George Lillo's ballad follows the adventures of George Barnwell (Sterlin Swarm), who engages in an affair with the
prostitute Sarah Millwood (Meryl Streep). After stealing money from his employer to fund his relationship, Barnwell robs
and murders his uncle. Both Barnwell and Millwood are arrested and executed for their crimes. According to Lillo's preface
to the play, he was drawn to the subject matter for its moral instruction. Lillo states, "If tragic poetry be... the most
excellent and most useful kind of writing, the more excellent that piece must be of its kind." He validates his use of
middle class characters in "that tragedy is so far from losing its dignity by being accommodated to the circumstances of
the generality of mankind that it is more truly august in proportion to the extent of its influence and the numbers that
are properly affected by it, as it is more truly great to be the instrument of good to many who stand in need of our
assistance than to a very small part of that number."
The Experimental Theatre of Vassar College
Clinton J. Atkinson
March 05, 1971 (premiere)
Cast & Characters
Sterling Swarm (George Barnwell), Meryl Streep (Sarah Millwood), Judy Metskas, Jane Burley, Richard Rothschild, Fred Kaplan,
Andrew Cohn, Stephen Ommerle, Julie Clarke, Ruth Freeman, Tim Packard, George Saunders, Dave Gladstone, Evert Sprinchorn.
The Experimental Theater of Vassar College presented George Lillo's "The London Merchant" in 1971 at Avery Hall. The play
opened at Drury Lane in 1731 and replaced Shakespeare on the English stage with a tragedy of the common man. With such
forms of tragedy fully realized only in the 20th Century, the production explores the original success of the play
through a modern audience perspective. The play is directed by Clinton J. Atkinson, lecturer in drama. Professor Evert
Sprinchorn, chairman of The Drama Department, as Throwgood, the London Merchant, and Richard Rothschild as Trueman, his
apprentice in the Experimental Theatre's production of the London Merchant.
Vassar's Miscellany News wrote about the play and Streep's performance in particular. "Meryl Streep coos, connives, weeps
and screams her character alive. It is a roll with which Ms. Streep is familiar Through her performances as "Miss Julie."
Moliere's Frosineof "The Miser" and now as Millwood, Ms. Streep is acquiring an image. Throughout the play the character
builds into a despicable figure, a woman who exploits men without limit. Then in a powerfully dramatic moment she reveals
her own tragic character and personal bitterness. "I curse your barbarous sex who robbed me of (uncommon perfections ol
mind and body) e'er I knew their worth, then left men, too late, to count their value by their loss. Another and another
spoiler came; and all my gain was poverty and reproach...women are your universal prey."