Hugh Leonard Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Home Before Night: Memoirs of an Irish Time and Place by the Author of “Da” (1979) is a charming, humorous memoir, which includes many of the characters, incidents, conversations, and witticisms in Da. Out After Dark (1989) is a sequel to his autobiography. Hugh Leonard was a regular contributor of amusing topical commentaries in such Irish newspapers as Hibernia, the Sunday Independent, and the Sunday Tribune. He also reviewed theater for Plays and Players. In 1991, he published a novel, Parnell and the Englishwoman, followed in 2001 by another novel, A Wild People.

Hugh Leonard Achievements

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Hugh Leonard was a widely produced Irish dramatist. His plays achieved commercial success in Ireland, Great Britain, and the United States. Exceptionally prolific and yet polished, Leonard was a good journeyman author in various media. He honed his dramatic skills by writing extensively not only for the stage but also for radio, television, film, and newspapers, always with entertainment as a prime consideration. (His television play Silent Song, 1966, received the Italia Award.)

Leonard’s reputation as an Irish Neil Simon suggests the aspects for which he has been both admired and criticized. His greatest asset as a playwright is essential to any commercially successful dramatist: He knew how to keep an audience entertained with humorous dialogue and situations. Conversely, his detractors have usually complained that his main weakness is a facile, glib superficiality. His best plays combine a theatrical flair for clever language and situation comedy with thoughtful depth of human understanding.

For example, his greatest achievement on the stage has been Da, which in 1978 won the Tony Award, New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and Drama Desk Award for Best Play. Mel Gussow of The New York Times claimed that Da is “in a class with the best of[Sean] O’Casey.” Even the fastidious John Simon of New York magazine found it “complex and graceful” and “entertaining, endearing and gently moving.” Among Leonard’s other honors, in 1967 Silent Song was awarded an award of merit from the Writers Guild of Great Britain and in 1974 The Au Pair Man won a Tony Award nomination for best play. He received a Harvey Award for A Life.

A new play by Leonard has often been a highlight of the Dublin Theatre Festival. At the same time, the theatrical facility and universal accessibility of his plays allow them to be transplanted with ease from Dublin’s Abbey or Olympia theaters to London’s West End and America’s Broadway or regional companies.

Hugh Leonard Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Hogan, Robert. After the Irish Renaissance: A Critical History of the Irish Drama Since “The Plough and the Stars.” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1967. In a long chapter on the Dublin Theatre Festival, Hogan cites Leonard as “the most produced, most commercially successful playwright of the Festival.” Contains a biographical sketch, followed by overviews of several plays, including The Poker Session, Mick and Mick (with a new title, All the Nice People, given it after its 1966 Festival opening), and A Walk on the Water.

Kosok, Heinz. “Hugh Leonard.” In British Dramatists Since World War II, edited by Stanley Weintraub. Vol. 13 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1982. Traces the life of Leonard, focusing on the development of his stage craft.

Leonard, Hugh. Out After Dark. London: Andre Deutsch, 1989. Not only an autobiographical reminiscence of Leonard’s beginnings in the theater (as an actor before a playwright), but also a full-length portrait of the life and energies of twentieth century Ireland, especially the Dalkey village life from which Leonard’s humor and charming hardheadedness emerged. Leonard’s first short pieces, such as “The Man on Platform Two” and “Nightingale in the Branches” (renamed The Big Birthday), were the seeds from which his successes grew.

Owens, Coílín D., and Joan N. Radner, eds. Irish Drama, 1900-1980. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1990. This preface to Leonard’s Da offers a biographical overview, covering the early plays, Irish radio, and television freelance writing. The authors quote Leonard on Da as “a monument to my father.” Includes a select bibliography, a biography, criticism, and a useful update on Leonard’s journalistic endeavors and “upscale” suburban life in Dalkey.

Rollins, Ronald Gene. Divided Ireland: Bifocal Vision in Modern Irish Drama. New York: Lanham, 1985. Rollins pairs Brian Friel and Leonard in a “Fathers and Sons” chapter, whose thesis is that both focus on “the always awkward and ambivalent father-son relationship”; Da, like Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come!, moves from objectivity to subjective memory and back.