blackbird spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


WILLIAM JAY SMITH  |  The Straw Market: A Comedy


William Jay Smith and Harold Stone, Hollins College, 1966

The second of our presentations of Ford Foundation-commissioned works for the American stage that were a part of a 1960’s effort to attract writers of poetry and fiction to the world of the theatre is William Jay Smith’s The Straw Market, written as a part of a residency at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage. George Garrett’s Garden Spot U.S.A. appeared last fall.

The Straw Market holds particular memories for me, as I was a freshman at Hollins College (now University) in 1965-66 and was a member of the lowly prop crew for the actual production. I am indelibly imprinted with the intensity of the yellow ocher in the sets representing the walls of Florence and with the tippiness of the café tables we constructed (a slight impediment when you were trying to make a quiet and quick scene change). Therefore, I am deeply grateful to William Jay Smith for letting us give The Straw Market a new moment in Blackbird and to Henry Taylor, a ’65-66 student in the MA Creative Writing program, for providing a memory and a mise en scene based on his status as a member of the original cast. The following excerpt from the 1966 Hollins Alumnae Bulletin gives the outline of the event.

—Mary Flinn

The Straw Market Premier Held
Hollins College Bulletin, Volume 16, Number 3, March, 1966

The world premier performances of The Straw Market, a comedy by the noted poet William Jay Smith, Hollins writer-in-residence, drew such distinguished guests as Katherine Anne Porter and Stephen Spender to Hollins in early March.

The premier coincided with the release by Delacorte Press of Smith’s fourth book of poetry, The Tin Can and Other Poems.

New York director Harold Stone, known particularly for his 1963 off-Broadway production of In White America, Broadway and TV actress Eleanor Wilson (Hollins ’30), and Tom Lignon, who has played leading roles with such companies as the Arena Stage in Washington DC, came to work with student actresses on the production.

Of his play, Smith said, “Its treatment of the theme of Innocents Abroad owes something perhaps to Henry James as well as to Ionesco, but I like to think that I have written a play totally unlike any other.”

His fresh dramatic approach was confirmed by Edwin Sherin, associate producing director of Arena Stage, who said “The Straw Market . . . with its free-flowing structure opens up a new area of form in the theatre. I found it not only highly literate and amusing, but very exciting.”

Smith wrote The Straw Market last year while he was at the Arena Stage on a Ford Foundation grant. The play tells of the comic vicissitudes of a Fulbright art scholar in post-war Florence.  

Taylor Introduction  |  Synopsis and Production Notes  |  Act I  |  Act II

   Contributor’s notes