The Collected Plays of Theodore Dreiser

Edited by Keith Newlin and Frederic E. Rusch


Like many writers, Theodore Dreiser nourished a long-standing attraction to the stage, beginning in 1893 when he was offered a position as the dramatic critic for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Dreaming of success on the boards, he drafted a comic opera called Jeremiah I, about an Indiana farmer who is magically transported to Aztec Mexico and becomes a despot.1 Although he was a frequent theater-goer, his dramatic ambitions appeared to languish until late December 1912, when he traveled to Chicago to gather material about Charles Yerkes for The Titan. Accompanied by Edgar Lee Masters, Floyd Dell, and William Lengel, he went to Maurice Browne’s Chicago Little Theater in January and saw Euripides’ The Trojan Women, its first production in the United States. Dreiser was immensely attracted to Elaine Hyman (who later took the stage name Kirah Markham), a 21-year-old actress who was playing Andromache. Markham was involved with the 26-year-old Dell, but soon the 41-year-old Dreiser diverted her attentions to him, and in the summer Markham followed Dreiser to New York where she lived with him until 1916.2

Although his infatuation with Markham was perhaps the initial reason for Dreiser’s interest in the Chicago Little Theater, he was impressed enough by its goals and staging methods to become active in promoting it. To Mary Elizabeth Titzel, the Theater’s secretary, he wrote that the Theater and its company "seem to me to be truly leading in dramatic effort in America."3 He acquainted his friend and champion, the critic H. L. Mencken, with his delight in the theater and asked him for help in publicizing the Theater’s activities in Smart Set, of which Mencken was co-editor, and for assistance in arranging playhouses for the Theater’s tour to eastern cities. Dreiser also was on the watch for plays for Browne’s troupe to produce. On 17 February 1913 he wrote to Mencken, enclosed a program from the Little Theater, and asked, "If you have a radical one act play—something remote from the courage of the average stage send it to me & I’ll get Browne to read it. He’s the real thing."4 Mencken declined, explaining that he was too busy, but he did help Dreiser and Browne schedule performances in Baltimore for The Trojan Women when it went on tour.
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back from The Collected Plays of Theodore Dreiser, edited by Keith Newlin and Frederic E. Rusch (Albany: Whitston, 2000)