Beggar on Horseback (1924)

By George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly

The Plot:

beggarNeil McRae is a composer of serious music who orchestrates popular songs in order to keep a roof over his head; he dreams of a better life and Cynthia, the terribly pleasant girl down the hall, dreams of Neil. On the advice of a doctor friend, however, Neil proposes to the daughter of a rich industrialist. But, clearly such a materialistic future preys on Neil's mind—in an extended dream sequence, he murders his potential fiancée and her family and goes to trial for his crimes and is sentenced to churn out an endless stream of innocuous popular tunes. Upon waking, he comes to his senses and attempts the future with Cynthia, who has been patiently waiting for him.

About the Play:

Connelly and Kaufman took on their greatest experimentation with this play, an investigation into the then-popular form of Expressionism. A stream-of-consciousness style, with garish, nightmarish sequences, Expressionism had been successfully channeled by Eugene O'Neill for his The Emperor Jones and The Hairy Ape.  Connelly and Kaufman's effort, however, is more of a humorous exploitation of the style and creates a play still amusing and viable in today's world, where the struggle for success is immense. This was the most acclaimed of all of Connelly and Kaufman's collaborations.

Stage history:

Beggar on Horseback opened on February 24, 1924 at the Broadhurst Theatre and ran 224 performances. It was successfully produced in London the following season. A film version with Edward Everett Horton was released in 1925. It has never had a major professional revival—but it remains a topical and imaginative play.

Strip Box:

An inventive, highly theatrical gem—a worthy candidate for revival for professional and university groups.