“The Insect Comedy”

Jan Hus Playhouse

351 East 74th Street

New York, New York

May 1960

The Jan Hus Playhouse was located on the upper East Side of Manhattan, part of the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church.

Jan Hus church

Here's the Samuel French (theater booksellers and publishers) description of the satirical play, The Insect Comedy by Josef Capek and Karel Capek:

“A wanderer who is something of a philosopher falls asleep after drinking in a forest. In his dream he observes the comedy and tragedy in the lives of the insects, whose problems and affairs are like those of humankind. The butterflies make violent love. The beetles hoard money and live selfishly. The ichneumon flies murder crickets and stuff their larders with food, and parasites greedily devour what others work to save. Finally the red and yellow ants wage war to see which shall have the right to travel a particular sunlit path between two blades of grass.”
Photo by Barry Dennen

Barbra played a butterfly, a messenger, and “Second Moth” in The Insect Comedy, which was produced by a group of actors calling itself “The Actors’ Co-op.”

Barbra became friends with Barry Dennen, who was also cast in the show. In his 1997 book, My Life with Barbra: A Love Story, Dennen recalled that “you didn't have to be a genius to figure out that The Insect Comedy wasn't very good and probably wasn't going to get much better ... Throughout the whole hideous adventure Barbara and I clung closer and closer to each other, worked on our own scenes, and just tried to get through it.”

It was during the rehearsals of this show that Barbra made friends with Terry Leong, a young costume designer and illustrator. He created Barbra's costumes for The Insect Comedy. The sketch below is of Barbra's butterfly costume in printed silk—a paisley wing sleeved top.

Sketch by Terry Leong

Below are two more costume sketches by Leong for The Insect Comedy. Left is another butterfly costume in china silk with a multi-color printed silk skirt; Right is Barbra's moth costume in layers of grey chiffon, with a Japanese kimono sleeve top.

Leong costume sketches

“The Insect Comedy” played only a handful of performances at the Jan Hus Playhouse in May of 1960.

(Below: A page from the Capek script for “The World We Live In [The Insect Comedy].” Streisand played Clythia and other roles at the Jan Hus.)

pages from the script of INSECT COMEDY


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