Both Your Houses
by Maxwell Anderson
Directed by Michael Pressman
Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th Street, NYC
November 11, 12 & 13, 2005
Both Your Houses is a political satire that is as relevant today as it was when it was first performed in 1933. An idealistic young congressman, Alan McClean, takes the surprising position of opposing a bill that provides money for a huge construction project in his own district. Though his fight will probably cost him future support from his peers, from his constituents, and from the woman in whom he is interested (the daughter of the Appropriations Committee chairman), McClean struggles to gather opposition to a bill he knows is wrong. Is a young man’s idealism any match for the accepted way of doing business? Winner of the Pulizter Prize in drama, 1933
Curzon Dobell*Eddie Wister
James Murtaugh*Solomon Fitzmaurice
Terry Layman*Simeon Gray
Darrie Lawrence*Miss McMurtry
Anthony Crane*Alan McClean
Stacey BoggsLighting Designer
Dawn DunlopProduction Stage Manager
Shelly TsengAssistant Director
David PetrickAssistant Stage Manager/TACT intern
Music Composed by Marcus Paus
*member Actors’ Equity Association
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New York Calling/ Wolf Entertainment
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“The chief business of the American people is business.”
“The sole business of Congress is graft, special privilege, and corruption.”
Solomon Fitzmaurice, Both Your Houses
James Maxwell Anderson was born on December 15, 1888, in the small town of Atlantic, Pennsylvania, to William and Charlotte Anderson. William, a Baptist minister, was a strict, conservative man, who greatly influenced his son, although perhaps not in the way he had intended. William often found young Maxwell taking an opposing, more liberal stance in arguments, a stance that later found its way into a great number of his journalistic and dramatic writings. Anderson’s early life was a transient one, seeing him attend school in at least five different states before graduating high school.
After living in Andover, Ohio, for several years while William worked as the local pastor, the Andersons moved to Jamestown, North Dakota where Maxwell graduated high school in 1908. Three years later, he received a B.A. in English literature from the University of North Dakota and married Margaret Haskett.
His first job was as principal of Minnewauken High School. However, here his politics got him into trouble; he was fired by the school board after making pacifist comments to his students. Anderson didn’t exactly fit in - as a promoter of culture and the arts, his provincial neighbors found him immoral; as an ardent socialist, they thought him radical. At a time when America was on the brink of entering World War I, Anderson took a public anti-war stance. From Minnewauken, Anderson went to Stanford University in California to get his Master’s, and then to Whittier College where he was quickly appointed chair of the English department. Though, here again, his political leanings worked against him. After writing a letter to the school paper in support of a student applying for conscientious objector status, the ensuing uproar caused Anderson to be dismissed from the faculty. It was then that he began to write.
For a few years after leaving Whittier, Anderson wrote for a variety of newspapers and magazines, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Globe, and The New Republic. In 1921, Anderson founded Measure, a magazine dedicated to verse writing. However, journalism for Anderson was never more than a source of income: he had always wanted to be a poet. Then, in 1921, a neighbor of Anderson’s received a substantial advance for writing a (rather mediocre) play, and Anderson, having read it, told himself, “If that’s a play, I can write one.” And so he did. White Desert, a tragedy in blank verse, opened at the Princess Theater in 1923. The play, about a young pioneer couple on the Plains, focuses on the issues of marital jealousy and isolation. Isolation played a major role offstage as well, as the production found itself isolated from audiences; it ran for only twelve performances and was seen by a grand total of 328 people. Despite this failure, the play did receive favorable attention from the New York World’s drama critic, Laurence Stallings, and he and Anderson collaborated on his next play, the WWI drama What Price Glory? This time, both audiences and critics responded favorably, and Glory ran for 433 performances.
Furthermore, it allowed Anderson to finally quit journalism and devote all his time to poetry and playwriting.
With the success of What Price Glory? behind him, Anderson began a long and extremely successful playwriting career. From 1924 until 1958, the year before his death, there was always a Maxwell Anderson play in production on Broadway; the 1936-37 season even saw three shows running simultaneously - The Wingless Victory, High Tor, and The Masque of Kings. In addition to popular success, Anderson enjoyed critical praise as well. In 1935, his blank verse tragedy Winterset won the first New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play, followed by High Tor winning the Best Play Award the next year.
Although Anderson had begun to garner praise and awards from both critics and public, his first love, poetic tragedy, remained unrequited. All of his attempts at tragic verse had failed miserably - why? Then he had a sudden realization: all successful tragic verse plays dealt with history - every single tragedy by Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Shakespeare had the advantage of dealing with a time and place long ago and far away. Anderson wrote two very successful tragic dramas, Elizabeth the Queen (1930) and Mary of Scotland (1933). Then, in 1935, Anderson broke his newly-discovered rule and wrote Winterset. Loosely based on the Sacco and Vanzetti case, this verse tragedy was Anderson’s greatest poetic success, winning him both the Critics’ Circle Award and huge audiences.
Soon, Anderson’s popularity extended into movies and musicals. He co-wrote the screenplay for the war drama All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), for which he shared the Oscar for Best Achievement in Writing, and adapted several of his plays, including Winterset and Key Largo (1939) for the screen. Anderson worked closely with composer Kurt Weill, writing the librettos for two of his musicals, Knickerbocker Holiday (1938) and Lost in the Stars (1940).
Anderson also collaborated with a number of other prominent playwrights and dramatists in the Playwrights Company, which he co-founded in 1938. Among the members of the company were Robert Sherwood, S.N. Behrman, and Elmer Rice. The company produced many of Anderson’s plays, including Truckline Cafe (1946), Lost in the Stars (1949), and The Bad Seed (1954).
Towards the end of his life, Anderson continued going strong, writing and producing plays until his death. In addition to the many published works, Anderson left behind a large volume of unfinished plays. After a series of increasingly damaging strokes, Maxwell Anderson died on February 28, 1959, in Stamford, Connecticut.
During his lifetime, Maxwell Anderson was regarded as one of the greatest American dramatists, second only to Eugene O’Neill. Although his preferred form was blank verse and not prose, and although he may not be as recognizable today as O’Neill, Maxwell Anderson remains one of the most influential American playwrights.
Both Your Houses opened in 1933 at the Royale Theatre. The luxury and excess of the 1920s, and the ensuing economic catastrophe left many people extremely bitter, including Anderson. Always politically driven, he directed this “propaganda piece” at the Republican Congress and Hoover administration, neither of which seemed to care about the nation’s economic plight. However, audiences weren’t interested in the machinations of the House of Representatives. The play’s attendance, never high, began to sag even more, until in the spring of 1933 the play was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama, and Both Your Houses reopened in numerous regional playhouses around the country, to general overall success. Although the play is not representative of Anderson’s preferred verse, it is a perfect example of his beliefs - Alan McClean, the young Congressman from Nevada, is Anderson, the idealist and reformer, fighting for the beleaguered citizen.
David Petrick for TACT
NYC March 2006
PLAYS AND MUSICALS
* White Desert - 1923
* What Price Glory - 1924 w/L. Stallings
* First Flight - 1925 * The Buccaneer - 1925
* Outside Looking In - 1925
* Saturday's Children - 1927
* Gods of the Lightning - 1929 w/Harold Nickerson
* Gypsy - 1928
* Elizabeth the Queen - 1930
* Night Over Taos - 1932
* Both Your Houses - 1933 Pulitzer Prize
* Mary of Scotland - 1933
* Valley Forge - 1934
* Winterset - 1935 New York Critics Circle Award
* The Masque of Kings - 1936
* The Wingless Victory - 1936
* High Tor - 1936 New York Critics Circle Award
* Star-Wagon - 1937
* The Feast of Ortolans - 1937
* Knickerbocker Holiday - 1938
* Second Overture - 1938
* Key Largo - 1939
* Journey to Jerusalem - 1940
* Candle in the Wind - 1941
* The Miracle of the Danube - 1941
* The Eve of St. Mark - 1942
* Your Navy - 1942
* Storm Operation - 1944
* Letter to Jackie - 1944
* Truckline Café - 1946
* Joan of Lorraine - 1946
* Anne of the Thousand Days - 1947
* Lost in the Stars - 1949
* Barefoot in Athens - 1951
* The Bad Seed - 1954
* High Tor - 1956 (TV score)
* The Day the Money Stopped -1958 - w/Brendan Gill
* The Golden Six - 1958