Hello, dear readers. So, we’ve talked about Georgia during the Great Depression, but there’s a whole world out there that we haven’t discussed. Now, this is an isolated town and a great many of the residents probably don’t even know there is a world around them (I’m looking at you, Merlie Ryan). However, when you see our show and if you listen real closely to the cafe chatter, you might hear tell of the current events of the day. I’m not naming any names, but that particular character who enjoys reading the local paper is the impetus of this blog. In addition to giving an actor some fodder to play with, this informal timeline will hopefully give you a more specific idea and context of the time of our “Ballad.”
We begin with the beginning. We’ve placed this in the year 1930 because that was the year of the great Georgian drought. As Rainey 1 says in the first scene, “We all be thirsty from the lack of rain.” We know from a previous post that Georgia was hurting in a big way, but so was the rest of the country. With the market crashing the previous October, President Hoover had to appoint the Commission for Unemployment Relief. To compound the problems, the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act is passed by Congress, which causes foreign trade to decrease sharply and the depression to worsen. In other news, astronomers discover Pluto, which recently didn’t work out too well for Pluto; and in weird news, N.Y. Supreme Court Judge Joseph Crater liquidates all of his assets and disappears, never to be heard from again. I can only imagine what our twenty-four hour news networks would do with that.
Now, as the narrator says, four years go by--like that. This brings us to 1934 and the country is still deep in the Depression. The New Deal, which was implemented by Roosevelt the previous year, is beginning to help the country’s economy. On a global level, Adolf Hitler becomes the Fuhrer and the USSR is welcomed into the United Nations. Also in the headlines, Bonnie and Clyde are shot and killed by the law and the cheeseburger is officially invented, though not in the same place.
We return to our “Ballad” and find Cousin Lymon asking the all important question, “Who is Marvin Macy?” (pick up your buttons at the show). To answer this question our narrator takes us back about sixteen years to the Macy brothers and a young Miss Amelia. It’s 1918 and the world is at war with the United States entering the battlefield the previous year. The Allied troops are making their presence known in the Russian Civil War and the Spanish influenza epidemic spreads throughout the world. In lighter news, Daylight Savings Time is established and the Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series (surprise, surprise).
Over the next two years, while Marvin Macy is cleaning himself up to court and finally marry Miss Amelia, the world is changing. The Treaty of Versailles is signed to end World War I, though the results are mixed. On the homefront, the 18th Amendment is adopted, which begins Prohibition and drastically affects towns like our “Ballad” (see previous blogs). In theatre news, Eugene O'Neill's first full-length play, “Beyond the Horizon,” is produced on Broadway; it wins the Pulitzer and is deemed the first American drama.
With Lymon’s question answered, we return to 1934 and move right along to the climatic fight around a year later. As Amelia and Marvin are greasin’ up, President Roosevelt is instituting the second phase of the New Deal, which includes programs like social security and farm assistance. In theatre news, George Gershwin premieres “Porgy and Bess” on Broadway and the Detroit Tigers beat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series (the latter being the Theatre of Cruelty).
For three years Miss Amelia waits on her stoop for Cousin Lymon to return, which brings us to 1938. Our town is quiet now, but the world keeps spinning around it. Hitler marches into Austria as the Nazis are sending tens of thousands to concentration camps. Orson Welles sends a panic across the nation that aliens are attacking with his broadcast of “War of the Worlds.” In sports news? Don’t ask. Alright, fine: the New York Yankees beat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.
Some things never change.
Your humble dramaturg,