Frank D. Gilroy Gilroy, Frank D(aniel) - Essay

Gilroy, Frank D(aniel)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gilroy, Frank D(aniel) 1925–

An American playwright, television writer, and screenwriter, Gilroy is best known for his play The Subject Was Roses, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize.

Frank D. Gilroy, as he emerges, ever so discreetly, from his plays (and also movies) is a thoroughly nice man and, perhaps for that very reason, not quite a good enough playwright. This is not meant condescendingly: the world may need truly nice people more than master playwrights. But, like it or not, niceness gets into the major dramatist's way….

Present Tense, Gilroy's current bill of four one-acters, strikes me as an almost complete, although completely likable, failure. This does, I'm afraid, hinge largely on Gilroy's niceness….

His first produced play was Who'll Save the Plowboy?, and it remains his best. In fact, this simplest and bitterest work of Gilroy's was modestly but unquestionably art….

What made Plowboy so fine was its spareness. It dealt with a number of interlocking problems adding up to a vision of life as a series of compromises that leave everyone ultimately unfulfilled. And it dealt with its unhappy compromises sympathetically, painfully but leanly. I think there were more devastating monosyllables in that play than in any other within recent memory. But it was the strategic marshaling of those literal or figurative monosyllables that made the play art….

Why was Gilroy's greatest hit, The Subject Was Roses, so disappointing to me? Because it was, alas, a soap opera. It was a "Short Day's Journey Into Night"…. Of course, in plays, as in life, things may end happily. But in realistic drama happiness has to be made credible; in Roses, it depended on a sudden and ephemeral paternal embrace, insufficiently motivated and unable to carry its load of hope—it was unearned….

About Gilroy's next, the less, the better. That Summer-That Fall was a retelling of the Phaedra-Hippolytus story in terms of very simple Italian-Americans, and one of the things you cannot do to great works of art (which can take almost every other kind of beating) is to simplify them….

Present Tense, besides being gimmicky, is suffocated by niceness…. Despite good acting, the work doesn't belong in a theater struggling for its life, which won't be saved by amiably pseudo-serious trifles…. [Even] as I like his plays less and less, I would like to know this nice man more.

John Simon, "A Nice Man," in New York Magazine (© 1972 by NYM Corp.; reprinted by the permission of New York Magazine and John Simon), August 7, 1972, p. 66.

Gilroy is a competent writer who's above the level of flimsy or seriously flawed stage works. The trouble is that the dramas [the four one-acters composing "Present Tense"] are inconsequential, confined in vision and lacking in vitality.

Gilroy offers tantalizing hors d'oeuvres instead of the hearty main courses to be expected of the author of "Who'll Save the Plowboy?" and "The Subject Was Roses."

Variety, August 9, 1972.