A Hole in the Fence
A Wilderesque comedy based on a 1919 naval sex scandal, A HOLE IN THE FENCE follows the Navy’s unconventional efforts to clean up “conditions of vice” around the naval base in Newport, Rhode Island. Recruited by the dauntless Mr. Vole, a group of young sailors goes undercover to pick up other sailors and have sex with them. Based on their graphic reports, the other sailors are arrested and court-martialed while the decoys are commended for their “zeal and interest” in carrying out their duties. Only when the investigation snares an Episcopal priest does it explode into scandal. Since Thornton Wilder was staying at the YMCA in Newport around this time, the play uses him to guide us through a gay version of OUR TOWN—supposing your town is full of drag queens and prostitutes.
If you’re a playwright, every once in a while someone will say, “Oh, you should write a play about…” and it’s usually something you’d never dream of writing a play about. A HOLE IN THE FENCE marks an exception. A friend told me the story of the Newport sex scandal, and added the irresistible information that Thornton Wilder had been staying at the YMCA around the same time. (Actually a couple of years later.) “Someone should write that play,” he said. And he was right (at least as far as I was concerned). A huge help in writing the play was my discovery of Lawrence R. Murphy’s Perverts by Official Order, which gives a detailed account of the case. About a year after my friend first made his suggestion, TheatreTWEED and I threw together a workshop production at the old Ohio Theater in New York. It was my first experience producing one of my own plays, and it was a wild ride. The postcard and photo here (and the kissing sailors in the header) are from the wonderful Box of Tricks Theatre production at the White Bear Theatre in London, directed by Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder & Adam Quayle.