Lillian Hellman’s second play, Days to Come, is a family drama set against the backdrop of labor strife in a small Ohio town which threatens to tear apart both town and family. “It’s the story of innocent people on both sides who are drawn into conflict and events far beyond their comprehension,” Hellman said in an interview before Days to Come opened in 1936. “It’s the saga of a man who started something he cannot stop…”

“It’s a gripping, lucid examination of the dangerous intersection of economic, social, and personal forces.” The New Yorker

Andrew Rodman is running the family business and failing at it. The workers are out on strike and things are getting desperate. “Papa would have known what to do,” his sister Cora nags, “and without wasting time and money.” But it’s too late, Rodman is bringing in strikebreakers, naively failing to anticipate the disastrous impact that this will have on his family and their place in the community where they have lived for generations.

Audiences had no chance to appreciate Days to Come when it premiered on Broadway in 1936; it closed after a week. Hellman blamed herself for the play’s failure. “I wanted to say too much,” she wrote in a preface to the published play in 1942—while admitting that her director was confused and her cast inadequate. “On the opening night the actors moved as figures in the dream of a frightened child. It was my fault, I suppose, that it happened.” Nevertheless, “I stand firmly on the side of Days to Come.” In 1942, Hellman could afford to take responsibility for the play’s failure; she had enjoyed much success in the days after Days to Come (with both The Little Foxes and Watch on the Rhine.) But Hellman’s play is better than she would admit.

Days to Come … turns out to be a gripping piece of storytelling, one whose failure and subsequent obscurity make no sense at all.”  The Wall Street Journal

Days to Come was revived only once in New York, in 1978, by the WPA Theatre. In reviewing that production for The Nation, Harold Clurman wrote that “our knowledge of what Hellman would subsequently write reveals that Days to Come is not mainly concerned with the industrial warfare which is the ‘stuff’ of her story for the first two acts.” Hellman’s real preoccupation is “the lack of genuine values of mind or spirit” of her principle characters, the factory-owning Rodmans.

She was “very full of the most miraculous kind of contradictions,” observed Jane Fonda on playing Lillian Hellman (1905-1984). Hellman persistently spoke her mind as one of America’s most celebrated playwrights and controversial icons. Hailed as a “dramatist of extraordinary strength and skill” (John Chapman, The New York Daily News), Hellman pursued questions of truth and deception, integrity and complicity throughout her life and plays. Drawing from melodrama’s conflicts between good and evil, Hellman created characters of textured moral ambiguity, including the indelible Regina Giddens of The Little Foxes.

Raised in a Southern Jewish family, Hellman was born in New Orleans on June 20, 1905, the daughter of banking heiress Julia Newhouse and Max Hellman. Due to her father’s work as a traveling shoe salesman, the family split households between New Orleans and New York City. Following three years at NYU, Hellman acquired a series of literary jobs. She served as a manuscript reader at Boni and Liveright, and—following first husband Arthur Kober to the West Coast—read screenplays for MGM. In Hollywood, she embarked on a 30-year-long romance with The Thin Man writer Dashiell Hammett. After divorcing Kober, Hellman returned with Hammett to New York. Here, she found work as a script reader for Broadway producer-director Herman Shumlin, with whom she shared a draft of her own play, The Children’s Hour.

The sensational 1934 premiere of The Children’s Hour catapulted the 29-year-old Hellman to the ranks of Broadway’s most successful dramatists. Praised for its dexterous craftsmanship, the tragedy controversially portrayed rumors of lesbianism between two teachers at an all-girls’ boarding school. Hellman re-teamed with Shumlin on her ambitious strike drama Days to Come (1936), which, confounding expectations, closed after a “staccato run of seven performances” (The New York Times). Hellman rebounded with The Little Foxes (1939), followed by Watch on the Rhine (1941), The Autumn Garden (1951), Toys in the Attic (1960), and the book of the succès d’estime 1956 musical Candide. Political battles accompanied her theatrical fame. Committed to Popular Front radicalism since the 1930s, Hellman famously defended her principles in 1952 before the House Un-American Activities Committee: “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”

In the 1960s and ‘70s, Hellman’s firebrand legend continued to grow, along with her profile as a cultural lightning rod. She published a bestselling series of truth-seeking, but fact-blurring, memoirs, including An Unfinished Woman (1969) and Pentimento (1973). These books inspired the 1977 film Julia, starring Fonda as Hellmanand fueled accusations of being a “dishonest writer” from Mary McCarthy, who Hellman sued in 1980 in a much-publicized defamation lawsuit. She died in Martha’s Vineyard on June 30, 1984, memorialized for her unsentimental moral vision and incisive characterizations, often centered around “difficult women.” In the twenty-first century, Hellman’s plays have inspired many revivals and celebrations, highlighting the playwright’s complexities and “miraculous contradictions.” She is also the namesake of the Lilly Awards, honoring women in theatre.

By Maya Cantu

Videos

Photos

More photos »

Cast

Mary Bacon
Janie Brookshire
Larry Bull
Chris Henry Coffey
Dan Daily
Ted Deasy
Roderick Hill
Betsy Hogg
Geoffrey Allen
Wendy Rich Stetson
Evan Zes

Creatives

Sets: Harry Feiner
Costumes: Andrea Varga
Lights: Christian DeAngelis
Sound: Jane Shaw
Props: Joshua Yocom
Fight Director: Rod Kinter
Dialects & Dramaturgy: Amy Stoller
Casting: Stephanie Klapper, CSA
Production Stage Manager: Jeff Meyers
Stage Manager: Kristi Hess
Illustration: Stefano Imbert
Graphics: Hey Jude Design, Inc.
Press: David Gersten & Associates

“I Wanted to Say Too Much:”
Lillian Hellman and the Creation of Days to Come
Maya Cantu, Bennington College

Maya Cantu is on the Drama Faculty at Bennington and Dramaturgical Advisor to the Mint. She received a D.F.A. in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at Yale School of Drama. Her book American Cinderellas on the Broadway Stage: Imagining the Working Girl from “Irene” to “Gypsy” is now available through Palgrave Macmillan.

Daniel Walkowitz, New York University (Emeritus)

Professor Walkowitz is an historian who specializes in labor history, eminently qualified to discuss the labor issues, which dominate the plot of Days to Come. His publications include Working-Class America: Essays on Labor, Community and American Society and Rethinking U.S. Labor History: Essays on the Working-Class Experience.

Sharon Friedman, New York University

Sharon Friedman is the author of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism entry on Lillian Hellman, as well as numerous essays on other important American women playwrights, such as Susan Glaspell, Rachel Crothers and Lorraine Hansberry.

Alice Kessler-Harris, Columbia University

Kessler-Harris is the R. Gordon Hoxie Professor Emerita of American History. She is the author of is A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman (2012). Kessler-Harris specializes in the history of American labor and the comparative and interdisciplinary exploration of women and gender.

Program

Flyer