William Saroyan opened The Cave Dwellers on Broadway in the fall of 1957, his first New York play since 1943.
The Cave Dwellers is a problematic play with a story-line that’s at once melodramatic and fluffy and gauzy Romance. Often the Metaphors shout their way across the stage.
The play takes place in an old, abandoned theatre (called the “World Theatre,” of course) in an urban neighborhood that’s being cleared by wreckers as part of urban renewal. A group of homeless folks have made the crumbling (and soon to be demolished “World”) theatre there home. The King is a retired clown – the Queen, an aging beauty queen. The Duke is a down-at-heel prize-fighter. Into this world comes the Young Girl. She starts to have a small romance with the Duke. This is interrupted by the unexpected entrance of the Silent Boy who comes to retrieve some milk bottles that the Duke stole from a stoop. The Act I curtain is a terrible storm and loud knocking on the stage door. Falling into the theatre is a man, his pregnant wife who is in the process of giving birth, and a dancing bear.
Act II includes a variety of permutations of this collection of folks ruminating on a variety of topics.
As a crazy play, The Cave Dwellers also includes incredibly beautiful speeches that suggest a poetic sense that only Saroyan could evoke. For example, the King gambles away a shoe to a group of the guys wrecking the buildings. An unsuccessful beggar, he hoped to make them cry doing his clown routines. If one tear came to one eye, each worker would donate a coin to the clown. He failed to bring one tear to one eye, so he surrenders his shoe. As a result he tells the Queen, “If I’ve lost my art, what good is my shoe?”
Many years ago I wrote a musical overture for this play. I’ve since orchestrated it and offer it this month in place of the usual commentary. I hope you enjoy it.