Critical Context

Romulus Linney’s plays have not been performed very often or very effectively in New York, and thus he has been described in The New York Times as “perhaps the most underrated, underrecognized American playwright today.” However, his plays have been produced with notable frequency at regional professional theaters and in amateur theaters around the United States, and his aficionados rapidly increased by the end of the twentieth century. Sand Mountain is typical of one genre of Linney’s work, for he lived for a number of years in North Carolina and has written several plays centered upon Appalachian people, their humor, and their religion. Perhaps the best known of these is Holy Ghosts (pr. 1971, pb. 1977), which spellbindingly portrays a storefront church full of snake handlers and develops its audience’s sympathetic appreciation of the sincerity of their mutual love and caring despite the bizarre lack of sophistication in their theology. Also depicting rural southerners, A Woman Without a Name (pr. 1985) portrays a nearly illiterate woman whose process of self-education and liberation turns upon the destruction of all of her children, indomitable will clashing excruciatingly with maternal love. His Mountain Memory: A Play About Appalachian Life (pb. 1997) chronicles the lives of an Appalachian family between 1776 and 1995 as they experience changing times, constantly struggling to hold onto their land and their dignity in the face of great evil and temptation.

Other Linney plays include his first, The Sorrows of Frederick (pb. 1966, pr. 1967), based on the life of Frederick the Great, The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks (pr. 1972, pb. 1973), offering a postwar look at the same location in which James Jones’s From Here to Eternity (1951) is set, Childe Byron (pr. 1977, pb. 1981), depicting a conversation between a deceased Lord Byron and his daughter Ada, and Two (pr. 1990, pb. 1993), winner of the National Critics Award. He is the recipient of the 1999 Award of Merit Medal for Drama from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, as well as two Obie Awards—one in 1980 and the other in 1992 for Sustained Excellence in Playwriting.