The Spelling Bee

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Release date: July 17, 1975
Venue: Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
Directed by: Harold Scott
Literature: Marsha Sheiness
Written by: Martin Ensslin, Edith Oliver (Dramaturgs)

A taut, suspenseful comedy that builds to a shocking climax as four children (written to be played by adults) compete in the televised National Championship runoffs for the best speller in the country. Each mother is determined that her child will win, while the Quizzer intends the show to be a springboard into the "big time."

Ed Zang (Freddie Stans), Joel Brooks (Steven Roberts), Peggy Pope (Maggie Roberts), Meryl Streep (Nina Gold), Ben Masters (Bart Powell), Jill André (Thelma Powell), Robert Christian (Ralph Pikes), Veronica Redd (Arlene Pikes, Ralph’s Mother)

“It was sort of summer camp,” Meryl Streep remembered in an article with the Connecticut Theater Review in 2014. “We had been working so intently at Yale that the O’Neill was like being let out for recess. Theater people are like little moles working in small dark spaces and the O’Neill was, well, outdoors. I got a tan for the first time of my life — and last time, too, probably.” Streep says working that summer was not a detour in her budding career because in 1975 as many as 16 Broadway theaters were closed. “It was really lean pickings,” she says, though off-Broadway and places like the O’Neill — like La Mama and The Public and the Wooster Group — there was a lot of things happening.