Philip Barry published one novel, War in Heaven (1938), which was dramatized as Here Come the Clowns, and a short story in Scribner’s Magazine in 1922 that, along with his juvenilia and some nonfiction works, constitute his only literary output other than his plays.
Philip Barry will always be regarded primarily as a writer of superb drawing-room comedies , full of wit and sophistication and charm. Even during his own lifetime, however, critics perceived a duality in his dramatic output and were somewhat perplexed by the variety of Barry’s experimentation on the stage. As easy as it would have been for him to stick to a comedic formula, grinding out comedies year after year, Barry proved an adventuresome dramatist and thereby cast confusion among the critical community. In spite of repeated failure at the box office, Barry continued with engaging persistence to write and produce serious drama in a variety of forms— tragedy in some cases—which in retrospect is of considerable interest even if it is far less pleasurable to study than are the mannered comedies.
Barry was neither as funny as George S. Kaufman nor as deeply brooding (or tedious) as Eugene O’Neill. His comedies, especially You and I, Paris Bound, Holiday, and The Philadelphia Story, attracted widespread attention when they were first produced and are still regularly revived by amateur theatrical groups. His serious dramas for the most part met with scant critical recognition and usually even less financial success, but such plays as In a Garden, Hotel Universe, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Here Come the Clowns, and Foolish Notion are well within the traditions more fully...
Bigsby, C. W. E. A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama: Volume One, 1900-1940. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. A discussion of individual plays, which treats Barry’s Hotel Universe and its presentation by the Theater Guild.
Broussard, Louis. American Drama: Contemporary Allegory from Eugene O’Neill to Tennessee Williams. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962. In tracing the evolution of the American allegorical play treating contemporary human beings and their problems, Broussard centers a twelve-page chapter on Barry, whom he identifies as a pioneer of a new genre: the comedy of moral purpose. Takes Hotel Universe and Here Come the Clowns as chief examples of Barry’s predilection for forcing characters to exhume and confront a repressed past in a search for self-realization. Bibliography, index.
Eisen, Kurt. “Philip Barry.” In Twentieth Century American Dramatists, edited by Christopher J. Wheatley. Vol. 228 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit, Mich.: The Gale Group, 2000. A short overview of Barry’s life and works.
Gassner, John. “Philip Barry: A Civilized Playwright.” In The Theatre in Our Times. New York: Crown, 1954. Gassner succinctly examines Barry’s life and dramatic works, and he avows that the playwright merits an honored place in...