JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

Janus—A Synopsis

In the February 13, 1956 edition of Life magazine there was a feature on Janus, which was then running on Broadway. Here is the first page. Click to enlarge

Some of the initial reviews of the original production attacked Janus for not being realistic. Well, of course, it isn’t terribly believable, one has to suspend a certain amount of disbelief to enjoy it; after all, it is a takeoff on a French bedroom farce. Is it also, as I have come to suspect, a sort of protofeminist shot across the bow? Hey, world, women can have multiple sex partners, too! I don’t know, and information about Carolyn Green is hard to find.

She was from Waverly Township, near Scranton, PA, and Janus was her only play produced on Broadway. It opened on November 24, 1955, and by the time it closed on June 30, 1956, it had earned back its investment of $60,000 and made a net profit of $70,000. What I found especially intriguing is that Janus had two television adaptations in the 1960s in Europe. I’d love to see those if they still exist somewhere.

A second play, A Sign of Affection, premiered at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia in April, 1965, after which its subsequent engagements were postponed for rewrites.

Green had three children (see the photo at the end of this post) and she died in 1996.

Here’s my synopsis of the play. See what you think of it.

Act I opens as Jess (“warm, vital, thirty-nine and blissfully unaware of it”) enters her Greenwich Village apartment and proceeds to remove dust covers off the furniture and freshen up what looks like a long unused living room. Then she knocks on the ceiling with a broom (our set didn’t have a ceiling, so our Jess knocked on the dumbwaiter) and goes into the bedroom. Presently a knock is heard from inside the dumbwaiter and Jess rushes to lift the dumbwaiter door, revealing Denny (“on the small side of medium height, about thirty-five years old, is wearing glasses and has a scholarly look”).

They share a passionate kiss, and the first few pages of dialog establish that they come to New York City every summer for two months to write novels and have an affair, that they both have spouses and children (Jess has Gil in Seattle, Washington, and Denny has Gertrude in Andover, Massachusetts), and that although their marriages are happy ones, they very much treasure their time together. Denny gives Jess a geranium plant, and Jess, who has taken up knitting, gives Denny a garish pair of argyle socks, which he puts on.

They practice their drill of quickly racing around the apartment to hide all evidence of Denny’s presence or their work together in case they should get an unexpected visitor (they manage to do it in 33 seconds), and then the buzzer to the outside door sounds.

After a brief moment of panic, it turns out to be their agent Miss Addy who has good news and bad news for them. She has brought them the proofs for their latest novel, and the good news is that it has just been accepted by the Book-of-the-Month Club, and she gives them an advance of $10,000 in cash. They do all their business in cash because they never spend it on anything and keep it all in the pot-bellied stove, which they never use because they are never there in the winter. We learn that Denny is a French teacher in Andover who earns $4,900 a year, and if he bought an extra pair of socks the whole faculty would know in half an hour. Miss Addy’s bad news is that a Mr. Harper from the Internal Revenue Service wants to see them, and he’ll be coming tomorrow morning.

Second page of the Life feature

When Miss Addy leaves they start to work on their new historical novel. Denny provides all the research, which his wife Gertrude, a librarian, helps him with over the course of the winter. Jess spices things up for a modern readership. These are “lusty, busty” historical novels, written under the pen name Janus, taken from the two-headed Roman god. As one reviewer of their novels stated, “One head of Janus sees the bare bones of history. The other head sees its far more seductive flesh.”

They decide they are hungry so Denny leaves by the dumbwaiter to go to the deli to restock the refrigerator, while Jess goes to the kitchen to retrieve plates, silverware, and a tablecloth. While her back is turned, the center door opens and a man enters. “He is big, good-looking, and wears forty successful years very well.”

Jess turns and screams.

It turns out to be her husband Gil, whose trip to South America was canceled at the last minute, and who decided to come see what his wife does on her vacations in NYC. How did he get in? Some little guy held the front door open for him. Jess tries to get him out of the apartment. She writes a quick note, wraps it around the geranium, and tosses it out the window. She finally gets Gil to agree to go out to dinner when there is a knock from the inside of the dumbwaiter. Gil thinks it’s a thief, as he flattens himself against the wall while opening the dumbwaiter door to reveal Denny, bringing Act I Scene i to an end.

Scene ii opens 15 minutes later as Jess and Denny are explaining how they write their lusty, busty historical novels, which are best sellers, etc. Gil is shocked, but also amused. He finally sizes Denny up and decides that he’s not a threat to his marriage, so Denny leaves by the dumbwaiter. But Jess has second thoughts and tries to tell Gil the truth. As she does, Gil doesn’t quite get it, but he begins to lose his temper and starts yelling at Jess.

The center door opens, and Denny rushes in, having heard the shouting. He sits down and tries to placate Gil, but when he crosses his legs, Gil sees the argyle sock and goes off like a bomb. He lifts Denny’s leg and roars: “Jess, goddammit, you were making those socks for him!

CURTAIN

Final page of the Life feature

Act II takes place the next morning as Jess and Gil continue the argument they apparently had most of the night. Jess is sorry that Gil found out. Gil is outraged at her attitude, especially when he realizes she wants to continue her marriage and the affair. They are interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Harper, so Gil retreats to the bedroom, and Denny comes down for the meeting.

Mr. Harper explains that the tax returns Denny has filed are all wrong because he hasn’t taken any deductions. Jess says that’s because Denny is so honest, but Mr. Harper says it is simply incorrect. They eventually seem to get things settled, and Mr. Harper fills out a new return for them taking the standard deduction. Then Gil enters and says he wants to talk to his wife. Mr. Harper was under the impression that Jess was Denny’s wife, and when he finds out that Gil, who makes upwards of a hundred thousand a year, has not declared his wife’s earnings, he says he can make things very difficult for him. He gives both Denny and Gil subpoenas, and leaves, seemingly happy to have discovered two big tax cheats.

Meanwhile, Denny asks Jess to leave Gil and marry him. Jess refuses because she says she believes in marriage, both hers and Denny’s, and that Denny really doesn’t want to leave his wife Gertrude. Jess and Gil have another argument, and she runs out of the apartment, slamming the door.

CURTAIN

Act III opens the following morning as Denny and Gil are weary and disheveled, having been up all night worrying about Jess. After they argue a bit, Mr. Harper arrives in a cheerful mood, tears up the subpoenas, and says they will be billed for the additional taxes, but there will be no penalties and no prison time.

When he leaves, Jess arrives looking radiant in a new dress. Gil and Denny finally get her to explain what happened. Jess and Miss Addy paid a call on Mr. Harper the previous evening, and through some clever detective work on Jess’s part, Jess figured out that Mr. Harper was having an affair of his own. One problem solved.

They send Denny upstairs to make breakfast so Jess and Gil can talk. Jess says she has a reservation on the noon plane for Seattle and that she’ll give Gil his divorce. But Gil no longer wants a divorce. She goes to pack as Miss Addy arrives. When she realizes that Jess is leaving Gil, she assumes that Denny has won, so she goes upstairs to tell him the good news.

Denny comes down hoping to hear it from Jess, but he takes one look at her and realizes she’s leaving him as well. She says he can write the novels by himself and sits him down at the typewriter to get him started. And leaves.

Leaving Gil alone with Denny. Denny can’t understand why she’s leaving them both until Gil explains that she’s leaving Gil because she won’t give Denny up. This gets Denny to start thinking out loud that all this time he, Denny, has helped to save their marriage. Gil doesn’t understand, gets angry, and starts to lift Denny by the lapels to punch him out, but Denny makes him realize that Jess needs them both. If Gil leaves now, he can still catch up to her. And Gil rushes out.

DIMOUT

Scene ii takes place a few days later, and although it’s the same set, we are meant to assume that it’s actually Denny’s apartment. Denny is alone when he hears a knock inside the dumbwaiter. It’s Jess, of course. She tells him Gil has gone to South America and “He told me to tell you he was joining the Book-of-the-Month Club.”

They start to embrace when the buzzer rings. Who can it be? It’s not Gil. Miss Addy’s away.

They look at each other, and then simultaneously both are struck by the same thought.

“Gertrude!”

They rush to hide all traces of their work and they are setting a new record as

THE CURTAIN FALLS

Playwright Carolyn Green with her children (from left) Nicholas, Loring, and Lynn.