In Provincetown, a brouhaha is bubbling over changes planned for two local theaters

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The boards of the Provincetown Theatre Company, a 40-year-old community troupe, and the Provincetown Repertory Theatre, a 10-year-old Equity theater, voted in late August to merge this fall and start putting on shows beginning early next year using the name of the famous Provincetown Players--that's causing concern.

The proposed name spurred immediate controversy in theater circles. The legendary playwright Eugene O'Neill, who is considered the father of American drama, wrote and produced some of his seminal early work as a member of the Provincetown Players, a vital but short-lived (1916-1922) ensemble founded in Provincetown by playwright Susan Glaspell and her husband, George Cram Cook.

An early feminist and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Glaspell remained fiercely protective of the company's legacy until her death in 1948, furiously opposing plans for resurrections of the theater company or its name. The Provincetown Players, Glaspell insisted, provided an alternative to Broadway at a crucial time, encouraging a creative outburst that produced the first original, noncommercial American drama. When O'Neill started an offshoot of the Provincetown Players in 1923 in the company's second home on MacDougal Street in New York, Glaspell insisted that the fledgling company come up with an original name, which the Experimental Theatre did.

Theater historians such as Gail Cohen and Zander Brietzke, president of the Eugene O'Neill Society, as well as biographers, academics, and descendants of members of the Provincetown Players, including Reuel Wilson, son of Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy, have bombarded the two theater companies and the Provincetown Banner newspaper with letters of protest and earnest pleas, urging the new entity to at least call itself the New Provincetown Players.

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