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Thirty Pieces of Silver

The main theme of this play is the witch-hunt in America, and its effect upon one man, his wife and their negro woman servant. The man, a minor government official in Washington, has been on friendly terms with another man who is suspected of being a traitor. He is "investigated" by the FBI and threatened with the loss of his job. To save himself he signs an untrue declaration. The dramatic conflict between the man and his wife reaches its final climax when both the wife and servant leave him.

In his internationally famous novels Howard Fast has always spoken out fearlessly as a champion of freedom. He has never pleaded the cause more eloquently than in this, his first play. Although it has not yet been produced in England – or in the United States – Thirty Pieces of Silver has already been successfully performed in many other countries.

from the dust jacket of the 1954 Bodley Head first edition


TOWARD the end of 1947, a Broadway producer who had read two plays of mine which he did not feel were right for production, suggested that I write about something close and meaningful to me. He signed a contract for an option on this yet unwritten play and gave me his verbal assurances that if it had any merit whatsoever, he would produce it. Almost a year later, I handed him the first draft of Thirty Pieces of Silver. He read it through and dismissed it with one word – 'impossible'.

So ended my modest and brief flirtation with the Broadway theatre. While I was serving a short prison sentence for Contempt of Congress, an earlier play of mine was prepared for production off Broadway; but neither the play nor the production blazed any trails of fire across the sky. I decided that the novel and the short story were forms better suited to my skills, and Thirty Pieces of Silver reposed half-forgotten in a drawer of my files. There it gathered dust until January of 1951, when quite by accident its extraordinary career began.

I received a letter from the New Theatre, in Melbourne, Australia, saying that they were looking for scripts about the modern scene, and did I have anything they could possibly use? Possibly because Australia was sufficiently distant for me to plunge again, and possibly because the fascination of the theatre is something no writer truly shakes loose from, I rooted out the MS. of Thirty Pieces of Silver, shook the dust from it, read it through, made some changes, and sent it off to Australia.

My own opinion of that draft, reread after so long an interval, was that the subject matter was quite interesting and that the play was structurally not too bad. I knew it had weaknesses, some of them fairly serious, but I was also not completely certain that the Australian Theatre group would want to perform it.

However, they were quite taken by the play – again while recognising its weaknesses – and they decided to go ahead with the production. Whereupon, it opened first in Melbourne and then in Sydney. In each place, it had, I was informed, long and successful runs – that is, long in the local terms of such productions. While it was playing in Australia, the Czech Theatrical and Literary Agency heard about it somehow and wrote to me, asking whether I could send them a copy to read. I now studied the MS. more carefully, and decided to do a complete rewrite, basing this new version on criticisms from Australia and the comments of various actor-friends to whom I had shown it.

I finished the rewrite and sent the new version off to Czechoslovakia by airmail. It was translated and went into production immediately, and opened in Prague in April of 1951. The production was, according to information received, an excellent one, and became a considerable hit – maintaining an unusually long run. A second company opened in Pilsen, and then in short order, sixteen additional Czech companies began to perform the play.

I now received correspondence from Vienna, Berlin, and Tel Aviv – all of it concerning Thirty Pieces of Silver. Once again, I did a rewrite, particularly of the third act, and sent additional manuscripts out. Separate German translations were made for Vienna and Berlin, and soon thereafter it opened in each of the above-mentioned cities. A Yiddish translation was performed in the Yiddish theatre in Poland, while a Polish version opened in Warsaw. Meanwhile, a British director working with a Hebrew group in Israel, had supervised a translation into Hebrew, although the first Hebrew production in Israel did not take place until December of 1952. However, at one point during 1952, productions were running simultaneously in Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Warsaw, Pilsen and Moscow. Both Italian and French translations have been completed, and openings in Antwerp and Rome are scheduled for 1953. A Canadian production is scheduled to open in 1953 – which will give an audience in the western hemisphere its first opportunity to see the play.

April 1953