“The Lost” adapted for the stage

From Page to Stage

THE TALL BOY is a solo play starring actress Tandy Cronyn. Based on Kay Boyle’s short story, “The Lost” (1951) it was adapted for the stage by British playright Simon Bent and directed by David Hammond.

The play won best adaptation at the United Solo Theatre Festival in 2014.

About the story

“The Lost” (first published in Tomorrow, March 1951) was inspired by Kay Boyle’s prolonged time as New Yorker’s European correspondent in post-war Germany.

Boyle was assigned by The New Yorker magazine as European correspondent in November 1946. She travelled to Germany where her husband, Joseph von Franckenstein, was stationed with the U.S. Civilian Occupation Forces. On 23-24 January 1947, she visited a DP (displaced persons) camp in Wildflecken run by  Kathryn Hulme. Wildflecken was a huge former S.S. base, not be to be found on any map, about 50 miles north of Wurzburg. The camp, operated by 18 UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Refugee Association) workers, housed about 20,000 Poles.

Windflecken Camp, Bavaria

“The Lost” tells of three boys, between twelve and sixteen, who are driven to a Children’s Center run by an American Relief Team where children uprooted by the war are “processed” before a final decision is taken by the American consul regarding their future. In compliance with UNRRA procedure,  those with living relatives in their country of origin are renationalized and repatriated, while those whose relatives are found to be dead can file for emigration and be sent to adoption centers in the United States. The fate of the three boys thus rests on a large body of rules and assumptions about what constitutes the “best interests” of displaced children in the context of the postwar reconstruction of European nations.

What complicates matters further is that the boys have been adopted as G.I. mascots by U.S. troop. For the last three or four years, they have travelled throughout Europe with their respective infantry units. Czech, Italian and Polish by birth, they speak American English “as good as you might hear at home,” one with a Brooklyn accent and another with a Southern one. Having but dim memories of their countries of origin and attracted by the prospect of a fresh start overseas, they have set their hearts on immigrating to the United States.

Dondi was a comic stip created by Gus Edson and Ewin Hasen in 1955. The boy, an orphan of Italian descent with no memory of his parents or his name, is found by two  soldiers who adopt him as a mascot and eventually bring him back to the Unitd States with them.

Boyle’s story tackles the conflicting issues of self-identity, national interests and internationalist idealism by questioning vocal identity. Much in the same way as their ill-fitting or cut-down G.I. clothes, the boys’ speech does not seem to “fit” their bodies but rather sounds like a non-natural, prosthetic construct whose overall effect is to introduce a disquieting negativity into the story and undermine presumptions about origin and authority.

The story was rejected by The New Yorker on the grounds that “there was a good deal of doubt around here about whether such things could really happen. So enquiries were made at two agencies which deal with the European displaced persons, and the answers from those agencies tended very strongly to support the doubters here,” as New Yorker editor Gus Lobrano wrote Kay Boyle in June 1947. Boyle was incensed by his “insensate” rejection and wrote back that she felt “The Lost” “an important story (and so true that it breaks your heart)” (Kay Boyle, a Twentieth-Century Life in Letters. Ed. Sandra Spanier. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2015, p. 438-39).

In a letter to her agent, Ann Watkins, dated 2 August 1947, she lucidly wrote: “The actual work of writing is about as depressing as anything else in the world, but the accumulated pages give life a meaning […]. Remembering this gives me some comfort when I think I just can’t sit another hour or another night and bang out the necessary explanations for those who will not read, anyway, and will not want to understand” ( p. 448).

About the play

At a KBS-sponsored session of the 2015 ALA conference, actress Tandy Cronyn discussed the dramatization of the play and gave an extract of her solo performance which is an amazing blend of technical precision, vocal creativity and narrative energy.

In an issue of The Scofield, Cronyn has also written: “‘That’s right,’ said the tall boy. ‘His wife, she done pass on back in ‘43, and he ain’t got no one left to care for. He’s an ignition expert, and I learn how to suhvice cars with him.’” So speaks a fifteen-year-old Czech boy of his G.I. mentor (a black sergeant from Chattanooga, Tennessee) in the southern drawl he learned from the soldier who has taken him under his wing. Or the fourteen-year-old Polish boy—“I done everything that every son-of-a-bitch in the army ever done”—spoken in a Brooklyn accent the boy has picked up from his G.I. buddies. The characters, fully formed, leap off the page and onto the stage with full theatrical impact—a joy for the actor to play (“Tandy Cronyn on ‘The Lost’ by Kay Boyle.” The Scofield, 1: 43, Fall 2015, p.19).

Cronyn’s deep appreciation of Boyle’s transatlantic perspective on the issue of DPs during WWII deserves the attention of a wider audience, including students of drama and all those who are interested in the interconnections between human rights, history and literature.

Contact and information: http://tandycronyn.com/tallboy.html

Cite this blog post
KBS (2018, June 8). “The Lost” adapted for the stage. The Kay Boyle Society. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/qltv

1 Response

  1. Cash Tilton says:

    “The Tall Boy” is one of several favorites from past United Solo Theatre Festivals to be invited back this year. I saw Miss Cronyn’s performance this afternoon. It’s not just a performance, it’s REALLY a play.

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