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Career > > 1975 > Isadora Duncan Sleeps with the Russian Navy

Isadora Duncan Sleeps with the Russian Navy

August 08, 1975 | Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
Directed by: James Hammerstein | Written by: Arthur Ballet, Marlies Thiersch (dramaturgs) | Literature: Jeff Wanshel
As the play begins we are in Hollywood, where a failed author has been offered a contract to write a film on the life and loves of Isadora Duncan. Reluctant at first, he decides to go ahead with the project, and as he creates the various scenes which will in time become the movie, these are acted out by the real-life participants-including Stanislavsky, Walt Whitman, Rodin, Gordon Craig and, of course, Isadora herself...
Cast: Robert Christian (Author), Ed Zang (Producer), Meryl Streep (Isadora Duncan), Andy Backer (Lenin), Chorus (representing about 100 characters): Joel Brooks, Jean Campbell, Bryan Clark, Jill Eikenberry, Ben Masters, Peggy Pope

Playwright Jeff Wanshel remembers Meryl Streep’s Isadora in the book “The O’Neill: The Transformation of Modern American Theater”. “She was sensational in it. She was cast to do the full production at the American Place Theatre for Wynn Handman. But just before rehearsals started, she got her first movie: four lines in “Julia” in a black wig. And they had the right to keep her until they scheduled her scene. So Wynn, who was extraordinary flexible, postponed for two weeks. But finally he said to me, “We can’t wait.” So we cast Marian Seldes, who won an Obie in the role. She was a good sport, but she was aware that she was a last-minute replacement. If we ever disagreed she’d say, “I’ll try to do it as Meryl Streep would have.”

Streep revealed in the same book that “Isadora Duncan” is the only play she remembers from her time at the O’Neill – for a few reasons. “First, obviously, it had the best title at the Conference, and second (naturally), because I was Isadora. I do recall having as my only prop a twelve foot (twenty foot?) length of scarf that I employed in all manner of ways – for sheets in which to ensnare lovers, tie them up, and then embalm them, whipping them, cradling them, and ultimately, of course, strangling on it as I rode in a motorcar… Since we mounted the plays in less than five days and the script was huge, I realized I couldn’t manipulate the scarf and read from the script, so I lost the script; that is, I memorized it, which Joel Brooks thought was amazing, and I thought: anybody can memorize, what a dull achievement! (This was something I was able to do in those days fairly quickly, because I was young. Those days are gone.)

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