By Robert Simonson
08 Jan 2013
Ask Playbill.com answers your (and sometimes our own) theatre-related questions. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.
Question: I recently watched "Citizen Kane" and was surprised to see its credits include an introduction to players of the Mercury Theatre, saying that many of the actors — like Agnes Moorehead and Joseph Cotten — were making their movie debuts after working at the Mercury in New York. Can you tell me more about the Mercury? Was there an actual Broadway theatre called the Mercury? — W.E.P., Tarrytown, NY
Orson Welles and John Houseman — Welles then in his early 20s and Houseman in his 30s — were first teamed by the Federal Theatre Project, which was run by Hallie Flanagan and employed thousands of theatre professionals during the Great Depression. They achieved a significant success with Welles' so-called "Voo-doo Macbeth," which was staged at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. At Maxine Elliott's Theatre on West 39th Street, the two men staged productions of Horse Eats Hat in 1936 and a 1937 Dr. Faustus, which was famous for its performance by Welles in the title role, its judicious cutting, and its inventive use of lighting. (The Elliott Theatre was demolished in 1960.)
In 1937, Welles and Houseman — having broken with the FTP over the Project's controversial canceling of Marc Blitzstein's musical The Cradle Will Rock — moved to a house that had been erected at 110 W. 41st Street as the Comedy Theatre. The men had little money, and Houseman chose the theatre because it was cheap, according to Simon Callow's "Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu." The Comedy had been used only infrequently since censors closed down a play called Maya for immorality.Continued...