Plays of the Month

Special Features   Plays of the Month Recently, I found myself wondering if I could recall plays that contained in their titles the name of one of the 12 months of the year.
Mary Carver and Christopher Reeve in Fifth of July
Mary Carver and Christopher Reeve in Fifth of July Photo by Martha Swope

January was easy. In 1935, Ayn Rand wrote the hit courtroom drama The Night of January 16. It concerned the trial of a woman accused of killing her sugar daddy. The novelty of the play was that the jury was selected from the audience each evening. Jury members paid $3 each to sit onstage and render their judgment. Two different endings were written, depending on the jury's decision of "guilty" or "not guilty." On opening night, boxing champion Jack Dempsey was one of the jurors. Audiences loved the originality of the plot and the play ran for 235 performances. The cast included two future movie stars: Walter Pidgeon and Doris Nolan.

February presents a problem. I could find no play with that month in the title. However, a 1939 play called The Primrose Path was based on February Hill, a salacious novel by Victoria Lincoln. Critics dubbed it a dirty show. Naturally, it ran for a healthy 166 performances.

The only play I could find with the month of March in the title was a 1921 comedy by Harry Wagstaff Gribble called March Hares. Although some critics liked it, it ran for only 60 performances. When it proved to be a hit in London, it was revived on Broadway in 1928 with the brilliant Josephine Hull. It fared even worse than the original production and lasted only 19 performances.

The Enchanted April, a romantic 1925 play by Kane Campbell, based on the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, was about four British women who rent a villa in Italy for the summer to get away from their husbands. Despite its charm, it ran for only 32 performances. A 2003 version by Matthew Barber, also based on the novel, was more successful. It ran for 143 performances. There were also two film versions — one in 1935 and one in 1992.

Very Warm for May, a 1939 musical by no less than Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, ran for only 59 performances. It was directed by Vincente Minnelli and had a brilliant cast — Eve Arden, Vera Ellen, June Allyson, Jack Whiting, Avon Long, Grace McDonald, Hiram Sherman and Max Showalter — but the book was found to be dull and uncomical. However, the show did produce one lasting gem: Kern's song "All the Things You Are." It was on the "Hit Parade" for 11 weeks, twice in the #1 position. Many musicians consider it the finest show tune ever written. June Moon, a 1929 play by Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman, was a hit comedy that spoofed Tin Pan Alley's music industry. It starred Norman Foster and Jean Dixon, ran for 273 performances and was made into two films and a TV play that featured composer Stephen Sondheim in an acting part.

Fifth of July, a hit play by Lanford Wilson, starred Christopher Reeve and Swoosie Kurtz in its Broadway run in 1980. Kurtz won a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress. The play ran for 511 performances.

Of all the plays with a month in their title, the most successful was the 1953 comedy The Teahouse of the August Moon by John Patrick. A shrewd comedy about the American occupation of Okinawa, the play won the Pulitzer Prize, the Tony and the Drama Critics Circle Award as the best play of the season. David Wayne, who starred as the wily Sakini, won a Tony Award for his brilliant performance. This phenomenon ran for 1,027 performances.

A 1938 play called Thirty Days Hath September, starring the magnificent Alison Skipworth, only lasted 16 performances, but the 1978 play First Monday in October, starring Henry Fonda and Jane Alexander, lasted for a limited engagement of 79 performances. A 1978 play called The November People closed on its opening night.

I could not find any play with December in its title, but the many productions of A Christmas Carol should do. And season's greetings to all of you!

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