Through the courtesy of the Play House of Cleveland I was privileged to witness a great play last night. It is a period play, belonging to the devastating war that has just ended. But the beauty and the bestiality it portrays will last as long as plays will last. It is the story of a small segment of the American Army, who established headquarters in the city of Adano, Sicily, just after the bombing and fighting there. It is the story, rather, of one Major Joppolo and what he did to clean up a city and give it a new respectability and a new sense of freedom. It is also a picture of the emotional, frightened, fawning, frustrated people of Sicily, who resorted to obsequiousness and trickery under a Mussolini-ship, to eke out a meager living. The entire action of the play takes place in the former office of the Mayor in the City Hall of Adano. The first scene shows the shattered outer door, the overturned chair, the general evidence of bombing and desolation. It is then that Major Joppolo and his M.P.'s take over. There are many personal problems to be solved and injustices to be made right. But the universal and reiterating cry of the people of Adano is: "Give us a bell! - a bell like the beautiful one that rang up there." (indicating the City Hall tower). It seemed that the greatest tragedy that befell the little city was the bomb that shattered their lovely bell. Its tone - so loud and clear - above all other bells. It was the Voice of Freedom. The major made extensive inquiry in quest of a bell - even considering a replica of our Liberty Bell. But the mayor of Adano didn't think he'd like a bell with a crack in it. The conduct of certain members of the American army was the major's problem - from the general who issued a heartless order to the three privates, who, in a Bacchanalian spree, wrecked the priceless works of art in the home of their gallant host.
General Marvin, of the U.S. Army, in his fine army car, encountered a mule cart on the narrow street of the town. With merciless arrogance he ordered his chauffeur to knock mule and cart out of the way. We could hear the agonized braying of the mule. Major Joppolo looked down in horror from his office balcony, grabbed his pistol, dashed out and ended the poor creature's suffering. The general then had the effrontery to order all mule carts banned from their only approach into town. The citizens depended upon these carts to bring drinking water and necessary food. The order was so unjust and untenable that the major countermanded it at the risk of court-martial. This "angel of Adano" became so beloved for his kindness to their poor, distraught people that they paid him the highest homage in their power to bestow. They had an artist paint a portrait of him. The major and all the high-ranking citizens gathered in his office to present it to him in appropriate ceremony. But a sheet of paper on the major's desk halted - froze - all festivity. It was an order from General Marvin, telling the major he was to be transferred to Africa. The officious Captain Purvis, head of the M.P.'s, had reported the major's daring countermand. It was a tense and heart-breaking moment. Then came - like a clarion call from Heaven - the clear, rich, resounding tones of a new bell in the City hall tower. Nothing else mattered. The citizens of Adano had their BELL.
It is impossible, in one column, to convey the whole story of this play, nor give you a complete picture of the colorful people of Sicily. Nor can I convey to you all the delightful characterizations given by the personnel of our Play House. I am truly proud of their artistry. I do not pretend to be a dramatic critic. But I believe that the sure test of good acting is the ability to carry the illusion of the story from beginning to end. We, the audience, were transported to Adano, and lived and suffered and resented and "glowed" right along with the major and his beneficiaries. It was a beautiful job. You may feel a certain pride in the success of Cleveland's Play House, for both our director, Frederic McConnell, and our assistant director, K. Elmo Lowe, come from Pittsburgh. A goodly number of our best actors and actresses have had their training in Carnegie Tech.
Another time I must tell you about Kirk Willis, the "Major" in this play - and how he has played the counterpart in real life. Now I must ring down the curtain for this week. I'll be seeing you in Saltsburg.
Florence B. Taylor
Next - 3/15/46 - Titian Rose. The Community Center
By Ways Table of Contents