Garson Kanin Henry Hewes - Essay

Henry Hewes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

How does one prepare oneself for imminent death in this American age of leisure, faithlessness, and futile striving for identity? "A Gift of Time," Garson Kanin's adaptation of Lael Wertenbaker's biographical account of her husband's final cancer-ridden months ("Death of a Man"), presents such a case….

Unfortunately his decision to live each day "an hour a minute" until the moment when he will have to become bed-ridden, and then to cut his wrists, is never very thoroughly examined or challenged by the doctors, by his friends, or by his wife.

Thus the play becomes merely a demonstration of a sensible process agreed upon from the start. And there is an inevitable unsatisfactoriness to an endless parade of scenes in which courage must be represented as small talk in the face of gravity. In the last act the pattern changes somewhat as Charles keeps summing up his life and counting his blessings, but, as he himself points out, "I had better die pretty soon. I'm running out of last words."…

An interesting though not fully explored part of "A Gift of Time" is the picture it paints of today's deterioration of human dignity. The smallness of our lives is reflected in the surgeon's helplessness against a mestastasized malignancy, the routine necessity of treating people as if they were incapable of taking bad news straight, the inhumanity of laws and official procedures which act against permitting mature people the free choice of regulating their personal lives according to their own wisdom, the protection of children from any share of family unhappiness, the maze of sentimental platitudes available for every occasion, and the inability of people to say very much that is remarkable….

"A Gift of Time" is not a very gifted play, but the simply stated facts of the true story it tells about one of the major anxieties of our time may move a majority of its audience.

Henry Hewes, "A Frank Diary," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1962 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XLV, No. 10, March 10, 1962, p. 32.