William Butler Yeats cared so much about getting his Abbey Theatre off the ground 100 years ago that, when the company toured here, he personally came to Boston (not exactly a theatre-friendly city in those days) to milk some donors. A veritable one-man development office...
When Yeats came here a century ago, the Abbey was struggling to establish itself. Its first American tour in 1911, which kicked off in Boston, was crucial to surviving the tumultuous decade ahead that would see rebellion, a war of independence, and a bitter civil war — all of which would provide fodder for Irish playwrights over the next century.
Yeats was there on opening night at the spanking new Plymouth Theatre on Stuart Street, where the Transportation Building now sits. He was greeted warmly by the mayor, John “Honey Fitz’’ Fitzgerald, the future President Kennedy’s grandfather. The Boston and US premiere of “The Playboy of the Western World’’ drew catcalls from some in the audience who objected to the salty language and supposed attack on Irish womanhood. (That was a considerable improvement over the riots that greeted the play’s world premiere in Dublin four years earlier.)
A headline in the morning Boston Globe of Oct. 17, 1911, noted that “Representative Boston Men Criticise ‘The Playboy of the Western World.’ ’’ By that evening’s Globe, a more tolerant, less censorious headline appeared over a story about the play: “Doesn’t Need Expurgation.’’
Yeats did more than shake hands and pose for photographs at the Plymouth Theatre. Yeats climbed the stairs of brownstones in Back Bay and Beacon Hill, he lunched at the tony men’s clubs along Commonwealth Avenue, and he flattered every Boston dowager he met. Yeats, whose verse was priceless, put the arm on everybody worth something. He raised money like no one’s business.I guess no Artistic Director can afford to be too lofty for fundraising.