John Henry Noyes Collier was born in 1901 in London. Although a Brit, he traveled extensively between Hollywood, England and France, and was celebrated in his day for his poetry, short stories (appearing in The New Yorker, among other places), screenplays and other works. His stories often contain elements of the fantastical but are also very sardonic in tone. Due to his being a British native who wound up in Hollywood, his tales can be by turns extremely English and extremely American in feel and locale. In addition to this duality, Collier celebrates the juxtaposition of the weird and the mundane, often with some kind of twist or surprise ending. His style of writing makes him an ancestor of sorts to the types of stories that unfold in The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents- and, in fact, some of his stories have been adapted as episodes of both those shows. To give you a further taste of his style, here’s a brief synopsis of one of his stories:
A poet, having grown disenchanted with the world, decides to forsake it and live the rest of his days in a large department store, evading discovery by pretending to be a mannequin. Upon arrival, he discovers that the store is already inhabited by a secret society of people who over the years have had similar notions, all of them hiding from the world. Among this society is a charming young woman who didn’t choose to forsake the world. Instead, she got lost in the store as a little girl and was kept as a servant by the society’s imposing matriarch. The young man and the young woman fall hopelessly in love, and are determined to run off together. Unfortunately, the leader of the secret society finds out about it and places a call to a different secret society that lives in the nearby mortuary. The ‘dark men’ of the mortuary come and permanently turn the young lovers into mannequins despite their attempt to escape.
Sound weird? It is. But it also sounds fascinating. The above tale, titled “Evening Primrose,” is a perfect example of a John Collier story, and has gotten under the skin of such prominent artist as James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim, both of whom collaborated to adsapt it into a televised musical of the same name starring Anthony Perkins. Our world premiere production, Nightmares & Nightcaps, weaves together several of his best stories (though not Evening Primrose) into a single evening of darkness and delight. We hope you’ll join us- performances are August 17-September 15 in Chicago.