Considering Robert Anderson’s lifelong devotion to the theater, the number of his plays which received wide notice was relatively small. Although he wrote The Days Between with Broadway in mind, Anderson offered it to the newly formed American Playwrights Theater when that organization was having difficulty getting good new plays to offer its member theaters. As a result, The Days Between was produced during 1965-1966 in fifty regional theaters but was never produced on Broadway. Come Marching Home, which did have a short New York run, was never published.
Although Anderson’s plays are to some extent marred by imitativeness and by a lack of variation in theme and motif, they nevertheless represent a solid, if modest, achievement. Anderson created several memorable characters—for example, the rigid, domineering, irascible, charming, and pathetic Tom Garrison of I Never Sang for My Father, a self-made man who in his old age is unable to admit to himself, much less communicate to his family, his need for them and his loneliness; the comic, anxiously adaptable actor Richard Pawling of The Shock of Recognition, also pathetic in his eagerness to be or to do anything at all in order to get a part in a play; and the middle-class, middle-aged, anguished Chuck of I’ll Be Home for Christmas, suddenly, by a letter from his son, brought face to face with his own fears about the meaninglessness of his existence.
In addition, Anderson was willing to take chances in his plays, and in so doing helped enrich both in subject and in technique the possibilities open to the theater. In subject, for example, Tea and Sympathy was the first American play to deal explicitly with homosexuality, and Double Solitaire carries frankness in the discussion of sexual experiences to what is probably the limit of public acceptability on the stage. In stage technique, The Shock of Recognition introduced for the first time the possibility of presenting male frontal nudity in the theater (though not itself actually presenting such nudity); and in format, his You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running successfully defied the well-entrenched belief that a group of one-act plays could not achieve commercial success on Broadway. These accomplishments established Anderson’s reputation as a dramatist seriously interested in making stage depictions of life correspond more closely to real life.