15 September 2013

"Strange Requests"

by Louis Phillips

[Louis Phillips is a widely published poet, playwright, and short story writer who focuses extensively on works for children. This column was originally published in Playbill: The National Theatre Magazine vol. 93, no. 2 (February 1993).  I thought it was amusing enough to republish and share with ROT readers.  ~Rick]

Not long ago I found myself in the Drama Book Shop (723 Seventh Avenue) and the proprietors—Arthur and Rozanne Seelen—were kind enough to share one of their hobbies with me.  They walked into a back room and pulled out a tattered spiral notebook.  In the notebook were pages and pages of strange titles, all of which had been requested at one time or another by patrons—titles that are somehow not quite right.

Arthur started the list some 15 years ago [i.e., 1978], when a customer phoned to ask if he had in stock a copy of “The Madwoman of Ohio” by Jean Anouilh.  Arthur’s extensive stock did not include that title, but perhaps the caller meant The Madwoman of Chaillot?  After Arthur filled the order, he jotted down the glorious garble—The Madwoman of Ohio, and voila! a new hobby was born.

Below are a few more of the fractured titles or near-misses that prospective customers have requested from the Drama Book Shop.  All of the titles are from actual inquiries; none have been made up.  [I’ve added my guess at the real play title, which Phillips didn’t supply—as close as I can come.  ~Rick]

·   Two Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest  [One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1963)]
·   The Night the Rose Spent in Jail  [The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence (1970)]
·   Moliere’s The Doctor Inside Himself  [The Doctor In Spite of Himself (1666)]
·   Andrew Cleves and the Lion  [Androcles and the Lion by G. B. Shaw (1913)]
·   The Screens by Jean Nate  [The Screens by Jean Genet (1961)]
·   Miss Alliance  [Misalliance by G. B. Shaw (1910)]
·   She Stops the Concorde  [She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith (1773)]
·   Bucket by Anouilh  [Becket by Jean Anouilh (1960)]
·   Such a Perversity in Chicago  [Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet (1972)]
·   A Phoenix That’s All Too Frequent  [A Phoenix Too Frequent by Christopher Fry (1947)]
·   If the Morning Comes for Electra  [Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O’Neill (1931)]
·   Lou Gerrick Did Not Die of Cancer  [Lou Gehrig Did Not Die of Cancer by Jason Miller (1971)]
·   Once Upon a Catholic  [Once Upon a Mattress with music by Mary Rodgers and lyrics by Marshall Barer (1959) + Once a Catholic by Mary O'Malley (1977)]
·   The Aspirin Papers  [The Aspern Papers by Michael Redgrave (1962); also an opera by Dominick Argento (1988); both adapted from an 1888 Henry James novel]
·   Lou Grant Didn’t Die of Cancer [Lou Gehrig Did Not Die of Cancer, above]
·   The Crystal Zoo (for The Glass Menagerie?)  [I’ll go with The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams (1944)]
·   The Road Runner Stumbles  [The Runner Stumbles by Milan Stitt (1976)]
·   The Hound of Baskerball  [The Hound of the Baskervilles adapted from the Arthur Conan Doyle story (1901-02) for many scripts, including radio plays; among them is one by Christopher Martin produced Off-Broadway at the Classic Stage Company in New York (1976)]
·   Waiting for Lefty Godot  [Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets (1935) + Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1953)]
·   A View from the River by Arthur Miller  [A View from the Bridge (1955)]
·   A Phoenix Too Fragrant  [A Phoenix Too Frequent, above]
·   Anne of a Thousand Clowns  [Anne of the Thousand Days by Maxwell Anderson (1948) + A Thousand Clowns by Herb Gardner (1962)]

[I think I managed to get them all, and relatively correctly.  (I’ve actually performed three of the plays listed—the real ones, of course, not the imaginary titles: Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975 [Dr. Spivey], Misalliance in 1977 [“Gunner”], and Becket in college, 1965 or ’66 [French Priest].)  I wonder if DBS (which has moved since Phillips was there—it’s now located at 250 W. 40th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues) still keeps the list.  It would be fun to see what new titles had been added since this collection was published 20 years ago.

[DBS, the oldest bookstore dedicated to the performing arts in the U.S., was founded in 1923 (unofficially in 1917 as an ad hoc bookseller in theater lobbies) by Marjorie Seligman.  Arthur Seelen (born Seelenfreund in Brooklyn in 1923), a former actor who bought the bookstore in 1958, died in 2000 at age 76; Rozanne Seelen (née Ritch) is a former dancer originally from San Antonio.  The couple married in 1980, after Ritch had worked at the store for several years.  After Seelen’s death, his widow asked her nephew, Allen Hubby, another former dancer who’d been Seelen’s assistant, to become co-owner and after DBS moved to its current location in 2001, he opened an 80-seat black-box theater in the basement.  It’s named for Arthur Seelen and the 2008 Tony-winning musical, In the Heights, was developed there. In 2011, the Drama Book Shop itself received a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre.]


  1. And David Semonin worked at the DBS - I wrote about him in this blog a while ago, as a "Saint of the Theater."

  2. Hey, Kirk--

    Yes, I remember both David and the article in which you wrote about him. (I had forgotten that he worked at DBS, however. Sorry, David!)