"The Fall of the City" was the first verse play to appear on American radio. Written by Archibald MacLeish, it premiered on April 11, 1936 on CBS Radio's Columbia Playhouse, the network's "experimental theater of the air." Orson Welles and Burgess Meredith starred in this half-hour allegory of fascism; the 22-year-old Welles, whose role as the announcer allowed him to act as Greek Chorus while also commenting on the events of the play, became a star because of his performance.
Inspired by the 1521 conquest of the Aztec city Tenochtitian by Hernado Cortez, the play is set in an unnamed city where a recently deceased woman delivers a prophecy. Soon after, a messenger arrives to announce the coming of a conqueror. An orator urges the populace to accept the conqueror. A second messenger announces that the conquered have accepted the new conqueror. A priest exhorts the people to religion. A general urges the population to resist, but his calls are unheeded. It is only when the conqueror arrives that we realize his impact and meaning.
MacLeish (1892-1982) was a noted poet, playwright, and essayist who served five years as the Librarian of Congress, where he initiated the process for the position that would become the United States Poet Laureate. He won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry twice and for drama once. He also won the National Book Award for Poetry, the Bollingen Award for Poetry, and Tony Award for best drama, as well as being named Commandeur de la Legion d'honneur. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.
"The Fall of the City" was named one of the best broadcasts of the year by The New York Times and has been added to the National Recording Registry.
An entertaining and powerful play that resonates today.
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