George. Kaufman S Criticism: General Commentary - Essay

Arthur Hobson Quinn (essay dates 1927)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Quinn, Arthur Hobson. “The New Decade.” In A History of the American Drama from the Civil War to the Present Day, pp. 220-25, 284-86. New York: Harper & brothers, 1927.

[In the following essay, Quinn examines the Kaufman/Connelly collaborations and argues that neither wrote as well on an individual basis. Quinn also praises Kaufman's work with Edna Ferber in Dinner at Eight and with Hart in Merrily We Roll Along.]

George S. Kaufman (1889- ) and Marcus Cook Connelly (1890- ), both born in Western Pennsylvania and both newspaper men, first attracted attention by their clever comedy Dulcy (1921). It was natural that they should dramatize the...

(The entire section is 2678 words.)

Joseph Mersand (essay date 1939)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Mersand, Joseph. “George S. Kaufman: Master of the Technique of Good Theatre.” In Traditions in American Literature: A Study of Jewish Character and Authors, pp. 14-24. New York: Kennikat Press, 1968.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1939, Mersand discusses Kaufman's ability to satirize American character and culture.]

George S. Kaufman's The American Way (1939) is his thirty-second play written in collaboration. Though critics may argue as to the ultimate value of his plays in the history of American drama, they almost unanimously agree that he is the most successful collaborator working in our theater. His associates have included...

(The entire section is 3627 words.)

Russell W. Lembke (essay date October 1947)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Lembke, Russell W. “The George S. Kaufman Plays as Social History.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 33, no. 3 (October 1947): 341-47.

[In the following essay, Lembke argues that Kaufman's plays offer an important survey of the American social history of his time.]

It is time that we took another look at the thirty-four plays written in the years between 1920 and 1946 which bear the name of George S. Kaufman as author or collaborator. They have been smugly passed over by drama critics; but as social history alone, as vivid pictures of the life, particularly the city life, of the times, they do not deserve such treatment. There is an economy, a consciously...

(The entire section is 3543 words.)

Ben Hecht (essay date 24 June 1961)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Hecht, Ben. Saturday Review 44, no. 25 (24 June 1961): 5.

[In the following tribute, Hecht laments that by the time of Kaufman's death, the kind of irony and satire he wrote had become passé.]

In the last ten years of his life George S. Kaufman found himself as obsolete as a Smithsonian exhibit. He was a practitioner of irony and satire, with a side line of bon mots. The USA, hell-bent on making the whole world as noble as itself, had no welcome mat out for tricky-minded fellows poking fun at it.

Such a one was Kaufman. He was almost the last of the Broadway breed of iconoclasts, a breed that indulged in derision rather than breakage. It also...

(The entire section is 581 words.)

Charles Kaplan (essay date winter 1963)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Kaplan, Charles. “Two Depression Plays and Broadway's Popular Idealism.” American Quarterly 15, no. 4 (winter 1963): 579-85.

[In the following essay, Kaplan explores the similarities between You Can't Take It with You and Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing.]

It is a truism that, as the most public of the arts and the one therefore most immediately responsive to the pressures of its times, the drama may be considered a reliable indicator of current popular thought and sentiment. For the social and cultural historian, the ideas, subjects and themes presented onstage in any era provide useful clues to the states of mind prevailing in that era. This...

(The entire section is 3009 words.)

George Freedley (essay date December 1964)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Freedley, George. “George S. Kaufman, 1889-1962.” Modern Drama 6, no. 3 (December 1963): 241-44.

[In the following obituary, Freedley reviews Kaufman's career from his early days as a newspaperman through his collaborations with Moss Hart.]

This little essay will only be concerned with the earlier section of George Kaufman's long career as a playwright and director in one of the most exciting periods of our theater when American drama came of age in the period between the World Wars, roughly 1918-1939. All of Kaufman's serio-comic genius came to flower in that period. There is nothing of real significance after that if you disregard the dramatic...

(The entire section is 1650 words.)

Jean Gould (essay date 1966)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Gould, Jean. “Some Clever Collaboratos.” In Modern American Playwrights pp. 135-167. Dodd, Mead & Company, 1966.

[In the following excerpted essay, Gould describes how Kaufman and Hart worked when they collaborated.]

For exactly a decade, from 1930, with Once in a Lifetime, to 1940, with George Washington Slept Here, two masters of comedic playwriting, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, contributed their combined wit and humor to the American theater in the form of six plays and two musicals. Three of the plays were outstanding works, one of which captured the Pulitzer prize. Their initial effort was an achievement in high comedy that ran...

(The entire section is 5252 words.)

A. Cleveland Harrison (essay date August 1972)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Harrison, A. Cleveland. “Of Thee I Sing, Baby!” Players: Magazine of American Theatre 47, no. 6 (August 1972): 275-79.

[In the following essay, Harrison argues that there are many similarities between Of Thee I Sing and the comedies of Aristophanes.]

Presidents come and Presidents go, but Of Thee I Sing goes on forever, baby! A musical satire about the making of the President, the product of two playmakers collaborating with two music-making brothers, Of Thee I Sing remains forty years after its opening the touchstone for musical satire on federal government and the national election process. The approaching Presidential election once...

(The entire section is 4415 words.)

Wilfrid Sheed (essay date 1978)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Sheed, Wilfrid. “The Wit of George S. Kaufman and Dorothy Parker.” In The Good Word and Other Words, pp. 159-63. New York: Dutton, 1978.

[In the following discussion, Sheed argues that the wit of Kaufman and Parker should not be thought of as a compensation for or expression of a psychoneurosis, but that as writers they deliberately created recognizable and marketable brands of wit.]

The lives of the wits make grim reading these days. To judge from John Keats's You Might as Well Live, Dorothy Parker had a wretched loveless childhood, got her own back at the world with some fine wisecracks, and came to a miserable end. According to Howard Teichmann's...

(The entire section is 1773 words.)

Laurence Shyer (essay date spring 1978)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Shyer, Laurence. “American Absurd: Two Nonsense Plays by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, and Ring Lardner.” Theater 9, no. 2 (spring 1978): 118-21.

[In the following preface, Shyer discusses “nonsense plays” and Kaufman's contribution to the genre.]

The next few pages … are devoted neither to the presentation nor discussion of contemporary plays; rather they look back at another era in the American theater, specifically, at two of its practioners: George S. Kaufman, who spent a long and phenomenal career on Broadway as playwright, director, producer and drama critic, and Ring Lardner, whose stories and satires recorded the oddities of American...

(The entire section is 1525 words.)

Jeffrey D. Mason (essay date 1988)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Mason, Jeffrey D. “The Fool and the Clown: The Ironic Vision of George S. Kaufman.” In Farce, pp. 205-217. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, Mason examines Kaufman's use of fools and clowns, with particular focus on his use of the Marx Brothers in his comedies.]

Theater suggests two coextensive worlds. An actor is both himself and the character he plays; a stage is both a platform and an illusion. While all art engages in the creative interpretation of the human condition, theater actually re-enacts life, introducing the constant, tantalizing risk that the distance and the distinction between art and life will diminish to...

(The entire section is 5128 words.)

David K. Sauer (essay date spring 1995)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Sauer, David K. “George S. Kaufman's Exploitation of Women (Characters): Dramaturgy and Feminism.” American Drama 4, no. 2 (spring 1995): 55-80.

[In the following essay, Sauer gauges Kaufman's development as a dramatist by the development of his skill in drawing characters.]

George S. Kaufman's successes in the theater mark him as a theatrical genius: he wrote more than forty plays which appeared on Broadway (all but one with a collaborator), and he directed most of those plays, as well as 20 others, working simultaneously as director and “play doctor.” But because his work is collaborative, it is difficult to say what exactly was his contribution to a...

(The entire section is 8053 words.)