On March 24, 1965, Jean Giraudoux’s play “Judith; a tragedy in three acts” opened at the Phoenix Theatre, New York. The artists who contributed to this endeavor were at the height of their careers, and the production involved numerous collaborations to bring the story to life.
In visual arts, Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning – pioneer couple of the Dada movement and Surrealism – brought their irrationality, nonsense and anti-bourgeois sentiments to set design and costuming for the production. Ernst began his career as painter-sculptor-graphic artist-poet in Germany during the 1920’s, and collaborated with Joan Miró on designs for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes production of Romeo and Juliet (1926) (1). Separately in America, Tanning’s career began the early 1940s, working on her own surreal paintings while supporting herself as a commercial artist in New York – where she designed sets and costumes for several ballets of George Balanchine, including The Night Shadow (1945). Ernst and Tanning met in 1942 and married four years later.
For the production of Judith, Ernst designed sets while Tanning created costumes.
In performance art, Judith was played by Rosemary Harris and Holofernes by Paul Sparer. At the time, Rosemary Harris was an English actress experienced in Shakespeare and historical drama – although now most people know her as Aunt May in the Spiderman franchise. Paul Sparer was a television actor who became known as The Narrator in Tales from the Darkside.
In 1970, the German publisher Manus Presse issued a book of the text of Judith by Jean Giraudoux, with 6 color lithographs by Max Ernst and 6 color lithographs by Dorothea Tanning. Signed editions of the book are currently available from online book sellers for $1,800 to $ 5,000 – depending on the condition. Not bad for an old book! Now if i could just read German … but no worries. It has pictures.
(1) Valerie Lawson, Happily ever after: The Ballets Russes’ Romeo and Juliet. The Australian Ballet website: Behind Ballet, December 5, 2011.