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Rice, Elmer

Entry updated 14 July 2023. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

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First the pseudonym, then the legal name of US playwright and author born Elmer Leopold Reizenstein (1892-1967), active from around 1914. Of his plays, the closest to untrammelled sf may be The Adding Machine: A Play in Seven Scenes (performed 1923; 1923): this follows its protagonist, Mr Zero, from Suicide into heaven – which he despises because it is full of indecent creatures like Rabelais and Jonathan Swift – and back to Earth, where he is transformed into the work-slave designated by the title. The Subway (performed 1929; 1929) expressionistically conceives of life in New York as confined to increasingly tiny boxes. In American Landscape: A Play in Three Acts (performed 1938; 1939), Mysterious Strangers, some supernatural and one a secret Nazi, attempt to buy a heritage-heavy American home, but are thwarted by the ghosts of its former owners (see Supernatural Creatures).

Rice's third novel, A Voyage to Purilia (12 October-21 December 1929 The New Yorker; 1930), combines a deft use of sf instruments – the protagonists travel to the planet Purilia in a ship propelled by Antigravity – with a very extensive guying of Utopian assumptions. On Purilia, life mirrors the gestural and narrative Clichés of the last days of the silent film (see Cinema) – the implication being that utopian worlds are as fatuously bound by rigmarole and fetish as the "normal" lives depicted in the classic Hollywood films (see California) – and the protagonist escapes marriage, which is identical to a Hollywood fade-out, by the skin of his teeth. [JC]

Elmer Rice

born New York: 28 September 1892

died Southampton, Hampshire: 8 May 1967

works (highly selected)

  • The Adding Machine: A Play in Seven Scenes (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1923) [play: first performed 19 March 1923 Garrick Theatre, New York: hb/]
  • The Subway (New York: Samuel French, 1929) [play: first performed 25 January 1929 Cherry Lane Theatre, New York: pb/]
  • A Voyage to Purilia (New York: Cosmopolitan Book Company, 1930) [first appeared 12 October-21 December 1929 The New Yorker: hb/Peter Arno]
  • American Landscape: A Play in Three Acts (New York: Coward-McCann, 1939) [play: first performed 3 December 1938 Cort Theatre, New York: hb/photograph]


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