The two-year-old Keen Company will present a rarely seen 70-year-old comedy, Three-Cornered Moon as its fifth production, opening Sept. 8 and running through Sept. 28 at the Blue Heron Arts Center in the Flatiron district of Manhattan.
Even the most astute amateur scholar of American theatre will probably draw a blank at the name of Gertrude Tonkonogy, the author of 1933's Three-Cornered Moon. Just months before earning brief fame as a playwright, Tonkonogy was an unknown 24-year-old Brooklyn secretary working in a Broadway producer's office. Part of her job was to read four to five plays a day. After reading a few hundred bad scripts, Tonkonogy got to thinking that she could do better.
One night, after dipping into a bathtub, she found her idea. She finished the play (first called Butter No Turnips) in two and a half weeks, and found a Broadway producer in two weeks. Ruth Gordon was snagged to play the lead, Elizabeth, the sanest member of a dreamy, snobbish Brooklyn family which begins the play eccentric and rich and ends the play poor and desperate, but no less eccentric. Some have pointed to the comedy as a predecessor to Your Can't Take It With You.
Tonkonogy vowed that if the play was a hit, she would marry her doctor fiancé. Both had been too poor to embark upon a life together and the engagement was almost called off. Thankfully, the reviews were good and the two were wed at City Hall by Mayor John O'Brien.
Tonkonogy disappeared from sight nearly as quickly as she had emerged. She had one more Broadway play, 1948's Townhouse, which had a brief life and was not published. She also wrote some short stories and science fiction, but if she is remembered today, it is for the film of Three-Cornered Moon, which starred Claudette Colbert and is regarded as the first of Hollywood's screwball comedies. Keen's production, directed by Carl Forsman, will star Dennis Butkus, Christopher Duva (An Experiment with an Air Pump), Yvette Gottesman (Where's My Money?), Kathleen Kaefer, Maggie Lacey (Our Town at Westport Country Playhouse), Mikel Sarah Lambert, Greg McFadden, Andrew McGinn and Nick Toren (Keen's Voice of the Turtle).
For information, call (212) 560-7284.
—By Robert Simonson