whom I will always know as that lady on What's My Line.

They never mentioned this play in Tim Robbin's movie "Cradle Will Rock" which you can still watch for free - thank you socialism! - on Youtube.