Garson Kanin

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Brooks Atkinson

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425

[It] is almost possible to look on the bright side of Mr. Kanin's "The Live Wire." Almost possible, but not quite. Despite the skill and the gaiety that have gone into it, "The Live Wire" is too random and unsubstantial for complete enjoyment. After the final curtain has fallen, there is a feeling of unfulfillment in terms of the entertainment Mr. Kanin has striven for….

Possibly Mr. Kanin is tired of hearing about "Born Yesterday" now, for it first joggled the town's funny bone in 1946. But it remains his master work. The point of view of "The Live Wire" has the same sardonic relish of roguery (witness the overpowering charlatanism of the actors' agent); but "Born Yesterday" had a pithier theme and the humor was a good deal more accumulative.

"The Live Wire" is the harum-scarum yarn of some indigent actors who are living together in a quonset hut on a vacant lot in Manhattan…. The general amity of their association is poisoned by the intrusion of a sinister young actor who racketeers his way to a Hollywood contract by stepping on the face of everyone he can use. He is the perfect heel, and he succeeds sensationally. After he has made his exit in a burst of venomous triumph, the quonset hut colony settles down to the bizarre humdrum of its penniless existence, glad to have the poison out of its system.

As a plot, this one is good enough to hold the play together and to reveal some of the minor iniquities of our time…. [But] Mr. Kanin seems to be more interested in the spectacle of actors holed up in a quonset hut and living by their wits. Put together out of amusing odds and ends, "The Live Wire" has the appearance of an improvisation.

Mr. Kanin has extraordinary skill for writing informally in terms of acting. He is an expert director. He knows how to orchestrate a gag by timing it shrewdly, and how to weave a gag throughout a performance, like a theme in a piece of music. In the course of his play he twice puts his actors to bed in double-tiered bunks that fill his quonset dormitory. Bedtime in his actors' haven turns out to be a cartoon, not only because of the astonishing bedtime costumes of his characters but because of the langorous pace of the performance and the long, ruminative pauses in the dialogue.

Brooks Atkinson, "'The Live Wire'," in The New York Times, Section 2 (© 1950 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 27, 1950, p. 1.

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