The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail is one of Lawrence and Lee's most famous plays, although it has received very little critical attention. As Alan Woods wrote in his introduction to the play in The Selected Plays of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, the play was "widely produced across North America," but "was deliberately never performed either on or off Broadway." As Woods noted, Lawrence and Lee did this to demonstrate "that the theatre could be born and continue to live elsewhere than on a few blocks of Manhattan real estate." As a result, the New York dramatic critics did not review the play. However, as Woods wrote in his general introduction to The Selected Plays of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, the play "was a landmark success in the regional theatre movement."
This pattern of having many successful productions with little critical commentary has been repeated since the play's first productions in 1970. In fact, with rare exception, the only criticism has come from regional newspapers that reviewed local performances, such as Christopher Rowan's 1998 review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rowan called the play "charmingly artless but also clunky," saying that the play mixes "family comedy" with "homespun philosophy and high-minded debate." In addition, the only major academic commentary has been from Woods, who directs the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute at The Ohio State...
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