Philip Goes Forth–The Damned Foolery Of Playwriting

While researching the Philadelphia theater community I came across the forgotten playwright, George Kelly, who wrote a play entitled The Torch Bearers to satirize the Little Theatre Movement. The Plays and Players Theater in Philadelphia is supposedly the community theater that play satirizes. But I was more interested in his play about a playwright with no talent, Philip Goes Forth. I managed to find a copy of this play published in 1931 by Samuel French.

Philip Goes Forth is a curious play. It moralizes against dilettantism in the theater and basically argues against pursuing a dream of becoming a playwright, this by a writer who was fairly successful as a playwright. It seems very arrogant for a playwright to lecture dilettantes in this fashion. But this is an old play which reflects an old fashioned view on things. For example, Philip’s father dismisses his son’s ambitions with the line “It’s a lot of damned foolery.” which sounds like something your grandfather would say.

Playwriting is a hobby, not a profession, because you cannot make a living at it. This has been true for decades as this old play illustrates. George Kelly seems determined not to permit you to have any illusions about that. His main character, Philip, has a head for business and a dream of writing plays but George Kelly makes it clear that Philip should stick to business. “You’re a business man, Philip, – gone wrong.” Philip is shown the error of his ways by the example of a discouraged musician who shoots himself at their boarding house. George Kelly does provide an example of the true artist in the figure of Miss Krail, an eccentric poet, who is too mad to care about her future. “Nobody has to worry about her future; it’ll be all the same to La Krail, whether it’s a palace or a park bench. She’s got something to save her against it.”

Every character in this play reveals a secret dream to write plays, a dream they have been wise enough to ignore. I suppose you could account for George Kelly’s peculiar perspective by remembering that the Great Depression forced people to become more hard headed and practical. Nowadays you would not encourage a young person to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree because it would leave him heavily in debt with no job prospects. But George Kelly seems incredibly harsh and unsympathetic to the dying of a dream.

Personally, I do not question my vision although I may doubt my talent. In other words, my imagination is quite impressive if I do say so myself, and I am only willing to entertain doubts about my mastery of a particular craft. I am easily inspired and my inspiration shows me some incredible things which could only exist if I were to create them. George Kelly was one of those artists who did not understand vision. He strikes me as someone hopelessly fixated on the mastery of the craft. He was the sort of artist for whom genius lies in the brushstrokes and not in the dream of the painting. Philip Goes Forth is a well written play but George Kelly is a forgotten playwright because he was out of sympathy with theater folk.

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