Critical Context

The Second Man, S. N. Behrman’s first solo play (he had written plays before with collaborators), contains elements that recur repeatedly in his work. Almost all of his comedies deal with the upper classes; all of them, despite the glitter and glamour of their settings, have serious comments to make about the privileged few; and all of them are concerned with conflicts in love. Serena Blandish: Or, The Difficulty of Getting Married (pr. 1929, pb. 1934), based on a short story by Enid Bagnold, emphasizes the struggles of a girl with no money contrasted with others who are more fortunately endowed. Meteor (pr. 1929) provided a study of a ruthless financier who, although he wins over his competitors, loses his wife because he has sacrificed her happiness to his money-making passion. Biography (pr. 1932, pb. 1934) is a return to the more lighthearted mood of The Second Man in depicting a successful painter whose easygoing philosophy alienates her lover, a young radical who disapproves of her uninhibited way of life. Rain from Heaven (pr., pb. 1934) studies the conflict between a wealthy, sensitive young woman and the man she admires but cannot follow because he has a vision of a better world for which he is willing to sacrifice his life, while she is content to “muddle through.” End of Summer (pr., pb. 1936), by his own account Behrman’s favorite play, is a social comedy which remains one of his best because of the brilliant dialogue and the impressive characterization.

The world outside was beginning to encroach on the world Behrman had created, and so in No Time for Comedy (pr., pb. 1939) he studied the dilemma that he himself was facing. In this play, his hero is a writer of light comedies married to a devoted actor who has helped to make his work a success. Now that World War II is about...

(The entire section is 767 words.)