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"The Destroyer"

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Behrman, S. N. (aka Samuel Nathaniel Behrman, American playwright, biographer, memoirist, and screen writer, birth date arbitrarily set as June 9, 1893-death date authentically set as September 9, 1973), “The Destroyer,”

a comedy of ideas in English, developed from an idea from Ibsen after the manner of Bernard Shaw, set in a composite-smoker-study-den, a lounging-room, in an upper-class home, April, 1914,


; • © 1914 by S. N. Behrman; • in The Clark College Monthly, no. 7 (April 1914), pp. 256-68 [CCM evolved in 1986 into CM, ISSN 1055-0151, published by Lapierre and Associates, 332 Main Street, Suite 805, Worcester, Massachusetts 01608, U.S.A.]; • script available from Clark University Library, 950 Main Street, Worcester, Massachusetts 01610, U.S.A., or from Lewis W. Heniford, P. O. Box 299, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, U.S.A., heniford@ix.netcom.com; • rights available from estate of S. N. Behrman.

§ Dramatis Personae Herbert Darling (m), host; Ellen (f), his wife; Grilling (m), a family friend; Dana (m), another family friend.

§ Synopsis Grilling and Dana argue about the practicality of being totally truthful. Dana insists that truth is an imperative, an absolute, always necessary. Grilling holds that exposure of truth is a relative value, sometimes overwhelming, and certainly not always necessary. Dana has insistently debunked their host’s comfortable religious views. Herbert Darling, according to Grilling, now has “no more peaceful, somnolent Saturday a.m.’s in church, no more ditto over Sunday P.M. Bible, no more restful little dreams involving Herbey, beatitude, and liberally strewn angels” and will be the worse for it. Grilling holds truth sometimes is “a load the weak cannot carry” and sees their host as weak. Their host and hostess, Herbert and Ellen Darling, join them. As Ellen sits unobtrusively in the background, Herbert profusely thanks Dana for bringing him to Nietzsche’s exhortations for the strong of soul. As Grilling ironically congratulates Herbert’s strength, the host admits that some might not be able to handle Nietzsche the way he himself can. Dana, uncomfortable with the heavy irony of the conversation, retreats to the library. Once Dana has gone, Herbert reveals to Grilling that he is less than comfortable with Dana’s notions about abandoning religion. Grilling advises him to drop his three-week abandonment of religious observations, to resume his old ways, to don next Sunday morning “frock coat and silk hat and, with Ellen on your arm, sally forth to church as always.” Ellen stirs slightly at this. Herbert immediately and enthusiastically resumes his former views but exacts a promise from Grilling not to embarrass Dana over the matter and goes out. Ellen coldly chides Grilling about the “Ellen on your arm” advice. Grilling evades Ellen’s hints of a relationship with him, so she challenges him that she deserves more than a flirtation. He admits to having a wife. He suggests that neither of their spouses need know of this liaison. Sinking into a chair sobbing, Ellen confesses loving him. Grilling reasons that she and he must not let others know, that they two could withstand the scorn of society, but their spouses would “pay for our happiness.” She goes to his arms for reassurance. Dana discovers their embrace. Dana insists this situation must be revealed to her husband. Ellen and Grilling try to reason with Dana without success, and the truth-holder rushes out to tell Herbert. Grilling says, “Come, Ellen-he has left us no other way.” Taking his hand, with the half-timidity she feels the situation calls for, Ellen asks, “Where are you taking me, dear?” He smiles at her. “Anywhere—everywhere-together.” They leave before Herbert, mumbling hoarsely, comes in, trailed by Dana, who exults over the couple’s apparent flight. Dana says, “You’re well rid of them.” Herbert reacts, “Well rid of her? Damn you!” Herbert’s vehemence stuns and frightens Dana. Herbert, catching at his throat, utters, “I shall go mad. You have destroyed my happiness.”

§ Comment Written in 1914 when S[amuel] N[athaniel] Behrman was twenty-one, in his second year at Clark College (now Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.A.), this play offers the first clear evidence of Behrman’s famous dramatic skill that distinguished two dozen Broadway plays and numerous major Hollywood films. Lost in Clark College archives until 1961, “The Destroyer” subsequently first received public reference in a doctoral dissertation in 1964, but thirty-three years later no evidence of its ever having been staged is available. Very much a period piece with uncomplicated characterizations, the play has tight structure and clever presentation of its dialectal, that is, its conversational search for truth via logic. A double twist at the end presents delicious irony. This script merits a stage premiere by a sophisticated company for a sophisticated audience. • Friedrich Nietzsche held that “Progress beyond the stultifying influence of philosophy, then, requires a thorough "revaluation of values." In Zur Geneologie der Moral (On the Genealogy of Morals) (1887) Nietzsche bitterly decried the slave morality enforced by social sanctions and religious guilt. Only rare, superior individuals—the noble ones, or Übermenschen—can rise above all moral distinctions to achieve a heroic life of truly human worth.”—Nietzsche, http://www.philosophypages.com/ph/niet.htm, accessed June 15, 2004. • Research could include Lewis W. Heniford’s “S. N. Behrman As a Social Dramatist,” a dissertation, Stanford University, 1964, available through UMI’s Dissertation Abstracts International (formerly Dissertation Abstracts), a monthly compilation of abstracts of doctoral dissertations submitted to University Microfilms International by more than 550 cooperating institutions in North America and throughout the world. Section A covers the humanities and social sciences. First, check Cumulative Dissertation Index, an annual publication. UMI’s archives offer more than one and a half million doctoral dissertations and masters theses in full text, UMI has two online dissertation services for quick and easy research. Dissertation Express offers online ordering, and ProQuest Digital Dissertations offers search capabilities to locate citations and abstracts on nearly any topic. • Also, research could include Robert F. Gross’ S. N. Behrman: A Research and Production Sourcebook, Modern Dramatists Research and Production Sourcebooks (Westport, Connecticut, U.S.A.: Greenwood Press, 1992), ISBN 0313278520n, 224 pp.

§ Themes abandonment, infidelity, marriage, Nietzsche (Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher, born in Saxony 1844-1900), relativity, religion, truth.

This Website continues under construction and welcomes new citations and comments.

Page mounted March 17, 1997, and updated February 15, 2003, June 15, 2004, by the Webmaster.

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