Critical Overview

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Hugh Leonard is one of the most celebrated Irish playwrights in the second half of the twentieth century and a prominent dramatist on the international scene. Da was first performed at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin for the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1973, and it was soon met with both critical acclaim and popular success. In 1978, Leonard received several awards for Da, including the Antoinette Perry (‘‘Tony’’) Award for best play, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best play, the Drama Desk Award for outstanding new play, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for outstanding play. Nearly thirty years after its initial production, Da is still considered to be Leonard's masterpiece.

S. F. Gallagher, in an introduction to Selected Plays of Hugh Leonard, observes that Da is ‘‘a cornucopia of comedy,’’ which, with ‘‘the controlled pathos of several scenes,’’ is ‘‘exquisitely moving but … never mawkish.’’ Da includes incidents from Leonard's childhood later described in his autobiographical books, Home Before Night (1979) and Out After Dark (1989), which Gallagher describes as ‘‘works fully worthy of the superlatives heaped upon them by enthusiastic reviewers.’’

Two central criticisms that have been made about Leonard's works are that they fail to address issues of Irish politics and that they are trivial in content. Leonard has often defended the charge that he does not address Irish politics, explaining, ‘‘Ireland is my subject matter, but only to the degree in which I can use it as a microcosm; this involves choosing themes which are free of Catholicism and politics, both of which I detest, and which deprive one's work of applicability outside Ireland’’ (quoted in Contemporary Dramatists, 1999). Leonard has further explained that he considers himself ‘‘an Irish person who writes plays … not a person who writes Irish plays’’ (quoted in the International Dictionary of Theatre, 1993). Critics often concur that his works are successful for their universal, international appeal; with its flashback structure, Da, in particular, evokes the emotional tenor of personal memory and the pathos of family history.

Leonard's prolific output of stage plays, including both original works and adaptations, has been produced at the Dublin Theatre Festival at a rate of about one per year since 1960. He has also written numerous original plays and adaptations of classic works for British television, as well as screenplays, autobiographical works, essay collections, and novels.

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Critical Context


Essays and Criticism