Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 985

Reviews of The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel upon its opening were largely enthusiastic, commenting on both the play's artistry and Rabe's promise as an up and coming playwright. Edith Oliver, reviewing the play for the New Yorker, called it "an astonishing accomplishment." Chve Barnes of the New York Times acclaimed Rabe as a "new and authentic voice of our theatre.'' Similarly, George Oppenheimer of Newsday highlighted Rabe's "new and striking talent " Henry Hewes, summing up the 1971 theatrical season for the Saturday Review, called Rabe "possibly the most promising playwright" of the year. "[I]mmensely gifted'' is how Charles Michener described Rabe in a Newsweek article.

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Pavlo Hummel has continued, since its initial production, to captivate many critics. In a 1982 article for the New York Times, Mel Gussow referred to the play as "searing." Philip Kolin, in his book David Rabe- A Stage History and a Primary and Secondary Bibliography, observed "As long as the spectre of Vietnam haunts us so will Pavlo.''

Pavlo Hummel, however, has had its detractors. Walter Kerr's review for the New York Times was decidedly mixed, finding both promise and disappointment in the play Rabe's work, he wrote, "is like a current of air on a very hot night that teases us and then goes away. It lacks a discovery." Stanley Kauffmann found little significance in Pavlo Hummel, calling it “one more good-hearted sentimental undergraduate play about the horrors of war ... using stale expressionist fantasy and even staler rhetoric." To Kauffmann, the praise Rabe received was endemic of "professional yea-saying by theater critics" who lack "rigorous" judgment and refuse to write anything critical of the American theatre. Richard Homan was among critics who found that Rabe's "collage" technique merely renders characters as stereotypes or personifications; he called Rabe's treatment of his theme in Pavlo Hummel "crude." Similarly, Richard Watts of the New York Post found Rabe's title character a "ridiculous" creation and observed that "I felt Pavlo never really developed as a character."

Although critics differ in their assessments of the effectiveness of Rabe's dramatic technique, they are in stronger agreement that Pavlo Hummel was one of the first works of real significance regarding the American experience in Vietnam. Oliver wrote that Rabe's play "makes everything else I've seen on the subject seem skimpy and slightly false." Newsweek's Jack Kroll found Pavlo Hummel "the first play to deal successfully with the Vietnam War and the contemporary American army." Harold Clurman, writing in the Nation, referred to other theatrical portrayals of Vietnam as "commonplace,'' with their "sham stage hyperbole," but found that in Pavlo Hummel "the sense of real men at war is present." He commented: "It is the first play provoked by the Vietnam disaster which has made a real impression on me." Not finding Rabe's treatment as genuine as did Clurman, Time's Horace Judson, somewhat enigmatically, called the play "an antiwar cartoon, but a good one." Writing in his book Uneasy Stages: A Chronicle of the New York Theatre, 1963-73, John Simon found Pavlo Hummel "the best play about the war so far," but also criticized it, stating that it "often manages to stretch beyond the breaking point "

Pavlo Hummel , along with Rabe's other Vietnam plays, marked a transition from a time when the subject of Vietnam was, as Barbara Hurrell wrote, "considered box office poison." The success of Rabe's early plays considerably opened up the possibility for other writers and artists to treat seriously the painful experience of the Vietnam war. To Hurrell, however, much of the treatment of Vietnam appeared superficial; she observed that "it is not clear that the times are entirely receptive to such penetrating artistic inquiries as...

(The entire section contains 985 words.)

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