Since its debut on January 10, 1929, at The Playhouse on Broadway in New York City, Street Scene has been considered one of Elmer Rice’s most successful works and has cemented his reputation as a serious playwright. Rice himself directed the original production, which ran for 602 performances. Street Scene won the 1929 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Rice had written the play over several years and saw it rejected by numerous Broadway producers for what they perceived as a lack of content, too many characters, and too much plot. Nothing like Street Scene had been produced before, and many producers were not sure this kind of play would draw an audience. Yet when a producer was found, the success of Street Scene defied expectations.
Street Scene was one of the first plays to critique the negative effects of urban and industrial society on the average person. It was also praised for its innovative structure, including the same multiple plots and characters of which so many potential producers had been wary. Many believed Street Scene captured a mosaic of different kinds of lower-middle-class people living in New York City.
After its initial run, Street Scene was produced regularly throughout the world, though not always successfully. Surmounting the difficulties of translating the plethora of types was not always easy in other countries. In 1947, Rice contributed the book to an operatic version of the play scored by Kurt Weill. Street Scene is still produced today. While critics acknowledge its strong core and praise how it captured a moment in time, many regard its prejudices and situations as dated. When Street Scene won the Pulitzer Prize, J. Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times wrote, ‘‘It is saturated in the America that is New York. It is the finest wrought chiaroscuro of middle-class life that an American dramatist has drawn across the stage. It is complete. It is original by virtue of its simple integrity.’’