In spring 2004 poets Peter Gizzi, Kevin Killian and Aaron Kunin uncovered Jack Spicer’s dramatic version of the Nathaniel Hawthorne story, “Young Goodman Brown” (1835), amid the Spicer papers donated to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, by the poet’s brother, Holt Spicer, and his executor, the late Robin Blaser. Its appearance in The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater: 1945-1985 [pre-orders by subscription only: using a credit card, or via direct mailorder] marks its first publication.
Spicer submitted Young Goodman Brown (1946) for a grade, receiving an A- and these anonymous comments (published here exclusively) from his professor:
This seems to me about the most successful dramatization of the story that could be achieved. I have a few questions to ask; and as you will note, they imply certain criticisms, but none organic. The plan of the play is not, I think, much improvable. After all, how can you beat Hawthorne, Eliot and Sophocles, not to mention Spicer. The form in general, then, we pass over. I think allegorical morality plays must be given the highly stylized presentation you manage here, in the Greek mode. As far as I can see, the form is almost exactly that of the formal stasimon-episode alternation, and I think I detect the pathos scene, the catastrophe and the lamentation.
1. Why do you allow YGB to be saved? So that you can blind him in good Sophoclean style, or as a commentary on the rest? (Or is he the symbolic figure of Milton) . . .
2. Why a Chorus of corpses? (A) to add macabre note; (B) to indicate the dead are no worse off than the living; or what? Why wouldn’t it be more effective if the chorus turns out to be made up of YGB’s townsfolk themselves?
3. Your irrepressible sarcastic note, the Spicer trade mark perhaps, sticks out in this, in a passage of somewhat plethoric ghoulishness, which promotes a laugh just at the wrong place; to wit, the broomstick-riding of Goody Whatsis. Maybe I am especially sensitive to this sort of thing, but whereas I can take the Devil seriously enough (unlike most Californians), I can’t withhold a grin at the broomstick routine.
4. Don’t you think the dialogue is colloquial to a degree that mars the effect of the play? I think you are trying to write a morality play which, like the plays of Chekhov, can be taken as a joke, and can also be taken quite seriously. (If, indeed, you weren’t writing satire.)
5. What’s the advantage of employing 4 actors (or 2 ea. actors & actresses) to squat on stage & say nary a word. If you are only using 1 voice for the choruses, I think you might do better to put them in another shape (as suggested above), or integrate ’em into the story line, or leave them as the merest outsiders . . . picnic-ers, leaning against the proscenium, or whatever your inventive imagination can contrive.
Comparing this to the script, one can see where Spicer flouted each of the professor’s recommendations.
Killian’s Halloween, 2005 production of the play at the San Francisco Poetry Center featured Brandon Brown in the lead role, Dodie Bellamy as his wife, Faith; Spicer’s friends Lewis Ellingham and Landis Everson played the Deacon and the Minister respectively; Killian played the tempter. Here is Killian’s photographic record:
Ben Mazer, who with Jason Morris, Rodney Koeneke and Taylor Brady, played the First Chorus
Part of our fantastic stage set which really did look spooky from the audience. This is the famous Halloween Spooky Tree available at Spirit stores everywhere (advantage to staging the play on Halloween, the spirit stores are open)
Kelly Holt played Goody Cloyse
Dodie Bellamy played the doomed Faith in a “Corpse Bride” outfit from the Spirit Store. She made her entrance to the music of Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen,” the most Godforsaken song we could think of.
* * * * *
When will it start?
He’ll be here soon. The Black Man is waiting for him. It’s one of their nights tonight.
Yes, but no one has come yet.
Except us. [Both look slowly around the full circle of the audience including them.] There are too many of us here. Can there be enough blood [to] feed us all?
There always is. It’s surprising how much blood the heart holds. I remember –Do you hear someone coming?
Just the wind in the trees. Hear the wind rattle the trees. Just a quiet forest full of corpses.
It must be his wife that’s keeping him. Maybe she kept him a longer time tonight over dinner. Maybe he had to fix the broken stair-step before he left. Maybe she’s standing on the stair step now, sobbing and looking toward the woods. The pink ribbons in her hair are bobbing as her face cries.
Does she think he’s being unfaithful?
They’ve only been married three months.
[Laughter, then silence.]
I hear him coming.
Someone ought to pray for him.