MODERN BRITISH, IRISH, AND AMERICAN DRAMA:
A DESCRIPTIVE CHRONOLOGY, 1930 - 1939

YEARS / DECADES

1930

January
Benn W. Levy's "religious comedy" The Devil, his best play, is staged three times at the Arts Theatre. It features a charismatic curate who urges people to follow their basest desires so that it will dawn upon them that they want to serve God rather than the "Devil."

In a letter to a drama critic, Rice denounces the Theatre Guild as no longer an art theatre group, but "a purely commercial producing organization." Moreover, he finds "no good reason why I or any American playwright should ever submit a play to the Guild. The Guild in its entire career has done nothing whatever to encourage the American playwright nor to help foster a native drama."

February
Connelly's biblical "fable" The Green Pastures is performed, wins the Pulitzer, and runs for six years. (In England, however, the Lord Chamberlain bans it because of the rule against presenting the Deity on stage, and it remains banned until the censorship ends.) The folk drama is an adaptation of Roark Bradford's Bible stories in Ol' Man Adam an' His Chillun (1928). With the theme of "man's ancient, intensive search for his own soul," Connelly concocted a graphic presentation of "certain aspects of a living religion in the terms of its believers," in this case rural Louisiana Negroes (Voices Offstage, 1968). The play uses the framework of a preacher's Sunday school lesson on Genesis to depict biblical legends from a fresh viewpoint. Thus God requests a "ten cent seegar" before he creates the universe and man, tells Adam and Eve to "enjoy yo'selves" but reacts to their apostasy and Cain's murder by saying "Don' like de way things is goin' atall." He visits Noah's home to plan the flood and, at its end, tells Gabriel, "Well, it's did" and hopes things will be better now. But things get worse in the next few centuries and God repents his creation, saying "I will deliver them no more." However, at the finale he foresees the Crucifixion and smiles, as the angels break out in song welcoming Jesus. A David-and-Goliath scene that Connelly had written first but decided to exclude because it would not fit into the continuity is printed in Voices Offstage.

April
Philip Barry's psychological drama Hotel Universe is presented by the Theatre Guild and receives mixed reviews (partly for its lack of an intermission), but manages a run of 81. A varied spectrum of upper-class individuals gather in a hotel with reputed mystical powers (alleged, but false) to make people relive crucial incidents in their pasts and face their self-doubts. In a series of trances or psychodramas, each person undergoes a self-imposed exorcism of existential despair and is finally able to "take life whole—all of it—for what it is, and be glad of it," as the proprietor of the hotel says. The play adds up to a kind of religious parable of coping with Angst in the "lost generation" by perceiving one's place in God's universe and living in accord with it. The co-proprietor, an old man who serves as a spokesman for Barry, adds the precept that for every end there is a beginning—exemplified by his words before his own death: "This ends, and that begins."

Having just played the lead role in Sherriff's Journey's End, Coward is prompted to write "an angry little vilification of war," Post-Mortem, which is published in 1931 but never produced.

July
Bridie's most admired early play, The Anatomist, is presented in Glasgow; transferred to London in October 1931, it enjoys a run of 127. A portrait of the Scottish anatomist Robert Knox (1791-1862) as a scientist driven to extreme lengths to pursue advanced research, the drama focuses on the public's horrified reactions to his methods of obtaining corpses: using a pair of grave robbers who also turn out to be murderers.

September
Coward's "intimate comedy," Private Lives, is staged in London 101 times and, although scandalous for its day, becomes immensely popular. Starting in January 1931 it has a seven-month run on Broadway, and it will be revived frequently. The thin but ingenious plot begins when a couple who divorced five years ago is thrown together with the new spouse of each on their respective honeymoons. The woman of the first pair and the man of the second are propelled back into their addictive love-hate relationship, and they flee together to her apartment. There, they escalate to love-making, then plunge to declaring their mutual hatred. As their much more conservative spouses consider and dismiss the idea of divorces, then argue and fight, the star-crossed lovers leave together. The play will be likened to Restoration comedy of manners because of its elegant structure, sophisticated language, and “loose morals,” but (as Coward confesses) it relies heavily upon consummate acting for its effects. Later he says that “as a complete play, it leaves a lot to be desired,” and he parodies Act II in a late-1930 skit, Some Other Private Lives.

Rudolf Besier's melodrama about Elizabeth Barrett's persecution by and ultimate escape from her tyrant father into the arms of Robert Browning, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, is staged in London and has a run of 530. The American production, starting in February 1931 with Katherine Cornell in the lead role, becomes especially popular and is removed after a run of 370 only to begin a series of successful tours.

Kaufman's first collaborative effort with Moss Hart, the hilarious farce Once in a Lifetime, is presented and enjoys a run of 401. (The London production in February 1933 will reach only 99.) The play originated as a script by Hart which a producer agreed to stage if Kaufman would help revise it. This led to a ten-month period working on it for ten hours a day which Hart will describe in Six Plays by Kaufman and Hart (1942). The play is full of grossly improbable plot developments that arise from the general chaos in a Hollywood studio at the time when "talkies" were just being introduced, including the wrong scenario and the wrong actress being used for a movie that nevertheless becomes a hit, and an established playwright hired by the studio but left languishing in an office with nothing to do. The play will often be revived for its sure-fire laughs.

October
The Theatre Guild arouses controversy (and loses stability as well as money) by staging Sergei M. Tretyakov's anti-imperialist drama Roar China! (1926). Although some of the most biased elements in the original version are excised, rightists charge that the Guild is permeated with Communists; meanwhile, leftists within the Guild are disgruntled enough to solidify their plans for a rival company, the Group Theatre. The long-term effect is that the Guild follows a safer commercial policy in the future, sacrificing some of its artistic and thematic adventuresomeness.

The Civic Repertory Theatre performs Giraudoux's drama Siegfried.

November
The most enduring of several biblical dramas that Bridie wrote, Tobias and the Angel, is performed at the Cambridge Festival; produced in London in March 1932, it is staged only 86 times but goes on to be Bridie's most often revived play. He calls it "a plain-sailing dramatic transcription of the charming old tale told in the Book of Tobit in the Apocrypha."

Anderson's historical romance Elizabeth the Queen is produced by the Theatre Guild and attains a run of 147. The first highly creditable modern American drama written largely in verse (in this case an approximation of Shakespearean blank verse), the play was provoked by a reading of Lytton Strachey's Elizabeth and Essex, and thus focuses on the deep mutual love affair of the two as it impinges upon and often complicates their divergent political aspirations. Anderson does not adhere strictly to historical fact—the climactic visit of the aging queen to the young Essex in the Tower, for instance, is an invention—but in striving for the essence of tragedy he attempts to approximate the psychological forces driving the two principals, their antagonists Raleigh and Cecil, and the crafty opportunist Francis Bacon. The catalyst for the central dramatic conflict is Essex's irresistible lust for power. This not only allows him to be tempted and deceived by the men who want to destroy his bond to Elizabeth, but allows her to trick him into being captured when his army surrounds the palace. Finally, his full recognition of the power of this compulsion in himself allows him to realize that it would be vain to accept her offer of a political union; for the good of England, he must die. This act of self-sacrifice, while devastating Elizabeth, grants Essex an aura of noble heroism.

December
Glaspell's last play to be produced, Alison's House, is performed at the Civic Repertory Theatre, then on Broadway, and wins the Pulitzer despite mixed reviews. A Chekhovian drama based on the life of Emily Dickinson (called "Alison" since Glaspell was not permitted to use her real name), the play once again effectively uses Glaspell's favorite device, a central character who does not appear. The time is the threshold of the twentieth century eighteen years after the poet's death, when a cluster of people interested in her, including a poet / reporter as well as household members, react to newly discovered letters that reveal her unrequited love for a married man. The conflict about whether to make these semi-scandalous communications public, which exposes and sometimes modifies the variety of personalities, is resolved when Alison's brother realizes that the letters give expression to some of his own thoughts and feelings. They are finally welcomed as a loving gift from the poet passed on to the new century. In creating the play Glaspell drew upon Genevieve Taggard's recently published The Life and Mind of Emily Dickinson.

1931

January
Lynn Riggs's regional melodrama Green Grow the Lilacs is staged by the Theatre Guild and runs for eight weeks. Noteworthy for its large ingredient of traditional Western songs, it is later transformed into the record-breaking Rodgers-and-Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!.

Pirandello's As You Desire Me is produced on Broadway and enjoys a decent run despite the bafflement of some reviewers.

February
Samuel Beckett’s first stage piece, the “irreverent burlesque” of parts of Corneille’s Le Cid entitled Le Kid, is presented at the Peacock Theatre by the Dublin University Modern Language Society. Written in French with a fellow lecturer at Trinity College, Georges Pelorson, the short play violates every stricture of French classical drama. Beckett himself took the role of Don Diègue. No copy of the work has been located.

Replying to a request for comments on O'Neill's drama, O'Casey rhapsodizes: "his work is always bearing witness to the things great and the things beautiful which have saved the Theater from the shame of a house of ill-repute and a den of thieves, and have kept the ground in and around the Theater as holy as the ground around the burning bush."

April
The second play by Johnston, The Moon in the Yellow River, is performed at the Abbey. (In London it manages a run of only 16 starting in September 1934.) It is much more in the vein of O'Casey's early dramas than The Old Lady Says "No!", with social realism dissolving into melodrama and farce. But it is also a comic drama of ideas, with a strong element of intellectual argument and marked affinities to Heartbreak House. (Johnston notes much later that he was "a good Shavian of the generation whose processes of thought were largely formed by Shaw.") The play treats a real-life situation, the Free State's construction of a hydroelectric power plant (with German supervisors), overriding Republican opposition. Johnston escalates the conflict to rebels' attempts to destroy it. They are frustrated when rain ruins their explosives and a cannon misfires, but two drunken allies accidentally blow up the plant trying to dispose of a shell. Meanwhile, a kindly German supervisor confronts the rebel leader and is distressed when one of the soldiers accompanying him shoots the diehard, assuring a continuing cycle of violence.

Summing up current American theatre apart from mere "entertainment" and his own proletarian theatre group, Dos Passos states in the New Republic: "Then there's the Theatre Guild, . . . an extraordinarily well-run organization that specializes in warmed-over European productions, an interesting phenomenon because it expresses so exactly the mentality of the liberal educated wing of medium business and its wives and families. . . . Then there is Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre, attracting a similar but less wealthy public, presenting . . . a series of European classics: plays that people have read about in library books or heard discussed in lectures on the drama. These two are the only American theatres . . . that really exist in the German or Russian sense of the word theatre." He calls the New Playwrights Theatre an "attempt to buck the tide and put on plays dealing with the industrial life around us in a novel experimental manner."

June
Twenty-eight actors screened by the self-styled directors Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg, and Cheryl Crawford gather to begin rehearsing Green's The House of Connelly. Clurman describes the group's ideal: a production that is "shaped into a true artistic organism." For this purpose, "it is not sufficient for [the actors] merely to be 'good.' They must be homogeneous, they must belong together, they must form an organic body." This marks the tangible beginning of the Group Theatre, a distinctive offshoot of the Theatre Guild (from which it parted completely in February 1932) which will last for ten years. The apparent advantage of being able to present noncommercial plays in a Broadway theatre will cause a variety of difficulties along the way.

September
Green's finest play, The House of Connelly: A Drama of the Old South and the New, becomes the first production of the Group Theatre and enjoys a run of 91. Owing in part to accomplished Stanislavskian ensemble acting, the play as performed is received enthusiastically.The company had induced Green on artistic as well as doctrinal grounds to change his tragic ending to a "hopeful and positive" one. (When he publishes the play in 1939, however, Green restores the original version.) After the Civil War, a widow and her daughters on a decaying Southern plantation are horrified that the only son has fallen in love with an ambitious tenant farmer's daughter. She wants to apply her "New South" qualities of energy, organizing ability and respect for the land to renew the estate. Unfortunately the son's "Old South" heritage of incompetence, self-indulgence, and caste consciousness obtrudes and she leaves him. After his family tries to induce him to marry a wealthy aristocrat, in drunken despair he denounces them, which eventually results in the sickly mother dying and the daughters leaving. He manages to retrieve and marry his beloved; in the performed version she takes firm hold of the estate and reforms him, but in Green's text she is smothered to death by two illegitimate black daughters of the man's grandfather, who have supported Old South values throughout.

October
In a New York Times Magazine interview anticipating the first performance of Mourning Becomes Electra, O'Neill comments on a portrait of Shaw hanging on the office wall, "I wish they would take that down; the old gentleman seems to be laughing at me."

O'Neill's largely naturalistic modernization of Aeschylus's Oresteia, Mourning Becomes Electra: A Trilogy, is presented by the Theatre Guild. Although it earns enthusiastic reviews and attains a run of 150 in spite of its inordinate length, it does not win the Pulitzer, which goes to the musical Of Thee I Sing. (Its London run starting in November 1937 is 106.) Written between September 1929 and April 1931, the drama consists of Homecoming (four acts), The Hunted (five acts), and The Haunted (four acts). O'Neill set the play in a seaport town in New England just after Union troops have returned from the Civil War because he thought that the still-pervasive "Puritan conviction of man born to sin and punishment" was dramatically the "best possible" atmosphere for a "Greek plot of crime and retribution, chain of fate." A neo-Greek mansion that dominates the setting is described by a character as a "pagan temple front stuck like a mask on Puritan gray ugliness!" The chief dramatis personae are equivalents of the legendary Greek figures, but while stripped of their beliefs in controlling gods and predetermined destinies, they are acutely aware of the psychological forces driving them to similar tragic ends. The play is more subject to the charge of outdated Freudianism than Desire Under the Elms or Strange Interlude because of the "deep hidden relationships" that O'Neill found in the Oresteia and focused on strongly: parents and children behave according to the Freudian Oedipus and Electra formulas, even to the extent of the brother proposing virtual marriage to his sister. But the finale puts Puritan pressures in the forefront; O'Neill deplored the fact that the Greek trilogy let Electra escape the Furies' retribution and gave his modern Electra a "tragic ending worthy of [her] character": she shuts herself up in the mansion forever and cries, "I'll live alone with the dead, and keep their secrets, and let them hound me, until the curse is paid out."

Coward's episodic spectacle tracing key events in English history from New Year's Eve 1899 to the present, Cavalcade, is performed to deafening applause from spectators refreshed by what they construe as unvarnished patriotism; it attains a run of 405 and is dubbed "The Play of the Century." The 22 vignettes, alternating from celebrative to tragic, focus on the effect historical events have on upper-class parents who lose one son on the Titanic and another in World War II but remain staunch and proud. Coward balances the unfotunate effects of world events with the upbeat episodes, but audiences thirsting for positives seem oblivious.

November
Sherwood's urbane comedy Reunion in Vienna is staged by the Theatre Guild, starring the Lunts, and runs out the season. (Its London run starting in January 1934 totals 196.) The play reestablishes the author's popularity after a series of failures since The Road to Rome in 1927. At a party celebrating the late Hapsburg emperor's birthday, deposed members of the nobility try to recapture the spirit of the past for a night, most of them vainly. But in a close parallel to Molnár's The Guardsman, performed by the Guild (with the Lunts) in 1924, the banished Archduke shows up, radiating glamor and energy in spite of his reduction to taxi driver in Nice, and reawakens the sexual interest of his former mistress with a whack on her bottom. The lady is now married to a prominent psychiatrist, who counsels her to get to know him as he is now, assuming she will rid herself of romantic nostalgia. Instead she spends the night with him and returns to her husband, refreshed. A prudish critic calls the play "a parade of vice and falsehood . . . clothed in beautiful language, and presented with superb artistry."

December
Wilder emerges as a serious dramatist with the publication of The Long Christmas Dinner and Other Plays in One Act by Yale University Press and Coward-McCann. The best of these—the title play, The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden, and Pullman Car Hiawatha—prefigure his best full-length plays, and show the influence of Japanese Noh theatre.

In a program note to the second Group Theatre production, 1931- by Claire and Paul Sifton, Clurman declares: "The development of playwrights, actors, repertory and the rest are important only as they lead to the creation of a tradition of common values, an active consciousness of a common way of looking at and dealing with life. A theatre in our country today should aim to create an Audience. When an audience feels that it is really at one with a theatre; when audience and theatre-people can feel that they are both the answer to one another, there we have the Theatre in its truest form. To create such a Theatre is our real purpose" ("What the Group Theatre Wants"). In the same month Clurman is quoted as saying the Group prefers "plays that have a life-affirming rather than a life-negating, a yea-saying rather than a nay-saying spirit." 1931- lasts only nine days, and the next production, Anderson's verse drama Night over Taos, will last only ten.

1932

January
Barry's domestic comedy The Animal Kingdom is staged and enjoys a run of 183. Daring for its age, the play presents a young woman "living in sin" with a young man, then remaining his mistress when he gets married. Far from leading to dire consequences, the continued union proves fortunate: his marriage to a femme fatale who cares for little but money and begins corrupting him breaks up, and he accepts his understanding mistress as his "real wife" after all. She had warned him that his "love" for the woman was purely sexual: "For all our big talk, we still belong to the animal kingdom."

February
Shaw's Too True to be Good, another "political extravaganza" but more of a fantasy than a realistic debate over issues, is presented in New York by the Theatre Guild, at the Malvern Festival in August, then in London in September, where it has a run of 47. Beginning with a bedridden young lady dreaming that she hears a Microbe complain that she has given a disease to him, yet he gets the blame; proceeding to her flight from deadening respectability on a hedonistic sojourn with a burglar-lover, which soon becomes as boring as life was at home; and concluding with the lover, a former clergyman, bewailing that mankind is "falling endlessly and hopelessly through a void in which they can find no footing," the play is received as an often-enjoyable curio marked by apparent pessimism and formlessness. The Microbe anticipates this reception in Act I when he says, "The play is now virtually over, but the characters will discuss it at great length for two acts more."

Writing to the drama historian Allardyce Nicoll some time later, Shaw comments on "the great length to which Too True carries my practice of making my characters say not what in real life they could never bring themselves to say, even if they understood themselves clearly enough, but the naked soul truth, quite objectively and scientifically presented, thus combining the extreme of unnaturalness with the greatest attainable naturalness. . . . The highest drama is nothing but a striving towards this feat of interpretation."

London's Group Theatre (no relation to New York's) is formed by members of the new Westminster Theatre company, with Rupert Doone as leader, to provide an alternative to commercial drama. It will produce plays by Eliot, W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and others. The group will lapse in 1938, then revive for a few productions in 1950-53.

March
Just before O'Neill and Hauptmann will meet at a Theatre Guild dinner during the intermission in a performance of Mourning Becomes Electra, Hauptmann states in a Herald Tribune interview that O'Neill "is one of the really great figures in modern drama. . . . The drama, under him, has found a new type of artistic expression. In some plays O'Neill is a really vital social force. I esteem his Hairy Ape as one of the really great social plays of our time. In other plays O'Neill is a sensitive poet; a really fine poet. His Negro play, All God's Chillun Got Wings, . . . treats a very important problem intelligently, and above all, beautifully."

May
J[ohn] B[oynton] Priestley's first sole-authored play, the unique murder mystery Dangerous Corner, is staged at the Lyric Theatre in London, has a run of 151, and becomes one of his most popular works. At first the play is panned so severely that backers discontinue their support, but the author and his agent invest their own funds in a production company, English Plays Ltd, to maintain its run. Later the company will ally itself with the small Duchess Theatre, where several of his premieres will be held. This play's structure yields its main impact: a group of literary people discuss the proverb "Let sleeping dogs lie," then take the "dangerous corner" of digging into each other's secrets, among them embezzlement, adultery, and murder. But after a blackout they begin duplicating their early conversation, this time however without waking the sleeping dogs, and subsequently enjoy themselves dancing. In retrospect Priestley downgrades the play to "merely an ingenious box of tricks."

In “Sex and the Modern Theatre” (Harper’s), Rice sets real-life sex in opposition to the ways sex might be represented in the contemporary theatre. He concludes that contemporary plays deal more openly with sex than in the past, but still do so timidly and superficially—far from the boundaries of the genuinely serious treatment possible and desirable.

September
Lawson's best realistic play, Success Story, is produced by the Group Theatre and has a run of 121 despite largely negative reviews from critics. Intended as "an indictment of the whole system of values which capitalism imposed upon us," the drama focuses on a young Jew's hard-driving rise to the top of an advertising agency. Along the way he sets aside his former radicalism and the young lady who shared it, forces the head of the agency to make him a partner and usurps his mistress, then marries that glittering symbol of capitalist temptation. Still discontented, he tries to begin an affair with the woman who always loved him. When she rejects him hysterically, the ensuing battle ends in an ambiguous gunshot and his death, ennobled to a degree when he takes the gun from her to make it look like a suicide. The pessimistic thrust of the ending troubled the Group's leaders, but they were not able to convince Lawson to change it.

Shaw is unanimously elected President of the newly formed Irish Academy of Letters, with Yeats as Vice President. He remains in this figurehead position until 1935.

O'Neill has been struggling to compose Days Without End since June, but on September 1 he records: "awoke with idea for this 'Nostalgic Comedy' & worked out tentative outline—seems fully formed & ready to write." By the end of the month he completes the first draft of Ah, Wilderness!, He will not finish Days Without End to his satisfaction until October 1933.

October
The Irish Players of the Abbey Theatre begin a four-week presentation of their repertory in New York after completing a tour of the States. In November 1934 they will return for a four-week stand.

November
In his "Memoranda on Masks" (American Spectator), O'Neill writes, "I hold more and more surely to the conviction that the use of masks will be discovered eventually to be the freest solution of the modern dramatist's problem as to how—with the greatest possible dramatic clarity and economy of means—he can express those profound hidden conflicts of the mind which the probings of psychology continue to disclose to us. . . . For what, at bottom, is the new psychological insight into human cause and effect but a study in masks, an exercise in unmasking?" In a follow-up two months later he makes the claim that masks would give actors "the opportunity for a totally new kind of acting," unfolding "many undeveloped possibilities of their art," since "the mask is dramatic in itself, is a proven weapon of attack. At its best, it is more subtly, imaginatively, suggestively dramatic than any actor's face can ever be." Ironically, after Days Without End a year later, O'Neill ceases using masks in his plays.

December
Behrman's finest comedy of manners, Biography, is staged by the Theatre Guild and has a run of 238. (Its run in London, starting April 1934, is only 45.) The leading character is a sophisticated, ultra-tolerant young woman who is notorious for having affairs with the celebrities whose portraits she paints. Dimensions of romance and the drama of ideas emerge from her interactions with a conventional politician who deplores that it was he "with whom this woman first sinned before God," and an intense Marxist who can't stand tolerant people but who can't help falling in love with the freethinking painter. His request that she write her guaranteed-racy autobiography for his magazine appals the politician, who fears his youthful indiscretion will be disclosed. It is the virulent editor, however, who causes her to reject his proposal: while his vulnerability and strong social conscience attract her motherly instincts, she realizes that her "essential quality—the thing that is me—" will never allow them to be compatible. At the end she leaves for Hollywood to paint Academy Award winners.

1933

January
Coward's amoral comedy ironically entitled Design for Living, written for Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, and himself, is performed in New York at the highest Broadway ticket prices ever. Curiously, the principal actors call a halt to the production after a run of 130. (By 1934 the play is available in London as a book and film, but it will not be staged there until January 1939, when its run totals 203.) The plot rings changes on the eternal triangle: a sexually sophisticated woman who carries on affairs with two men (apparently homosexual partners) marries a third she doesn't love to simplify her life and escape their jealousy; the new arrangement lasts only until the two men reappear to claim her and she willingly assents.

Mordaunt Shairp's The Green Bay Tree is staged in London and enjoys a run of 217; in New York it will run for 21 weeks. The play’s protagonist is a wealthy aesthete who is also a homosexual. He has adopted a beautiful foundling as a future sexual partner, and tries to mold him into a carbon copy of himself. In his twenties, however, the young man obeys his natural instinct and falls in love with an attractive professional woman. She does her best to steer him toward a more normal, fulfilling life, but cannot overcome the effects of his sheltered upbringing and the rich man’s added pressure to keep him. At the curtain his protege is seen arranging flowers exactly as he himself had at the start of the play. In September 1926 a play called The Captive had dealt with lesbianism and had been closed by authorities. The success of Shairp’s play prompts a revival of Ackerley’s Prisoners of War (1925) in January 1935, but it is a commercial failure.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt begins twelve years as president of the United States. The “New Deal” he will put into motion addresses huge problems of unemployment, financial instability in families and businesses, and other Depression-inflicted anxieties.

Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany and by March the Nazi government wins dictatorial power. Hitler will wield this power for twelve years.

March
Anderson's mediocre propaganda piece on current politics, Both Your Houses, is staged by the Theatre Guild and attains a run of over 100. Ironically, it subsequently wins the only Pulitzer Anderson will win, probably because of its mordantly comic portrait of Congress as a den of amiable thieves. In retrospect (1949), Anderson notes that the producer withheld the play so long "that though it was written as a satire on the Hoover administration it didn't come out till Roosevelt was in the White House. By that time the play seemed quite pointless."

May
Johnston's highly experimental play A Bride for the Unicorn is performed at the Gate. (It will reach London in July 1936, when it is staged 19 times.) A complex and prolix treatment of youthful passion, the drama portrays the spiritual and sexual union of an adolescent and a dreamlike woman who materializes magically and enchants him. After granting him one night of love and marrying him, she evaporates. The man lives an ordinary life made all the more prosaic by this mystic night until, on the brink of death, the lady reappears. A dying embrace transports him into her ethereal realm. This sequence of action follows a Prelude, set in an "aery timeless region" in which the lady and a gentleman join "Seven Companions" who are to enact the play that follows. Like J. B. Priestley later, Johnston incorporates the dual-time theories of J. W. Dunne into his basic conception of quotidian and "timeless" existence, one factor that makes the play a daunting theatrical experience. He will revise it repeatedly, and admit that he never solved the problems occasioned by attempting "a kind of play for which there was no prototype . . . at the time."

Maugham's faithful translation of Luigi Chiarelli's "grotesque comedy" The Mask and the Face is performed in London, then by the Theatre Guild in New York.

July
Brinsley MacNamara's only memorable play, Margaret Gillian, is staged at the Abbey. Over-intensity is at once its virtue and its flaw: the drama arises from an almost unbroken series of fierce face-to-face conflicts revolving around the powerful title character and the author's favorite subject for comedy as well as tragedy, dometic intrigue. The strongly implied criticism of Irish institutions reflects the author's memorable description of himself as a "kind of enemy of his people."

September
Maugham's last play, Sheppey, which he called a "sardonic comedy," is staged in London and has a run of 83. A barber wins the lottery and, to his family's dismay (and much of the theatre public's disapproval), decides to emulate Christ and spend the money on the poor. He is judged insane.

Bridie's wide-ranging foray against pseudoscience, A Sleeping Clergyman, is staged in London after having been received enthusiastically at the Malvern Festival in June; it has a run of 230. The play, which traces three generations of illegitimate offspring starting with a hard-driving medical student, incorporates a Shavian demonstration (complete with intellectual discussions) that upward evolution does not depend upon conventional "prerequisites." A choral commentator and a sleeping clergyman (God?) provide bridges between the time periods. The Theatre Guild in New York will perform the play in October 1934.

The Group Theatre enjoys its first remunerative production, Sidney Kingsley's engrossing hospital drama Men in White. It manages a long run and wins the Pulitzer when the drama committee, whose choice is Anderson's Mary of Scotland, is overruled by the Board. Group members are acutely sensitive that it takes a conventional melodrama to "save" the company, but their superb production of it is a major contributing factor.

October
O'Neill's only comedy, Ah, Wilderness!, is staged by the Theatre Guild, enjoys a run of 289, and is revived frequently. (It reaches London in May 1936, where its run is just 64.) The intense 17-year-old protagonist quotes Wilde, Shaw, Swinburne and Omar Khayyam to scandalize his conventional parents (à la the young O'Neill), but avows innocent intentions when the father of a girl he is infatuated with shows them a "dissolute and blasphemous" poem he had sent her ("Why, I—I love her!"). Still, he risks alienating them after he receives a rejecting letter from the girl: he gets drunk and goes to a brothel for revenge. However, all ends well when he cannot go through with his plan, and he soon learns that the girl's father made her write the letter. The reunion with her is tender and the reconciliation with his parents as sentimental as even an atypical O'Neill can get. The playwright tells a friend that the play's "whole importance and reality depend on its conveying a mood of memory in exactly the right illuminating blend of wistful grin and lump in the throat."

November
Shaw's On the Rocks: A Political Comedy is presented in London and manages a run of 73. A hypothetical fantasy set inside10 Downing Street with mobs of the unemployed outside, the play poses a conflict between two contrasting ways of trying to save the country: a series of socialist reforms or rule by a right-thinking dictator like Moses, Lenin, or Mussolini. The amiable Prime Minister finds himself unable to gain acceptance for his reforms or to accept dictatorial powers and, to the sound of riots, retires from politics.

Anderson's historical romance Mary of Scotland is produced by the Theatre Guild and attains a run of 248. Critics laud the quality of its blank verse and largely accept the play's romanticizing alterations of history (as in Elizabeth the Queen, for example, Elizabeth has a nonhistorical climactic meeting with the other principal). Anderson's strategy here is to develop a sharp conflict between virtue and vice; to that end, he falsifies Mary to make her a more sympathetic character, and Elizabeth to make her seem more Machiavellian, if not downright villainous. The queen conspires successfully against the gracious idealist, spreading false scandal about her and her true love, Bothwell, influencing her to marry a drunken sot, and imprisoning her when she "escapes" to England. However, Mary rises to heroism at the finale, proudly rejecting a deal for freedom in return for renouncing her claim to the throne, going to her death secure in her integrity—and in her knowledge that her son James will ultimately become king.

Sherwood's Acropolis, a seminal play in his career but rejected by the Theatre Guild, never satisfactory to him as a drama and never published, is presented twelve times in London. The play reflects a new idea of democracy based on the glory years of Periclean Athens. According to Sherwood, this vision liberated him from the pessimism he found so well expressed in Joseph Wood Krutch's The Modern Temper (1929), and allowed him to progress to The Petrified Forest, Idiot's Delight, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, and There Shall Be No Night.

Peace on Earth by George Sklar and Albert Maltz is presented at the Civic Repertory Theatre as the first production of the Theatre Union, an organization formed earlier in the year as a professional outlet for the various amateur workers' theatre groups that had recently emerged. Their initial manifesto states: "We produce plays that deal boldly with the deep-going social conflicts, the economic, emotional, and cultural problems that confront the majority of the people. Our plays speak directly to this majority . . . . This is a new kind of professional theatre, based on the interests and hopes of the great mass of working people." Although inspired by revolutionary socialist motives, most members ally themselves with the United Front rather than the Communist Party, and disclaim an interest in narrow propaganda plays such as agit-prop. The group will manage six more productions before financial problems cause its demise in 1937.

December
Jack Kirkland's dramatization of Erskine Caldwell's earthy, sensational novel Tobacco Road is performed to largely negative reviews but goes on to set a new Broadway record run of 3,182.

1934

January
O'Neill's semi-expressionistic Days Without End is staged by the Theatre Guild, evokes a host of negative reviews, and manages a run of only 57. (In London it is staged twice in February 1935.) The playwright described it as a "modern miracle play" which "reveals a man's search for truth amid the conflicting doctrines of the modern world and his return to his old religious faith." The two-sided protagonist, a Faust-figure who strives for spiritual enlightenment combined with a Mephistophelian second self (a masked actor only he can see), goes through phases of atheism, Socialism, and Nietzscheanism until he finds a soul-mate with whom he unites in apparently perfect love. However, when he yields to the temptation of adultery, his wife is propelled to the brink of death by a traumatic loss of faith and, stricken with guilt, he dominates his alter ego and confronts the figure of Christ in a Catholic church to beg forgiveness and find divine love. His wife intuits his spiritual state, forgives him, and regains her health. His return to the faith of his childhood strikes his second self mortally, and the good news about his wife prompts an exultant curtain line: "Life laughs with God's love again! Life laughs with love!" O'Neill will later pronounce the last act "a phony." A Catholic reviewer heralds the drama as "the great Catholic play of the age," but a more typical reaction is that of John Mason Brown: "almost everything that was simple, straight-forward and disarmingly poignant in the miracle plays of old becomes tedious . . . turgid and artificial in this fakey preachment of our times."

In a review of Anderson's work to date, the scholar / critic Walter Prichard Eaton writes in the New York Herald Tribune that "in an age when we have assumed that realism was king and we almost gleefully declared the poetic drama to be as dead as the Dodo, Maxwell Anderson has given us poetic plays and made us go to them in droves, and like them." He then issues a challenge that might have contributed to Anderson's decision to write Winterset: "Can he push on and create a poetic drama of modern life?" and proceeds to guess that that is "the artistic problem which lurks largest at the back of Anderson's mind."

February
O'Casey's Within the Gates: A Play of Four Scenes in a London Park is staged in London and manages a run of only 40; its New York production in October will run for over 100. (Later it is banned in Boston.) The play will not be presented in Ireland until an amateur production in May 1977. Within the Gates originated in early 1928 as a filmscript involving a highly stylized portrait of Hyde Park in each of the four seasons—"its life, its colour, its pathos, its pattern; its meaning to the rest of England." O'Casey briefly aroused the interest of Alfred Hitchcock, who had filmed Juno and the Paycock four years before, but a film never materialized. He laboriously rewrote the script as a play between October 1932 and November 1933, and it became his second play to be published before performance (O'Casey needed the publisher's advance on royalties; the book came out in November 1933). The "stage version" that later appears in Collected Plays (1949) is considerably revised.

Within the Gates is an expressionist morality play depicting a world of symbolic characters and representative opinions, focusing on the efforts of conflicting spokesmen—a capitalist, an evangelist, an atheist, a poet-dreamer, and a bishop—to bring salvation to a young prostitute dying of a heart condition. After dancing with the poet, whose positive vision of life inspires her, and learning that the bishop is her natural father, she accepts his blessing and goes through the motions of conversion. Eliot admires the play, and O'Neill tells O'Casey that he envied its "rare and sensitive poetical beauty."

In a letter to Lady Astor Shaw says that O'Casey "is all right now that his shift from Dublin slums to Hyde Park has shewn that his genius is not limited by frontiers. His plays are wonderfully impressive and reproachful without being irritating like mine. People fall crying into one another's arms saying God forgive us all! instead of refusing to speak and going to their solicitors for a divorce."

W. H. Auden's one-act verse drama The Dance of Death is performed twice for subscribers to London's Group Theatre, then restaged publicly 15 times beginning October 1935, paired with Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes. A mixture of genres from ballet to agitprop, the play is panned as jejune leftist propaganda and praised for the colloquial rhythms of its poetic dialogue. Auden calls it a "picture of the decline of a class" (the middle class); a Marx-figure makes a definitive pronouncement.

The notorious Scottsboro case, in which nine Negro boys were indicted for raping two white girls in March 1931 but ultimately cleared of most charges, is treated in two plays premiering a week apart: Dennis Donoghue's Legal Murder, a flop on Broadway, and John Wexley's They Shall Not Die, produced by the Theatre Guild to mixed reviews. Another anti-racist play involving the false accusation of a black by a white woman is performed by the Theatre Union in April: Stevedore by George Sklar and Paul Peters. An obscure performance of Langston Hughes's agitprop one-act, Scottsboro Limited, predated these efforts in May 1932.

May
Robinson's long one-act about the nature of playwriting as an Irishman, Church Street, is staged at the Abbey. The protagonist is a self-exiled dramatist who visits his home after failing to impress English playgoers with satires of London society. He finds his true material deep under the unpromising surface of Irish village life, and his most effective dramaturgy in crafting the process of unfolding that material.

Eliot’s The Rock: A Pageant Play is staged at Sadler’s Wells Theatre 13 times to audiences of over a thousand per night. He had accepted a commission from the Anglican diocese of London to supply the text (with others) for a theatrical spectacle which would benefit the Forty-Five Churches Fund. The episodic scenario which he was given to work with traces the history of the English church from ancient to modern times in a production requiring 22 scene changes, an orchestra and choir, and a cast of 300. Its distinction as one of many such fund-raising events lies in the memorable poetic speeches he wrote for the choral narrator / commentator (later printed in his collections of poetry). Eliot responds to detractors that the play was a “revue and an advertisement,” not a contribution to dramatic literature; "My only serious dramatic aim was to show that there is a possible role for a chorus" (June Spectator). Nevertheless, later critics have found it not only a trial run for Murder in the Cathedral but also a precursor of dramaturgic patterns that will occur throughout his playwriting career.

July
O'Casey reviews D. H. Lawrence's first play, A Collier's Friday Night (1909), and says "It is not a great play, not even a fine play," but it shows that with "a little more experience, a little more encouragement, . . . England might have had a great dramatist."

August
Social Security is established for needy retirees over 65.

Samuel Beckett, a great admirer of Yeats's poetry, comments in a letter to a friend that he saw the latest of his plays, Resurrection and King of the Great Clock Tower, and found them dull. "Balbus building his wall would be more dramatic."

September
Priestley's somber period piece, Eden End, is staged at the Duchess Theatre and enjoys a run of 162. Set just before the disruptions of World War I, the play deals with what Priestley says in his 1970 book on Chekhov are the subjects of The Cherry Orchard: "time and change and folly and regret and vanished happiness and hope for the future." A seriously ill widower sees his once-stable family come into conflict over love affairs and yearnings for a new life. The central action involves the return of a daughter who had left to become an actress, disappointing a man who loved her. Her reappearance diverts his growing interest in her sister, who responds by summoning the prodigal's estranged husband; the man chooses to leave for New Zealand. But as "Eden" comes to an end and the old doctor nears death, he still musters the spirit to recall the recent birth of a baby and insist that "life's a very wonderful thing." The play's refined characterization and wavering moods evoke the term "Chekhovian," but the linear mode of dialogue does not. Priestley later calls it one of his favorite plays.

October
O'Casey, at a New York rehearsal of Within the Gates, berates the language in popular drawing-room comedy: " The trouble is that these bloody men writing today don't know how to put one word to another. . . . There's not one line of poetry from one end of their plays to the other." As for his own dialogue, "If I had the characters in my plays speak as Irishmen ordinarily speak, I'd be writing rubbish. I get a copper phrase and do my best to turn it into gold" (New York Times).

Yeats, in an address entitled "The Irish National Theatre," calls Synge's The Playboy of the Western World "picturesque, poetical, fantastical, a masterpiece of style and music" (David R. Clark, W. B. Yeats and the Theatre of Desolate Reality).

November
Yeats’s haunting one-act prose drama about Jonathan Swift, The Words upon the Window-Pane, is successfully performed at the Abbey. The play enacts a spiritualist event realistically, a séance in which a medium who knows little of Swift except that he was “a dirty old man” and considers his presence an intrusion unrelated to the people who have come, becomes the involuntary mouthpiece for discussions between him and the two women who cherished him. Swift first counteracts Vanessa’s plea for fulfilling their love by insisting that he must not transmit his latent madness, then basks in Stella’s acceptance of great friendship without physical love. Present at the séance is a doctoral student who remains sceptical but credits the medium with being “an accomplished actress and scholar” who happened upon the only plausible explanation of Swift’s celibacy. After everyone but the medium leaves, however, the spirit of Swift possesses her again, uttering “Perish the day on which I was born!” In a long, digressive preface to the published text, Yeats relates the play to Swift’s idea of “national life” as an alternative to others Ireland is currently drawn to, echoing the student’s view that he was “the chief representative of the intellect of his epoch, that arrogant intellect free at last from superstition,” who foresaw Democracy but “dreaded the future.”

Lillian Hellman's first play, The Children's Hour, is staged on Broadway and enjoys a run of 691. In London the Examiner of Plays keeps it from being performed until November 1936—and then at a private theatre—because of the theme of suspected lesbianism. (It is also banned in Boston and Chicago.) Derived from a story about a scandal in Edinburgh in 1809 described in William Roughed's Bad Companions (1930), the play erupts from the accusation of a resentful student in a girl's boarding school that two of her teachers are involved in "strange" relations. Though patently false, the charge turns community sentiment against the women and changes both of their lives irreversibly: one who was going to be married feels that her fiancé would never be free of some degree of suspicion, and the other becomes convinced that she may indeed love her friend "that way." When the latter kills herself, the former faces a barren, lonely existence. A fairly sophisticated well-made play with no concession to "poetic justice," this gripping melodrama can still hold its audiences, as a 1952 revival evidences. Hellman says in the December New York Times that year that she did not think of the child as "the utterly malignant creature which playgoers see in her" but as "neurotic, sly"—"a bad character but never outside life. It's the results of her lie that make her so dreadful—this is really not a play about lesbianism, but about a lie. The bigger the lie the better, as always."

Eliot's first independently written drama, the verse playlet Sweeney Agonistes: Fragments of an Aristophanic Melodrama, is presented by London's Group Theatre, then restaged publicly 15 times beginning October 1935, paired with Auden's The Dance of Death. Written in 1932 and performed at an American college in May 1933, the original script bore the title Wanna Go Home, Baby?. Consisting of a "Fragment of a Prologue" and "Fragment of an Agon," with a concluding prose scene not published until 1943, the brief drama is qualitatively close to the "fragments . . . shored against my ruin" depicting spiritual barrenness in "The Waste Land," and is valued as a striking, innovative theatre piece largely because of such qualities. The character of Sweeney, who tries to convince a loose woman to accompany him to a lush but perilous island where there is nothing but "Birth, and copulation, and death," is an unforgettable emblematic figure, and the prolonged knocks early in the play and then at the end are hauntingly suggestive. Critics will liken its stylized mystification to theatre of the absurd.

Rice announces his retirement from the stage, later to be annulled, because of disgust at commercial theatre in America. He says: "I have always been, and still am, interested in the drama as an art form, a social force and a medium for the expression of ideas. I have never been interested in the theatre as a place of business or a place of amusement." He calls the "theatre game as it is played on Broadway" mainly "a trivial pastime devised by 'grown-up' children for the delectation of the mentally and emotionally immature."

December
Anderson's verse play about a crucial episode in American history, Valley Forge, is produced by the Theatre Guild, receives a mixed critical reaction, and has a run of only 58. The partly fictionalized portrait of General Washington at the nadir of his fortunes, with scant support from the Continental Congress and opposition from some of his own generals, but staunchly refusing to surrender not only to the British but also to a lady sent by the enemy to tempt him, is deemed problematic. Again, Anderson alters history for the sake of a dramatic encounter between the hero and the major antagonist, in this case General Howe.

Reviewing two of O'Casey's short plays in Bookman, Beckett calls him "a master of knockabout in this very serious and honourable sense—that he discerns the principle of disintegration in even the most complacent solidities, and activates it to their explosion. This is the energy of his theatre, the triumph of the principle of knockabout in situation, in all its elements and on all its planes, from the furniture to the higher centres. If Juno and the Paycock, as seems likely, is his best work so far, it is because it communicates most fully this dramatic dehiscence, mind and world come asunder in irreparable dissociation."

1935

January
Clifford Odets's first produced play, the forty-minute one-act Waiting for Lefty, is given a series of low-cost benefit performances at the Civic Repertory Theatre, where the audiences are largely blue-collar and leftist. The January 5th premiere excites a reaction that one of the Group Theatre producers, Cheryl Crawford, calls "tumultuous," "wild," and "fantastic"; another, Harold Clurman, says that "the first scene had not played two minutes when a shock of delightful recognition struck the audience like a tidal wave. . . . Audience and actors had become one." Its notoriety allows it to move to Broadway in late March, where Odets's crude anti-Nazi one-act Till the Day I Die is added. Again at cut rates, the double bill runs for 21 weeks. Subsequently the play, which Odets wrote in only three days, becomes the most widely performed—and most frequently banned—play in America, and is presented at many social-reform venues in England.

Waiting for Lefty is a flagrantly anticapitalist and procommunist piece structured as agitprop (Odets calls it his "Workers' Play"; the Communist Manifesto is cited repeatedly). It will become recognized as the masterpiece of this constricting genre mainly because, although inspired by an actual taxi strike, it attacks the capitalist exploitation of workers in general rather than focusing on a specific cause, as most agitprop plays do. Within the framework of a taxi drivers' committee confronting a corrupt union boss (whose henchman kills "Lefty," their leader, offstage), the play presents a series of flashbacks dramatizing the plights of two of these workers, a lab assistant, and a physician; a rarely performed episode even focuses on a young actor. At the finale, the workers summon the audience to join in their call to "STRIKE, STRIKE, STRIKE!!!"

Laurence Housman's unique "play cycle," Victoria Regina, is staged in a restricted venue in London, then on Broadway in December, where it enjoys a run of 517. (The Lord Chamberlain's office at first would not permit a West-End production because the play deals with a recent monarch, but by June 1937 the ban is lifted and it enjoys a run of 337.) Its series of episodes in the life of Queen Victoria, each an autonomous playlet on a single theme, is praised for ingenuity. Housman had employed the form earlier in Little Plays of St Francis: A Dramatic Cycle from the Life and Legend of St Francis of Assissi (1922), which became a favorite resource for amateur stage presentations.

Sherwood's romantic and allegorical melodrama, The Petrified Forest, is staged on Broadway and enjoys a run of 197. Set entirely in the lunchroom of a grubby service station near Arizona's petrified forest, the play depicts a cross section of partly symbolic characters representing petrifaction or aspiring to avoid it. These include sharply contrasted male leads, an intellectual in search of "something that's worth living for—or dying for" and a gangster-on-the-run typed as "the last great apostle of rugged individualism." The central line of plot links the two through a young woman who was brought up to serve hamburgers but yearns for a richer life abroad: the man of "brains without purpose" secretly enables the waitress to pursue her dream by making his life insurance out to her, and then convincing the killer to shoot him. During a shootout with a posse, the gangster obliges him (before an improbable escape), and the waitress tenderly promises to bury him where he wishes—in the petrified forest. Sherwood later expresses dissatisfaction with the play's resolution, and generalizes that "The trouble with me is that I start with a big message and end up with nothing but good entertainment." Subsequent critics tend to agree.

O'Neill begins planning and writing unquestionably the most ambitious dramatic magnum opus ever conceived: an epic cycle of dramas (progressing as the years pass from five to eleven long plays) which will depict the generations of an Irish-American family, representative of the United States throughout its history, living out the nation's "ironic tragedy" of a preoccupation with material gain in a land of plenty at the expense of humanistic values—and of the women caught in the web. As he describes the project in a July letter to a friend, when he visualizes seven plays encompassing 1829 to 1932, "Each play will be, as far as it is possible, complete in itself while at the same time an indispensable link in the whole. . . . Each play will be concentrated around the final fate of one member of the family but will also carry the story of the family as a whole." The theme is conveyed by the title he ultimately decides upon, "A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed," and by a biblical saying he applies to the cycle, "For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" O'Neill finishes preliminary drafts of several of the plays in the next eight years, but is fully satisfied with only one, A Touch of the Poet. His increasing physical problems in the 1940s will make him realize that he is unable to finish the others; he therefore destroys all the unfinished manuscripts except the one for More Stately Mansions. He leaves explicit directions for that to be destroyed in case of his death, but a copy survives and his wife authorizes an abridged version to be published in 1964.

February
Shaw's "vision of judgment," The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles, is performed in New York by the Theatre Guild, then at the Malvern Festival in July. A futuristic and allegorical fantasy, the play portrays attempts to improve the race by merging West and East, then to avoid the consequences of Judgment Day (announced by angels) by proving one's social usefulness. Many people disappear, among them children named Love, Pride, Heroism and Empire and many doctors and politicians, and the remainder are incited to dedicate themselves to work and thought for the improvement of life.

Odets's first and best full-length play, the domestic drama Awake and Sing!, is staged by the Group Theatre, enjoys a run of 185, and gives the directors a heralded playwright whose up-and-down fortunes will become their own. (In London the Stage Society stages it once in February 1938.) Derived from a more downbeat play entitled I Got the Blues, begun in 1932, the drama depicts a poor Jewish family with a vital, down-to-earth matriarch, her inept husband, Willy-Loman father, and malleable son and daughter in their twenties. The main crises arise from the deleterious effect of the mother on the young woman and the inspiring effect of the grandfather on the young man. The daughter has gotten pregnant by a war-damaged racketeer whom she loves, but her mother forces her to marry a recent immigrant to avoid scandal and because he is sure to make "a good living." She finally tells her meek husband he is not the father and runs away with her life-affirming lover. The son, a blue-collar worker on a low-wage job, is infatuated with a beautiful orphan but aspires toward his Marxist grandfather's summons to help change society because "life shouldn't be printed on dollar bills." When the old man names him benefactor of an insurance policy so that he can "Awake and sing," then commits suicide, he feels reborn, renounces his sentimental love and the money, and becomes a radical agitator. The play's durability is insured by Odets's mastery of naturalistic anticapitalist drama, akin to that of O'Casey, and of idiomatic Jewish language and urban slang (Waldo Frank comments, "No one else is writing such dialogue").

The Neighborhood Playhouse performs Federico García Lorca's Bodas de sangre in a translation entitled Bitter Oleander (more commonly translated as Blood Wedding).

March
The topical verse play of Archibald MacLeish, Panic, is presented at the adventuresome new Phoenix Theater on Broadway. It is performed only three times but its treatment of Depression hysteria stirs intense controversy, being attacked by capitalists and communists alike. At the time MacLeish was both a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and a prolific contributor to Fortune magazine. The play, prompted by the bank panic of 1933, depicts an Oedipus-figure who is also a powerful businessman, one of the few (in the author's eyes) who is capable of leadership in the financial plague besetting the country. However, he gradually succumbs to belief in the fate decreed by communist doctrine and voiced by a blind, false prophet—the Depression is capitalism's death knell—and commits suicide. The final performance is followed by a "critical symposium" dominated by carping Party intellectuals, among them Lawson. In a brief preface to the printed play (dated November 1934), MacLeish presents a theory of dramatic verse "directly opposed to the manner of blank verse" which could become "an instrument beautifully adapted to the representation . . . . of the highly stressed vigorous speech of our time and country." The play applies this theory.

Shaw suggests the permeation strategy of his last three plays in responding to Krutch's assertion that spectators will spoil their enjoyment if they search for their serious meaning, since none exists: "People come to a play as they come to all forms of art, to have their minds agreeably occupied in their hours of leisure." As for speculating on the meaning of his plays, "I can only say that I object to it strenuously. . . . If I have ulterior designs, if in occupying the playgoer's mind agreeably I take advantage of his pre-occupation to extirpate his worn-out convictions and substitute fresh ones: in short, if I not only occupy his mind but change it, then the last thing I desire is that he should be conscious of the operation. . . . I like my patients to leave the hospital without a suspicion that they have been operated on and are leaving it with a new set of glands" (Malvern Festival Book).

April
Teresa Deevy's fourth play, The King of Spain's Daughter, premieres at the Abbey Theatre. Greeted somewhat patronizingly by Joseph Holloway as "a clever little work," this short one-act play has subsequently been recognized as "an utterly surprising . . . play, which astonishes in its swift and brutal energy" (Robert Welch). It centres on an imaginative and passionate character from a small community, Annie Kinsella, who bears a resemblance to Ellen in Margaret O'Leary's 1929 play The Woman. Like Ellen, she is hungry for a kind of love that the local farmers are unable to satisfy. She is finally forced into a marriage with a man she does not love, but at the end of the play she continues to seek comfort in her own fantasies.

May
Introducing his volume Two Plays, Rice diagnoses "the dramatist's real dilemma" as follows: "Like every other artist, he is interested in projecting reality as he sees it. But he finds himself dependent upon an interpretive medium which is essentially artificial, conservative and conventional. Like every other artist, he wishes, as he matures, to penetrate more and more deeply into his material and to concern himself with inner meaning rather than with external appearances. But he finds himself confronted with an audience, which is untutored, slow of apprehension and impatient of subtleties; an audience, which is eternally on an emotional and intellectual level that can only be described as adolescent."

June
The annual Canterbury Festival, which began performing Christian dramas in 1928, begins its practice of commissioning and presenting original Christian verse dramas with Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. (Masefield's The Coming of Christ in 1928 and Laurence Binyon's The Young King in 1934 were the only previous contemporary plays.) This will touch off a promising "revival of religious drama" that will encompass plays by Charles Williams (Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury, 1936), Dorothy Sayers (The Zeal of Thy House, 1937; The Devil to Pay, 1939), Christopher Fry (Thor, with Angels, 1948), and others.

August
The Federal Theatre Project, under the Works Project Administration, is instituted with the appointment of Hallie Flanagan as director. The chief premises are: "1. That the re-employment of theatre people now on relief rolls is the primary aim. 2. That this re-employment shall be in theatre enterprises offering dramatic entertainment either free or at low cost. 3. That whenever possible regional theatres developing native plays and original methods of production shall be encouraged." (Arthur Miller gets himself put on relief in 1939 in order to work for the FTP.) In 1940 Flanagan will publish Arena: The History of the Federal Theatre, the definitive early account.

In "Question of Audience" (New Theatre) MacLeish takes the occasion of the closing of Odets's Waiting for Lefty to proclaim: "The American theatre is as dead as we have been saying it was for many years and the American theatre is more alive than it has ever been in its history. What is dead is the commercial theatre with all its appurtenances, all its critical and promotional paraphernalia, all its tricks, all its grimaces. What is alive is the workers' theatre with all its lacks, all its poverty, all its meagerness—and all its passion, its eloquence, its insolence, its force." In this theatre "art may touch and reach. It may be more powerful than the possessors of power, more serious than the creators of knowledge, more persuasive than the action of armies."

September
Anderson's poetic drama envisioning a tragic aftermath of the Sacco-Vanzetti case, Winterset, is staged at the Martin Beck Theatre. Far surpassing his earlier play on the same theme, Gods of the Lightning (1926), this one enjoys a run of 179 and wins the first New York Drama Critics Circle Award. The play is praised for its rich dramaturgy, highly successful application of verse dialogue (when appropriate) to a contemporary theme, and striking expressionistic setting; it continues to be recognized as a masterpiece of modern American drama. Inspired by a friend's account of the mental torment the judge who presided at the trial was experiencing, Anderson wrote the play in just two months (March and April). His generic model was revenge tragedy; elements of the plot echo Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth. Years after a (fictionally named) anarchist was executed for a crime he did not commit, three men are preoccupied with a recently disclosed defense witness who was never called to testify: the defendant's obsessed and eloquent young son, determined to clear his father; the demented judge, vainly seeking confirmation of his guilty verdict; and the actual murderer, a mobster just out of jail who intends to muffle the witness as he had in the past. Before they all congregate, the son meets the witness's much younger sister at a dance and they fall instantly in love. Their destiny, to die in one another's arms, ironically emerges from the revelation of the defendant's innocence when all the key characters are present, a confession that comes in a surreal mock trial not from the witness but from the mobster who did the killing. Policemen arrive but are turned away to protect the girl's brother, and a hail of bullets awaits the young lovers.

Using the production and publication of Winterset as the occasion, Anderson writes in its preface, "Prelude to Poetry in the Theatre," "I have a strong and chronic hope that the theatre of this country will outgrow the phase of journalistic social comment and reach occasionally into the upper air of poetic tragedy. . . . I believe with the early Bernard Shaw that the theatre is essentially a cathedral of the spirit, devoted to the exaltation of men." He calls his dramatic extension of a current news event spoken largely in verse "more of an experiment than I could wish, for the great masters themselves never tried to make tragic poetry out of the stuff of their own times."

In his brief "Manifesto on the Theatre" Auden declares drama "essentially an art of the body"; "the most living drama of to-day" emerges from "the music hall, the Christmas pantomime, and the country house charade." (His first drama of any significance, Paid on Both Sides, was a country house charade; Eliot printed it in the January 1930 Criterion.) The manifesto also states: "The development of film has deprived drama of any excuse for being documentary. . . . The subject of drama, on the other hand, is the commonly known, the universally familiar stories of the society or generation in which it is written. . . . Similarly the drama is not suited to the analysis of character, which is the province of the novel. Dramatic characters are simplified, easily recognisable and over life-size. . . . Drama in fact deals with the general and universal, not with the particular and local."

October
Langston Hughes' melodrama of miscegenation, Mulatto, becomes the longest-running Broadway play written by a black author, tallying a run of 373. In Hughes' original version, a plantation owner has sired several children by his black housekeeper, and he sends a promising boy north to get a good education. However, when the youth returns home he demands to be treated as a real son, partly because he looks more white than black and wants to be treated as a white. When his father, severely offended, threatens to kill him, the two fight and he is strangled in retaliation. Only suicide keeps the young man from a lynch mob. In the performed version, amplified by the sensationalist director, a daughter who was also sent north is raped by the owner's brutal foreman when she returns. Hughes may have written the play as a counter to Green's controversial portrait of a mulatto in his Pulitzer-winning play In Abraham's Bosom (1927).

Sidney Kingsley's Dead End is staged and enjoys a run of 684. A banal but convincing exposé of slum life that starts the "Dead End Kids" on their movie careers, the play is honored by a command performance at the White House and helps influence a presidential slum clearance commission.

Acting on their repeated disagreement with the Pulitzer committee's choices for best plays (their 1935 award went to Zoë Akins's The Old Maid), the chief metropolitan play reviewers form the New York Drama Critics Circle to offer their own annual awards. Anderson's Winterset is its first choice. O'Neill sends his best wishes and calls Anderson's play a "splendid contribution . . . to what is finest in the American theater."

November
Eliot's moving ritual drama on the martyrdom of Thomas à Becket, Murder in the Cathedral, is staged at Ashley Dukes' Mercury Theatre in its current series of poetic dramas, and has a run of 180.
The London Times critic calls it “the one great play by a contemporary dramatist now to be seen in England.” (Revived in the West End in October 1936, its run totals 113.) The play was commissioned for the Canterbury Festival; an altered, shortened version had been presented in the cathedral’s chapter house five months before. Over the ensuing decades it will become a frequent option in a great variety of venues, and will enjoy a brilliant West End revival in April 1953 with Robert Donat earning the playwright's vote as the greatest Becket so far. After the play's initial success, however, Eliot will remark that the dramaturgy and varied language that proved so effective in this drama would have little application to future plays he might compose, since he vows to have his next one treat “a theme of contemporary life, with characters of our own time living in our own world” (Poetry and Drama, 1951). This will hold true for all four of his succeeding plays.

Elements of Greek tragedy are prominent in Murder in the Cathedral: the play begins on the brink of the catastrophe; episodes are linked by choral odes, and the Chorus of Women serves an important role; the unities of place, action, and time (in each of the two parts) are observed; poetic and prose dialogue alternate. But the thematic thrust is that of medieval morality plays. Archbishop Thomas is confronted with the temptations of sensual pleasure, secular power under the king or as the leader of rebellious barons, and the most insidious, the pursuit of martyrdom. These inner temptations are personified in four stylized tempters, who later assume the roles of the knights. Thomas triumphantly but fatefully rejects them, concluding with: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: / To do the right deed for the wrong reason." He delivers a deeply moving Christmas morning sermon about selfless martyrdom and intimates that his own is pending. The four knights issue the king’s rude demands, which Thomas also rejects; this brings the offstage assassination, described by the wailing chorus. Then, addressing the audience in the prose of Shavian debate, the knights offer their “perfectly disinterested” rationale: they sought a “just subordination” of the Church to the State. (In their defense of a state-sponsored atrocity, Eliot intended a direct allusion to the self-justifying of German fascists.) The priests and chorus allay their sadness by welcoming Becket to sainthood.

MacLeish's "A Stage for Poetry" (Stage) reacts to the plea that the theatre needs poetry: "it is only if you think of poetry as decoration, as something added to or superimposed upon ordinary language . . . that it is possible to talk about the theatre's 'need for poetry' at all." Poetry exists to probe beneath the surface into a deeper reality, and the poet "can only say: 'Here is the stage. Can you discover a use for it?' " The recent examples of Auden's Dance of Death, Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, and to a lesser extent Anderson's Winterset, testify that poets (and non-poets) are groping toward legitimate and effective uses of the stage. "If ever a true poetic play is written for the modern stage, it will make palpable and real what has never been real, what has never been palpable, in our time."

December
Odets's fourth play to be presented in 1935, the Chekhovian melodrama Paradise Lost, is staged by the Group Theatre. (In London the Stage Society stages it once in December 1938.) Though it is the play of his that the company loves most, they must struggle to keep its run going in the face of largely negative reviews, and it survives only nine weeks. The action revolves around another Depression-plagued family, this one with a protagonist that Odets describes as "the entire American middle class of liberal tendency," but one that also suffers from capitalist assumptions. The various misfortunes that are visited upon nearly all of the characters, some self-induced, arouse very qualified pathos, and the intended transcendence at the finale, when the father tries to counteract the effect of these disasters by insisting "Heartbreak and terror are not the heritage of mankind! . . . The world is in its morning . . . and no man fights alone!," comes across as ironic or "tacked on" rather than uplifting. Odets's attempt to offset anticipated criticism in a press release before the first performance, claiming that its episodic structure was another experiment in "new theatrical forms" and calling for a focus on its "earnest examination" of the characters' lives and backgrounds, damages rather than helps the play's reception.

1936

January
Auden's first collaboration with Christopher Isherwood, the verse / prose satire The Dog beneath the Skin; or, Where Is Francis?, is staged by London's Group Theatre 52 times. The play depicts the quest for a missing aristocrat by an unworldly villager who must experience the corruptions of Europe, including a brothel and an insane asylum; a griping match carried on by his detached feet; and the revelation that the intelligent dog who accompanied him is the person he was induced to seek, getting a surreptitious taste of the degeneracy of civilization. The undisciplined cabaret dramaturgy, perhaps influenced by Brecht, includes an episodic structure, choral interludes, and an hysterical vicar's rambling prose sermon pointing the moral.

February
Behrman's discursive social comedy End of Summer is staged by the Theatre Guild and enjoys a run of 153. The play pits a flighty rich lady prone to amours against her Depression-conscious daughter and her radical friends, who are working toward a revolution that will end class distinctions. As they air their views, the woman comes to realize that she is among those "in the embarrassing position nowadays of being rich" who must therefore "do something with our money." After her daughter frees her from an infatuation with a fortune-hunting psychiatrist by revealing that he is courting her on the QT, she is reconciled to the hypothetical fate of her class and helps finance a communist periodical.

Tennessee Williams, who has already tried writing plays, is inspired by an exciting theatrical event (Saturday Review interview, April 1972): "The first time I wanted to become a playwright was when I saw Alla Nazimova in [Ibsen's] Ghosts from the peanut gallery of the American Theater in St. Louis. She was so shatteringly powerful that I couldn't stay in my seat. I had to get up and walk around. It was then that I decided I wanted to write for the theater."

March
Sherwood's ironic antiwar comedy Idiot's Delight is staged by the Theatre Guild, enjoys a run of 299, and is awarded the Pulitzer. (The March 1938 production in London will have a run of 229.) Written in late 1935 amid foreshadowings of World War II, the play depicts a varied group of guests and newcomers at an Austrian hotel reacting to the breakout of war. Among them are a French munitions magnate and his glamorous mistress, a German doctor, and an American head of a touring show with his six chorus girls. The magnate deserts his mistress and hastens back to his profit-making after she denounces his profession; the doctor abandons his promising pursuit of a cure for cancer to return to his homeland. Only the free-wheeling American decides to remain where bombs will soon fall, since he has rediscovered a long-lost love—the mistress, who agrees that war is an "idiot's delight," a "game that never means anything, and never ends." Sherwood later calls the play "completely American in that it represented a compound of blank pessimism and desperate optimism, of chaos and jazz."

Teresa Deevy’s most acclaimed play, Katie Roche, is performed at the Abbey. While it appears to follow the conventions of the rural drama as developed by Murray, Ervine and Shiels, it is now recognized as handling these in new and quite troubling ways. Perhaps distinctive as a dramatist because she was deaf, Deevy seems to have projected her own personality (though not her deafness) into the heroine of this play: an independent but flighty young woman, marked by abrupt mood shifts and a romantic temperament. She is lured away from her beau into marriage with an older man, but continues seeing her first love until she is led off to a dull life in Dublin. Even then, she finds a romantic challenge in coping staunchly with her new circumstances. Ervine calls the play “most remarkable,” and it is frequently revived.

The first “Living Newspaper” is presented by the Federal Theatre Project in New York, Triple-A Plowed Under. This genre will become the FTP’s main vehicle for promoting social awareness and reform, as well as its most distinctive contribution to American theatre. A production involving no less than 243 people, this series of incidents and vignettes exposes the ways the wealthy and powerful victimize consumers, blue-collar workers, and farmers. Historical figures from Jefferson to the Communist Earl Browder make cameo appearances. In adopting the “Living Newspaper” style and format, the FTP links itself to the long tradition of American agitprop theatre, whose starting point was the 1913 Pageant of the Paterson Strike. Performed by the strikers, this had used a quasi-documentary format to present the massacre of the workers as an image of the state of the nation under capitalism.

The next FTP offering, in great contrast, is Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. This is successful enough to tempt a producer to try it on Broadway, but even though the production headlines the actor who had played Becket over 600 times in England, Robert Speaight, it manages only two and a half weeks of performances.

April
Irwin Shaw's one-act antiwar drama, Bury the Dead, is performed by the New Theatre League and runs for three months. A small-scale variant of Hans Chlumberg's Miracle at Verdun, which the Theatre Guild had staged in 1931, the play is an agitprop fantasy modeled on Odets's Waiting for Lefty but aimed at circumventing mounting pressures for war. At a cemetery on a battlefield, six dead soldiers in the act of being buried rise up and clamor to return to life. Their simple pleas are met with exhortations from generals, businessmen, priests, and female family members to accept their deaths. Unconvinced, and unimpeded by machine-gun bullets, they march offstage at the curtain. The play is welcomed as a potent weapon for militant pacifists, but Shaw declares "I am not a pacifist, and Bury the Dead is not a pacifist's play."

May
Lawson's The Theory and Technique of Playwriting, which advocates that drama be used as an instrument of socialist reform in the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, is published.

June
Charles Williams's distinctive verse play Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury is presented at the Canterbury Festival. The drama presents the most prominent events in Cranmer's life, from his selection as Henry VIII's archbishop and his opposition to the pope's decree against the king divorcing, to his accusation under Queen Mary as a heretic, then his recantation and repudiation of it when he learns he will be burnt anyway. However, the focus throughout is on his thoughts and emotions within the swirl of history, especially his mental progress toward the acknowledgment that he is nothing on his own without God. He is aided on this path by a highly complex symbolic figure, the Skeleton, which only Cranmer and the audience see and hear. His role as "delator of all things to their truth" includes acting as devil's disciple in arguments with Cranmer as well as spiritual guide akin to Christ. Williams will write several other religious dramas in verse, including Judgement at Chelmsford (1939) and The House of the Octopus (1945). His novel Descent into Hell (1937) incorporates the rehearsal of a verse play along with comments on the form.

July
The Spanish Civil War begins as insurgent generals Francisco Franco and Emilio Mora rally their troops to revolt against the government in Madrid. Supplied with arms and “volunteers” by Germany and Italy, the rebels will soon be dubbed “fascists” and the loyalists will attract help from Russia. Britain and the United States adhere to their nonintervention policies, but thousands of Americans and many Englishmen will join the loyalist cause.

October
The resources of the Federal Theatre are thrown into simultaneous performances of the same play in 21 American theatres: a dramatization of Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here worked up by the novelist and John C. Moffitt. The project's first smash hit, the blatantly propagandistic warning that fascism might take over America will run for 260 weeks across the nation; the runs of three productions in New York (one in Yiddish) will total 314.

November
After remote productions in Vienna and Australia, Shaw's The Millionairess: A Jonsonian Comedy (written in 1935), is performed in Sussex. It will not reach London until 1944 and the West End until 1952, when it manages a run of 98. The problematic portrait of a domineering arch-capitalist, a female counterpart of Undershaft in Major Barbara, the play depicts the relentless lady setting out to prove her capacities to the reluctant man of her choice, a compassionate Egyptian doctor. Starting from scratch as a scullery maid, in six months she has applied her ruthlessly efficient methods to become prosperous, which convinces "the guardian of life" to unite with "the exploiter of misery" because she is an indomitable force of nature—in his words, her pulse manifests "the will of Allah." For the standard edition of the play Shaw adds a brief alternative ending showing how the story would end in Communist countries.

Terence Rattigan's first independently written play, the light comedy French Without Tears, is staged in London and enjoys a run of 1,025. Romantic ups and downs abound when a coquette attracts and then rejects young diplomats learning French, provoking them to turn the tables and do the same to her. Miffed, she brings her final comeuppance upon herself by vowing to captivate a lord who is coming to the school—surprise!—a mere schoolboy. In spite of several other popular successes such as While the Sun Shines (1943; a run of 1,154), Rattigan will not produce a high-quality play until The Winslow Boy (1946).

In a radio broadcast after Murder in the Cathedral had brought him theatrical fame, Eliot declares his belief that poetry is "the natural and complete medium" for drama: the prose play is "a kind of abstraction capable of giving you only a part of what the theatre can give," whereas the verse play is "capable of something much more intense and exciting." The verse dramatist must see his play "as a whole musical pattern" underlying the action "which intensifies our excitement by reinforcing it with feeling from a deeper and less articulate level."

O'Neill is awarded the Nobel Prize. In his acceptance speech (delivered for him in Stockholm, since he was too sick to travel there), he expresses his debt to "that greatest genius of all modern dramatists, your August Strindberg. . . . It was reading his plays, when I first started to write back in the winter of 1913-14, that, above all else, first gave me the vision of what modern drama could be, and first inspired me with the urge to write for the theatre myself." During an interview, he speculates that Mourning Becomes Electra was probably the crucial reason why he was chosen for the award, but notes that he had gained more personal gratification from writing The Great God Brown.

December
Kaufman and Hart's farcical comedy You Can't Take It with You is staged, enjoys a run of 837, and is awarded the Pulitzer. It will be frequently revived. A wish-fulfillment fantasy for (well-heeled) hedonists, the play depicts a household in which "you do as you like, and no questions asked." An extended family and assorted guests violate the work ethic and social proprieties: the old patriarch, who retired rich at 40, pays no income taxes (the IRS pursues him ineffectually); his daughter writes plays because a typewriter was accidentally left at the house; one son-in-law hawks candy with random quotations tucked inside, the latest of which bring the FBI because they advocate Communism. A conventional young lady is the only black sheep; she has a job and loves her boss's son. When his stolid family visits the house just before the FBI arrests everyone for possible sedition, she is deeply ashamed and apologetic; but the ulcerous boss, sensing a never-never land that has eluded him, converts to the titular philosophy and all ends happily.

Johnston's free adaptation of Ernst Toller's Die blinde Göttin as Blind Man's Buff is presented at the Abbey. "Its German philosophical bones have been given an excellent covering of good Irish flesh," the Irish Times remarks.

Hellman, at the time committed to writing two original film scripts per year for Sam Goldwyn, sharply contrasts theatre and film in an interview (New York Herald Tribune). The theatre permits you "liberty of speech and editorial expression you can't find in any other dramatic medium. And you can present an idea for the consideration of intelligent audiences, which, of course, is completely outside the gaudiest opium dreams of possibility in Hollywood. . . . I'm not patronizing in my attitude toward the films, just realistic. And I say again that the presentation of something besides mere entertainment and spectacle is the great function of the legitimate theater of the world today." In the same month her small-town labor-vs.-management melodrama Days to Come lasts only a week.

Beckett reports in a letter to a friend that he may write a play about Samuel Johnson and Mrs Thrale. He had "often thought what a good subject was there, perhaps only one long act. What interested me especially was the breakdown of Johnson as soon as Thrale disappeared." A letter of June 1937 reports that he is making progress on the play, to be entitled Human Wishes, but he never completes more than part of a scene of the projected four acts. That is described and printed as an appendix in Just Play: Beckett's Theater (1980) by Ruby Cohn, to whom Beckett gave the manuscript.

1937

January
Anderson's satiric idyll High Tor is staged at the Martin Beck Theatre, enjoys a run of 171, and wins the second New York Drama Critics Circle Award as "the first distinguished fantasy by an American in many years." Again Anderson masters the application of free verse, mixed with prose, to a contemporary theme. The play mingles genuine concern for keeping an actual mountain (Anderson's favorite near his home) out of the hands of unscrupulous developers with striking ingredients of poetic fantasy: caricatured realtors who stumble across loot buried by caricatured bank robbers; phantom sailors out of Irving's "Rip Van Winkle," who hoist the realtors in a crane over a canyon (where they count the money); a love tryst between the mountain's Thoreauvian owner and the phantom captain's wife; and a leftover native American looking for a burial ground, who finally convinces the owner to accept a fair offer for his property (and go West with his flesh-and-blood girlfriend) because "there's no hill worth a man's peace." People involved in the production of the play will launch a successful campaign to save the real High Tor.

Paul Vincent Carroll's satire of rural Irish narrow-mindedness, Shadow and Substance, is staged at the Abbey and establishes him as a highly promising dramatist. The play opens in New York in January 1938, enjoys a run of 274, and wins the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play. An arrogant canon who looks down upon his flock of "boobs," with the exception of his naive and pious servant Brigid, carries on a feud with a good friend of the girl, the local schoolmaster. The feud comes to a head after the oafish townsfolk learn that the teacher wrote an anonymous book attacking Irish-Catholic intolerance and respond to his ridicule with a mob assault. When the servant dies shielding him, the two men consider reconciling, but their opposing rigidities make it impossible. Carroll says in an interview (New York Times, February 1938) that the central figure originated as an attempt "to resurrect Dean Swift, make him not only a Catholic, but a learned interpreter of Catholicism, and throw him into the modern mental turmoil in Ireland." He adds that the canon's conflict with the schoolmaster that crushes his simple young servant Brigid amounts to stifling "the spirit of the nation."

Beckett records in a notebook thoughts that underlie his developing antinaturalistic view of life and prefigure his later aesthetic, as he expressed them to Axel Kaun and a man called Meier: "I am not interested in a 'unification' of the historical chaos any more than I am in the 'clarification' of the individual chaos, and still less in the anthropomorphisation of the inhuman necessities that provoke the chaos. What I want is the straws, flotsam, etc., names, dates, births and deaths, because that is all I can know. . . . Meier says the background is more important than the foreground, the causes than the effects, the causes than their representatives and opponents. I say the background and the causes are an inhuman and incomprehensible machinery and venture to wonder what kind of appetite it is that can be appeased by the modern animism that consists in rationalising them. Rationalism is the last form of animism. Whereas the pure incoherence of times and men and places is at least amusing."

February
Auden and Isherwood's complex allegorical tragedy The Ascent of F6 is presented by the Group Theatre and totals 96 performances in three venues. Prose and blank verse alternate, the former for acerbic social satire of contemporary life, the latter for ruminations on meaning. Twin brothers, one an English lord and the other a famous climber, conflict when the politician tries to induce his brother to lead an expedition to the top of F6, a mystic mountain situated on the border of a hostile country. Their mother convinces the climber to go by professing inordinate love for him and by glorifying his mission as a struggle with demons. He assembles an inept crew, all of whom perish, but after refusing a monk's admonition to suppress his will he reaches the summit in exhaustion. While dying, he has visions of clamoring voices for and against his mission, plays chess with his brother, and finally falls at the feet of his mother—a loving young woman. Side-commentary is supplied by a Brechtian journalist and a lower-class family who often talk like characters in Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes.

The Federal Theatre Project presents Arthur Arent's "Living Newspaper" Power and it becomes the group's most popular play. "Mr. Average Consumer" views an historical and journalistic montage of the evolution of electricity as a public commodity, with emphasis on corporate exploitation of the growing need for it and the alternative of federal projects like the TVA.

March
Thomas Lanier Williams (not yet Tennessee) enjoys rave notices in three St. Louis newspapers for the Mummers' production of his play Candles to the Sun. In November the group stages Fugitive Kind, which receives mixed reviews. Like many of his early one-acts, these were propagandistic plays, obliquely part of a (vain) attempt to earn him a job with the Federal Theatre Project. They remain unpublished.

O'Casey's collection of commentaries, The Flying Wasp: A Laughing Look-Over of What Has Been Said About the Things of the Theatre by the English Dramatic Critics, with Many Merry and Amusing Comments Thereon, with Some Shrewd Remarks by the Author on the Wise, Delicious, and Dignified Tendencies in the Theatre of To-Day, is published. A choice selection of these essays is later reprinted as part of The Green Crow (1956).

A revised version of Arthur Miller's play written at the University of Michigan in 1936, No Villain, is given an amateur production as They Too Arise at the Lyric Mendelssohn Theatre in Ann Arbor. A year later it wins the Theatre Guild's award for best work by an unknown playwright. Miller refers to it as "purely mimetic, a realistic play about my own family" ("About Theatre Language," in The Last Yankee, 1994). Miller will write two more plays at Michigan, Honors at Dawn (1937) and The Great Disobedience (1938); all three remain unpublished.

July
Green's pageant-drama The Lost Colony: An Outdoor Play with Music, Dance and Pantomime, is performed at a huge arena theatre in Roanoke, Virginia. Commissioned by the local historical association, the play presents the (fictionalized) story of the seemingly utopian colony established under the aegis of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585-87 whose survivors were mysteriously lost. The first of his many "symphonic dramas" staged at the very site of the historical events depicted (all in the South), and incorporating concepts of "total theatre" that he had heard about in Berlin from Alexis Granowsky and Bertolt Brecht, this elaborate spectacle represents the fulfillment of Green's creative aspirations, and he devotes the great proportion of his remaining theatrical career to them. Several of them are performed annually, and they are attended by thousands of locals and tourists who visit historic shrines. Besides The Lost Colony, the longest running are The Common Glory (1947; set in Williamsburg, Virginia), The Founders (1957; also Williamsburg), Stephen Foster (1959; Bardstown, Kentucky), Cross and Sword (1965; St. Augustine, Florida), and Texas (1966; Canyon, Texas).

August
Priestley's first "time play" to reach the stage, Time and the Conways, is presented at the Duchess Theatre and enjoys a run of 225. Reflecting in its structure and occasionally in its dialogue modern theories of time, especially J. W. Dunne's "Serialism" and P. D. Ouspensky's concept of a "time spiral," the play is a moving family drama rather than an illustration of these theories. It begins in 1919, leaps 18 years ahead, then returns where the action left off in Act I. The varied fortunes of the family members, mostly unhappy, become known to the audience and are dimly sensed by a son and daughter after the abrupt return to the present. The unambitious son, destined to remain a clerk, is able to conclude: "Time doesn't destroy anything. It merely moves us on." In his introduction to Two Time Plays Priestley defends the play against the charge that it is pessimistic: "It was my intention here to challenge and combat pessimism, that deep underlying despair about life which I believe to be one of the evils of our age. . . . All I suggest in this play is that the single and universal Time that is imagined to be hastening everything to decay and dissolution is an illusion; that our real selves are the whole stretches of our lives . . . ; and that death is not the end but rather the beginning of real life."

Maeve O'Callaghan’s The Patriot (originally entitled Nostalgia) is staged at the Abbey. It is one of a number of plays written in the late 1930s, like Margaret O'Leary's The Coloured Balloons, that refer explicitly to the inauguration of the Irish Republic. Set in the the North of England and in County Dublin, the action follows the family of an Irish doctor and his wife whose five children have been born and grown up in England, and who decide in 1937 they must return home and help create the new state. The play exhibits a certain satirical humor in its references to the new Republic, rather as O'Leary pokes fun at exaggerated versions of Ireland's past glory. When one of the boys jokingly dresses up as Cathleen ní Houlihan to welcome his father home, his mother sees him in the garden in his shawl and petticoat and demands to know who it is. “Cathleen ní Houlihan,” her daughter replies. “If it's begging she is,” the mother snaps, “she'll get no more from me.” [CDI]

September
Priestley's second "time play," I Have Been Here Before, is presented at the Royalty Theatre and nearly matches his first with a run of 210. Started well before Time and the Conways (which he wrote in a few weeks), this more doctrinal and less cohesive drama caused Priestley a great deal of trouble to finish. It focuses on the attempt of a clairvoyant doctor, one of Ouspensky's "chosen," to prevent an impending tragedy he has witnessed while in another life cycle: a young lady will commit adultery and cause her already depressed husband to commit suicide. In Act II the predestined events begin to unfold, but in Act III the doctor intervenes and talks the husband out of a suicide attempt. He does so largely by elucidating Ouspensky's theory of spiral time—e.g. "You can return to the old dark circle of existence, dying endless deaths, or you can break the spell and swing out into new life."

Anderson answers a graduate student's question about his choice of verse form by saying that he uses iambic pentameter because "it has been found by trial and error to combine the maximum of intensity and elevation with a minimum of artificiality in the theatre. . . . Pentameter, when not stiltedly written, may be spoken with the effect of complete reality and still retain its poetic character."

October
Priestley comments in his introduction to Two Time Plays that "the Theatre is no place to think in. . . . An intelligent book will make more people think than the most exquisite production of the finest play. But what the dramatist can do . . . is to make his audience feel. He can create in them a deep rich feeling that is, so to speak, tinged with thought. It is this unique richness and depth of emotion that makes the serious Theatre an institution of real importance. . . . In the Theatre we are proud to serve, ideas merely play like summer lightning over a deep lake of feeling; the intellect may be quickened there; but what is more important is that the imagination of the spectator begins to be haunted, so that long after he has left the playhouse the actors are still with him, still telling him of their despair and hope."

November
Odets's
Golden Boy, although marred artistically by sentimentality and reliance on melodrama, is brilliantly staged by the Group Theatre and enjoys a run of 250. In June 1938 it becomes the author's only drama to attain success in London's West End (with a run of 109), in large part because of the naturalistic acting. An implicit indictment of American materialism not limited to Depression conditions, the play portrays a doubly talented youth torn between potential careers as a violinist and a professional boxer. He yields to the latter, defying his father's wishes, not only because that's where the money and respect are but also because he wants to get back at the world for its caustic attitude toward his sensitivity. "Artists and people like that are freaks today," he says; "If music shot bullets I'd like it better." His rise as a boxer almost destroys his spiritual and artistic side: he breaks his hand and exults that "It's the beginning of the world!" because he can no longer play the violin, then he wins the championship by punching his opponent so hard that he kills him. A gangster-backer pronounces him "the golden boy." But this tainted triumph makes him realize that he has been "running around in circles," and in company with his manager's heart-of-gold mistress, whom he loves and who respects his sensitivity, he tears off in his Duesenberg "to find some city where poverty's no shame—where music is no crime!" (as she says) and has a fatal accident. Odets's next play, the unmemorable Rocket to the Moon (November 1938), will be the last to prove even a mild financial aid to the Group Theatre venture.

Odets, having returned from his "sellout" sojourn in Hollywood and written Golden Boy as a "hit" to revitalize the Group Theatre financially, compares what the movie industry is doing with what dramatists should do in "Democratic Vistas' in Drama" (New York Times): "Let us, for once, give the movies some credit. . . . [Hollywood] has a great talent for picking important American types and interesting and vital themes—in order to exploit them for business purposes. . . . It is about time that the talented American playwright began to take the gallery of American types, the assortment of fine vital themes away from the movies. Great audiences are waiting now to have their own experiences explained and interpreted."

John Steinbeck's adaptation (with Kaufman's help) of his short novel Of Mice and Men is performed, runs for six months, and wins the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. A naturalistic depiction of the awesome consequences of heredity and environment, the play dramatizes the misadventures of a physically overdeveloped but mentally challenged farmhand whose strength and affection are his downfall. He beats up a bully and, when the man's wife flirts with him, he accidentally crushes her to death, as he had often crushed pets he loved. His only friend staves off a lynch mob and soothes his terror so that he can once more dream of having a farm of his own. Then, in a final stroke of pathos, the friend shoots him in the back of his head.

Behrman's free adaptation of Jean Giraudoux's Amphitryon 38 runs for 19 weeks to give the Theatre Guild its only financial success of the year.

December
Wilder's version of Ibsen's A Doll's House is staged on Broadway. Even though the play is dismissed by some critics as "old hat" and "a little embarrassing now," the production enjoys a run of 144.

In Everybody's Autobiography, Gertrude Stein relates her conception of "seeing" to drama in her own idiom: "Whenever I write a play it is a play because it is a thing I do not see but it is a thing somebody can see that is what makes a play to me. When I see a thing it is not a play to me because the minute I see it it ceases to be a play for me, but when I write something that somebody else can see then it is a play for me. When I write other things not plays it is something that I can see and seeing it is inside of me but when I write a play then it is something that is inside of me but if I could see it then it would not be." In her career Stein will write 77 works that can be described as "plays."

1938

January
The FTP presents Arthur Arent's "Living Newspaper" One-Third of a Nation, which takes an average citizen through the evolution of residential real estate in New York City, leading up to the present one-third living in poverty and the need for government-subsidized housing. It runs for 237 low-priced performances.

Beckett is nearly killed when a Parisian pimp, exasperated at his refusal to accompany him, stabs him in the chest, barely missing his heart but inflicting a dangerous injury by penetrating the pleura. Later the two men meet; Beckett asks him why he did it, and the pimp responds, "Je ne sais pas, Monsieur. Je m'excuse."

In his Aristotelian essay "The Essence of Tragedy," Anderson defines that essence from the viewpoint of the dramatist as "the spiritual awakening, or regeneration, of his [fallen] hero" resulting from a climactic discovery. Serious drama "at its best," whatever the dramatist or the age, "is a religious affirmation, an age-old rite restating and reassuring man's belief in his own destiny and his ultimate hope."

Having given up writing for the theatre, Maugham considers the present state of theatre and drama in relation to his career as a playwright in The Summing Up (pp. 103-161). Concluding that "the prose drama to which I have given so much of my life will soon be dead," he discusses three contributing factors: verse drama, the finest form partly because it "delivers a play from sober reality," was abandoned as the demand for realism escalated; films are doing what realistic plays tried to do, and doing it more effectively; and dramas of ideas are not outliving the novelty of their ideas: "The dramatist of ideas loads the dice against himself." Ibsen and Shaw are the only two dramatists "who have made their mark as thinkers. Both were fortunate in the time of their appearance. . . . They had to their hands subjects new to the theatre that could be displayed with dramatic effectiveness." Shaw's influence has been "devastating" for his disciples. The most promising, Granville Barker, was led to "attach importance to ideas that were somewhat commonplace and to suppose that the natural discursiveness of his mind was a virtue," while the lesser followers "have only copied [Shaw's] defects." But we should never forget that Shaw himself "has succeeded on the stage not because he is a dramatist of ideas," but because he is "an extremely skilful dramatist."

February
Wilder's theatricalist drama Our Town is staged, enjoys a run of 336, and wins the Pulitzer. Written from early to late 1937, the play as performed irritates the author because of the cuts, verbal alterations, and acting vagaries made by the producer / director Jed Harris to enhance its commercial appeal, despite Wilder's insistence on following his "definitive" text. By the mid-'70s this acting edition will sell 290,000 copies, far more than any other text published by Samuel French. As in Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, spectators are confronted with a stage apparently on the brink of a rehearsal, and then a director. But this time he addresses them directly, and prepares them for a glimpse of daily life in a small town, all done with minimal props, informative chats by a professor and editor, and answers to questions from the audience. The focus turns to two families who become linked by marriage, then to the daughter's death in childbirth. The play veers into fantasy when the woman is told that she may relive one day in her life, which provides the stimulus for observations on how oblivious most humans are to the preciousness of each moment in life. The play concludes on the note that "They don't understand very much, do they?" In a May interview (New York Herald Tribune) Wilder notes that Our Town "evades every possible requirement of the legitimate stage. It is pure description, entirely devoid of anything even resembling conflict, expectation or action, which are usually considered the component parts of any play." One key structural element occurs at the beginnings of Acts II and III when the Stage Manager interrupts twice for what Wilder calls "the two great idea-pillars" of the play, the first on the theme (citing Edgar Lee Masters) that "You've got to love life to have life, and you've got to have life to love life"; the second, at the cemetery, contending that "Everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings." In a retrospective preface (1957) Wilder says the play "is not offered as a picture of life in a New Hampshire village; or as a speculation about the conditions of life after death. . . . It is an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life. I have made the claim as preposterous as possible, for I have set the village against the largest dimensions of time and space." A range of deft touches enforces this idea, among them a letter to Grover's Corners that reached the town even though it was addressed only to "the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God." Alexander Woollcott chooses not to comment on the play, saying "I'd as soon think of endorsing the Twenty-Third Psalm!"

March
Instituted by Rice, Anderson, and Sherwood, the Playwrights' Producing Company (or simply Playwrights' Company) is incorporated. Its purpose is to give dramatists an organization that will stage plays on the playwrights' terms rather than the producers' or directors', the opposite of the prevailing policy (including that of the Theatre Guild). Howard and Behrman are soon induced to join the board, and the company's lawyer is made a full member with equal say on the acceptance or rejection of scripts submitted. That intelligent counselor and theatre enthusiast, John F. Wharton, would later be heralded as "the man who had done the most for the theatre," and would write the 22-year history of the group plus an engaging memoir, Life Among the Playwrights. Dire predictions of early failure for the company are vanquished by four Broadway successes in the first season: Knickerbocker Holiday, the musical by Anderson and Kurt Weill; Sherwood's Abe Lincoln in Illinois; Behrman's No Time for Comedy; and Rice's American Landscape.

Unlike American theatre, where war is reflected in ironic terms, or through a distant mirror, as with Sherwood's play Idiot's Delight or his new drama about Lincoln, London theatre is full of dire warnings and forebodings of the coming war. Poets in Britain are particularly seized with the need to put their art into political opposition. Among the Group Theatre playwrights, Stephen Spender shows perhaps the clearest appreciation of what the Nazi threat to civilization means in his play attacking the dangers of appeasement, Trial of a Judge, which is produced by the radical Unity Theatre. Specifically naming the Blackshirts, and showing Fascism as fundamentally rejecting the humanistic world of poetry, the play argues that pacificism is a betrayal of civilization.

April
Langston Hughes opens his Harlem Suitcase Theatre with a propagandistic one-act, Don't You Want to be Free? It will be presented 135 times over two seasons, but soon after the theatre will have to shut down.

May
Wilder, who had won the Pulitzer for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey in 1928 but is now flushed with the success of Our Town, tells a New York Herald Tribune critic, “I now consider myself a playwright rather than a novelist.” He sees evidence that “we are on the threshold of a roaring many-voiced new life for the theater. I hope so.”

August
Yeats's tragic duologue, Purgatory, is performed at the Abbey. After the first production Yeats tells Dorothy Wellesley, “I have put nothing into the play because it seemed picturesque; I have put there my own conviction about this world and the next.” An old man tells his surly teenage son of the cycles of abuse and violence that his family lived through, including his own murder of his worthless father. The boy threatens revenge, and the old man kills him to keep him from passing on the "pollution"—which should also end his mother's purgatory. But it fails to, and he concludes in despair: "Twice a murderer and all for nothing." This tiny but richly symbolic play, which Pinter will call “one of the most extraordinary pieces of work” in the annals of verse drama (1997 interview in British Theatre in the 1950s, 2000), will attract a barrage of critical analysis in postwar academe.

Shaw's Geneva: A Fancied Page of History (another "political extravaganza") is performed at the Malvern Festival. Transferred to London two months later, it attains a run of 237, largely due to its relevance to the current world crisis on the threshold of World War II. The drama includes problematic portrayals of Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler, who appear before a world tribunal in satirical guises but are granted strong presentations of their points of view. (Shaw comments, "Instead of making the worst of all the dictators, which only drives them out of the League [of Nations], I have made the best of them, and may even challenge them to live up to their portraits if they can.") He will revise the play several times to preserve its topicality, adding a more substantial climax at the declaration of war in 1939 and a new act in 1945 that prophesies a world catastrophe made likely by the "quantrum theory."

September
Emlyn Williams's The Corn Is Green is staged in London and attains a run of 394. The best-known play of Wales's most prominent dramatist is the author's tribute to a teacher who taught him English and enabled him to earn an Oxford degree and become an actor / playwright. It is an intelligently sentimental portrayal of an English spinster's attempts to give poor Welsh laborers a chance to escape from the coal mines by educating them. The play focuses on her success with a precocious teenaged boy despite obstacles put in her way by a mine owner, who tries to impede her school's progress, and in the boy's way by her cockney servant, whom he has impregnated. The lady's determination and self-sacrifice allow her to achieve their ends, although she has to adopt the new baby to do so.

October
Sherwood's historical drama Abe Lincoln in Illinois is staged by the Playwrights' Company, its first production. It enjoys a run of 472 and wins the Pulitzer. In twelve episodes the play depicts "the solidification of Lincoln" from his early twenties until his election as president, with a timely emphasis on the "man of peace who had had to face the issue of appeasement or war." Basing his portrait firmly on Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, Sherwood stresses the emotional soul-searching that Lincoln went through in choosing a career and a wife, then in coming to terms with the inevitability of civil war. The play's relevance did not survive the passing years; a revival in 1993 will fail.

November
Shaw views a West End performance of Geneva and writes to the director, “What a horrible, horrible play! Why had I to write it? To hear those poor devils spouting the most exalted sentiments they were capable of, and not one of them fit to manage a coffee stall, sent me home ready to die.”

The final collaboration of Auden and Isherwood, On the Frontier: A Melodrama in Three Acts, is produced by the Group Theatre with music by Benjamin Britten. While a heartfelt protest against the horrors of the coming war, the seriousness of their political message is diminished by an evident lack of realism, with the central characters being a Romeo-and-Juliet pair of lovers from opposite sides and slaughtered in the fighting, which is brought to a close through a Workers' Revolt against the militarists (in heavy wish-fulfilment). Leading to scenes set in a limbo outside politics, poetry stands unintentionally revealed as unable to measure up to the real situation facing Europe.

After a German-Polish Jew assassinates a German embassy official, Nazis demolish, burn, and loot Jewish businesses, synagogues, and homes, then forcibly remove 20,000-30,000 Jews to concentration camps. The first night, November 9, is dubbed Kristalnacht after the initiating event, the smashing of shop windows.

December
Wilder's farce The Merchant of Yonkers is staged by the Theatre Guild 39 times. Derived from an 1842 Viennese comedy by Johann Nestroy, Wilder will revise it into the much more successful though still conventional The Matchmaker (1954).

Barry's allegorical complement to Hotel Universe, Here Come the Clowns, is presented to the partial bafflement of critics and manages a run of only 88. Closely derived from his novel War in Heaven, which tackles the problem of evil at length, the play is set in a grubby café next to the Globe Theatre in an American city. The saloon, like O'Neill's in The Iceman Cometh (1946), attracts "a small cross-section" of the wretched people of the earth; exceptionally for the time, this includes a Lesbian and a transvestite, as well as a dwarf, a dwarf-hater, and an alcoholic press agent. The central character is a downhearted but indomitable stagehand whose daughter has died and wife departed. He learns from a German with amazing mental powers, who has tried to dispel everyone's illusions (like Hickey in Iceman), that his wife had actually had a lover who fathered the child, and he angrily summons God to ask Him why evil dominates over good. The German appears disguised and gives conventional, then infuriating answers, which prompts the questioner toward his own (and Barry's) solution: through his free will, man is responsible for both good and evil, and "It can rise over anything, anything!"

In "Apologia pro Vita Sua, per Elmer Rice" (New York Times), Rice states that "everything I have ever written seriously" has embodied the idea "that there is nothing as important in life as freedom and that the dominant concern . . . of every human being . . . should be with the attainment of freedom of the body and of the mind through liberation from political autocracy, economic slavery, religious superstition, hereditary prejudice and herd psychology and the attainment of freedom of the soul through liberation from fear, jealousy, hatred, possessiveness and self-delusion."

 

1939

January
Carroll's The White Steed, rejected by the Abbey as unduly offensive to Catholics, is produced in New York. It has a run of 136, and like Shadow and Substance before it wins the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play. This time the village canon is a sickly, benevolent figure, and the narrowminded priest sent to assume his duties is the play's antagonist; he dismisses the pretty assistant for dating a boy and rails against the writings of Swift, Ibsen, and Shaw. The rebel is not the schoolmaster but the girl, whose energetic and independent spirit make a man out of the weakling teacher. The mob assault near the finale is directed to oust the old canon, and a deus ex machina (God?) saves him by suddenly restoring his health.

America's version of Coward's Cavalcade, Kaufman and Hart's The American Way, is lavishly mounted (helped by $250,000 from the Rockefellers) and attains a run of 244 over two seasons.

February
Priestley's highly innovative drama Johnson over Jordan is performed at the New Theatre. Because of its negative reception and the great cost of staging it, it is removed after a run of only 40. An experiment in multimedia theatre, the production makes use of a large cast of actors, including ballet dancers; a full orchestral score by Benjamin Britten; and stage design by Gordon Craig, featuring cycloramas. Again, time is a crucial dimension, but here in a form commonly employed in fantasy: the play begins after the protagonist's death and dramatizes his psychic journey into the unknown. The dead man first confronts an accusing group of Examiners, who grill him about his actions as a businessman little concerned with the welfare of others. Then he is projected into a nightmare vision in which he makes sexual advances to a young woman and stabs her presumed lover; they turn out to be his daughter and son. Finally, when he asks a kind of secular spiritual guide who has accompanied him throughout if he could return to life to undo the harm he has done, he is refused and isolated on a vast bridge, the unknown path to whatever destiny awaits. In his preface to the published version, Priestley calls it a "biographical morality play" in which the life of an English Everyman is perceived from a fresh angle, "throwing a new light on him and his affairs, and giving . . . his rather commonplace life an unusual depth and poignancy."

Hellman's best naturalistic drama, The Little Foxes, is staged on Broadway and enjoys a run of 410. Another finely honed well-made play with disdain for a happy ending like The Children's Hour, this "critical melodrama" portrays greedy, beast-like family members in pursuit of the ultimate in Southern gentility by exploiting the poor. The robber-baron lifestyle at the turn of the century is the cultural milieu. An avaricious sister and two brothers are the central villains, in a servant's words "people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it like in the Bible with the locusts," but the implicit blame falls alike on "people who stand around and watch them eat it." Resistance to their rapacity comes feebly from the sister's husband, who suffers a heart attack and dies as his wife refuses to help him reach his medicine, and from a brother's flighty, brutalized wife, who can only warn others of the family's secret plots. One she warns, however, is the matriarch's as-yet uncorrupted daughter, who inherits much of her father's wealth and seems determined (Hellman-like) to do something about the society that permits such evil. A degree of poetic justice emerges from the dog-eat-dog infighting of "the little foxes that eat the vines." As she began the play in May 1938, Hellman visualized it as part of a family trilogy. She will finish a prequel, Another Part of the Forest, in 1946, but will tire of the theme and abandon plans for the third part.

Shaw explains the origin of the term “Shavian” in a letter to the biographer Hesketh Pearson: “The word Shavian began when William Morris found in a medieval MS by one Shaw the marginal comment ‘Sic Shavius, sed inepte.’ It provided a much needed adjective; for Shawian is obviously impossible and unbearable.”

March
Eliot's The Family Reunion is staged at the Westminster Theatre in London and has a run of 38. A notable revival will occur at the Mercury Theatre in October 1946; the New York premiere waits until 1947. A transitional play in his development as a dramatist, The Family Reunion combines ritual and realism, highflown poetry and conversational verse, elements of Aeschylus's Oresteia (including Furies and a chanting chorus) and modern drawing-room drama—such a diverse mixture that Eliot later realizes it proved intractable. Critics deplore the ambiguous motivation behind
the Orestes figure’s actions and reflections, which diffuse the dramatic impact of the play. Further complicating spectators' reactions is the occasional use of O'Neill's device in Strange Interlude (1928) of "thought asides" to expose contradictions to things stated out loud. Still, the story of a son's homecoming after many years to reunite with his aged mother and other relatives has engrossing theatrical dimensions: their powerful effect on his feelings of guilt for having apparently caused his wife's drowning; the revelation that a spiritually prescient aunt loved his father but prevented him from murdering his wife; and his final decision to "follow the Furies" as a "pilgrimage / Of expiation." The drama, in progress since 1934, has distinct elements in common with both Murder in the Cathedral and Sweeney Agonistes (and some critics find parallels to his best poems), but in his last three plays Eliot will move decisively toward drawing-room drama enhanced rather than confused by poetic and mythic elements.

Barry's most enduring comedy of manners, The Philadelphia Story, is staged by the Theatre Guild and restores its depleted bank account with a run of 417. The action centers on a moral snob who learns to understand and tolerate questionable behavior by engaging in it herself. A rich young divorcée on the verge of marrying an acceptable prig, she finds that she has to deal with her ex-husband, a heavy drinker who blames her intolerance for his habit; her father, who attributes the man's adultery to her lack of "an understanding heart"; and an attractive reporter, there to report the gala event and suppress the breaths of scandal, who tempts her to swim in the nude with him. When she yields to the temptation and he is high-minded enough not to take advantage of her, she changes overnight from "a virgin goddess" into a "human being." She not only becomes reconciled with her father and ex-husband, but realizes that she wants to chuck her smug fiancé and reunite with her ex. The wedding occurs on schedule.

Revealing Ibsenite tendencies, Hellman says in an interview (New York Herald Tribune) that "both The Children's Hour and The Little Foxes were designed as dramas of morality first and last and that any one who reads too much cynicism into them is being misled. . . . In the particular case of The Little Foxes I wanted especially to write about people's beginnings, to deal with the material which in most play construction is antecedent to the action, to show how characters more frequently shown in the maturity of their careers get that way." Asked whether she thinks all literature must have social or economic implications, she replies, "No, I don't, but I do feel that all good writing must, either implicitly or explicitly, be propaganda for something. . . . Some sort of truth, profound or trivial, but the truth must be the main objective of any one who seeks a form of literary expression, excepting of course the pure music of lyrical poetry and a few allied forms. If a person doesn't want to involve himself with the truth he has no business trying to write at all."

The Spanish Civil War ends as General Franco takes Madrid.

April
William Saroyan's My Heart's in the Highlands is produced by the Theatre Guild's Group Theatre in their season of experimental drama, introducing a new "formless" dramaturgy onto the American stage. Despite a mixed reception, it manages a run of 44. In 1938 Saroyan rewrote a short story, which was 85% dialogue, into a one-act play, and then expanded it for the Guild. The sentimental mood-piece features a decrepit old bugler / beggar, an impoverished self-styled poet, and his con-artist nine-year-old son. The action embodies a rose-colored view of the little people of the world: the charm of the musician's playing and the irrepressible optimism of the father offset the son's awareness of the misfortunes besetting them. One critic calls the play "the newest surrealist crossword puzzle of the season," another "a joy to inhale."

The most effective of Johnston's "law dramas," The Golden Cuckoo, is performed at the Gate. It is based on the true case of an antigovernment maverick's gesture of rebellion, causing minor damage to a post office in order to provoke a short jail term. The man was instead sentenced to a prolonged stay in an insane asylum. Johnston treats this petty injustice critically as reflecting the "prevailing philosophy of the day," but he also portrays the hero as a comic eccentric who writes obituaries for a living, lives in a stable, and displays the naiveté of a saint. A revised version of the play will be performed by the Gaiety Theatre in June 1956.

Behrman's No Time for Comedy is staged and enjoys a run of 185. The basic situation derives from the author's own dilemma about the inappropriateness of writing comedies when war is looming in Europe, and the plot resolution echoes Barrie's What Every Woman Knows. A playwright is despondent about continuing to turn out comic vehicles for his wife while the Spanish Civil War is raging. When a lady friend tries to inspire him to write a profound melodrama about the War and to seduce him as well, his wife proposes that he try a play about himself and the two women—"the builder-upper and the breaker-downer"—knowing that this germ of a domestic comedy will steer him where she wishes. Thus the serious issue underlying the play is, in effect, left hanging, and the temporary departure from Behrman's forte, stylized "high comedy," a dramaturgical misfortune.

The first installment of O'Casey's autobiography, I Knock at the Door, is published, the first of three volumes recounting his pre-playwright years. Three subsequent volumes treat his life from 1917 to 1953. An episodic rather than strictly linear account, the whole work employs the third person and a marked degree of fictionalization.

Anderson's The Essence of Tragedy and Other Footnotes and Papers is published.

May
The final production of the Federal Theatre Project, George Sklar's Life and Death of an American, is performed. In late June government funding for the FTP is eliminated largely because of Republican hostility, typified by Rep. J. Parnell Thomas's vow that he would get the government out of show business if it was the last thing he did.

August
Shaw's 'In Good King Charles's Golden Days': A True History that Never Happened is performed at the Malvern Festival. In two London venues in April and May 1940, it manages only brief runs, but revivals will confirm that it is probably the most durable of what Shaw calls the "dramas of my dotage." The play, set in 1680, depicts a lively intellectual debate between an amiable King Charles II (in disguise), his disagreeable brother (a "man of principle"), the scientist Isaac Newton, the artist Godfrey Kneller, and the Quaker founder George Fox. Interruptions from Charles's three mistresses and a confrontation between the King and his wife (who knows about them but calls him "the very best husband who ever lived") provide spice and variety.

September
Germany invades Poland, prompting England and France to declare war. Among other effects, O'Neill, Eliot, and other dramatists find themselves preoccupied to distraction with the world situation.

October
Kaufman and Hart's hilarious send-up of Alexander Woollcott, The Man Who Came to Dinner, is presented and enjoys a run of 739. The renowned columnist had encouraged his friends to invent a vehicle that he could act in, and their response was to produce one of the most enduring farcical comedies of the century, with a Woollcott surrogate on center stage. On a speaking tour, the caustic, domineering wit slips on the ice, breaking his hip, and gets stuck in the house of a conventional midwestern family. He treats it as his palace, inviting people at will, airing his radio program, and trying to spike a budding affair between his secretary and a local reporter. When he can finally leave, he again slips on the ice and must spend more time in the house. The galaxy of characters includes figures resembling Harpo Marx, Gertrude Lawrence, and Noël Coward. In San Francisco Woollcott will ultimately play the role that was concocted just for him.

Saroyan's innovative The Time of Your Life is produced by the Theatre Guild and enjoys a run of 185, then is frequently revived. Called in one review a "cosmic vaudeville show" without form or plot, it becomes the first play to win both the Pulitzer and the New York Drama Critics Circle awards. Saroyan's thesis, stated in the preface, is simply "In the time of your life, live." More crucial is the underlying attitude, expressed in 1949: "I seem to insist that people are good, that living is good, that decency is right, that good is not only achievable but inevitable—and there does not seem to be any justification for this." The milieu is that of the post-Depression, prewar period. "No foundation all the way down the line" is a virtual refrain in the play, and one character's conclusion that "Everybody's behind the eight-ball" rings true. In a waterfront bar a galaxy of eccentrics, some with mythic overtones, revolve around a champagne-sipping young loafer who tends to bring out the best in everyone. But he fails to redeem a coarse vice-squad chief who cannot perceive the core of innocence in a prostitute, and an old trapper nicknamed Kit Carson must rescue her by killing the Hitler-figure (offstage) and taking her away.

November
A debate over whether Abie's Irish Rose would maintain its long-run record on Broadway or Tobacco Road would overtake it will become academic after Life with Father—a comedy by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse based on Clarence Day's short stories—completes its run of 3,224, started this month.

December
Krutch publishes his "informal history" of the first two decades of significant drama in the United States, The American Drama Since 1918.

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