Paddy Chayefsky Brooks Atkinson - Essay

Brooks Atkinson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mr. Chayefsky has written ["Middle of the Night"] in a minor key, deliberately holding down the emotion and laying emphasis on the homeliness of the material. Everyone is intentionally average—the manufacturer and his daughter and sister; the blonde and her mother, sister and impulsive husband.

The reactions to a love affair between a middle-aged man and a girl who is younger than his daughter are average, and the dialogue is composed of average talk. Toward his material Mr. Chayefsky has a kind of O. Henry sense of familiarity. Apparently it is part of his design to underwrite the plot….

The play that is underwritten may turn out not to be as picturesque as Mr. Chayefsky probably imagined. Without some pressure back of it the average may emerge as dullness in the theatre….

Mr. Chayefsky has a particular talent for writing about the temperament of his Jewish family. He describes the homelife of a garment manufacturer with taste and authenticity and also with sympathetic humor….

There is never anything wrong with anything about "Middle of the Night."

But Mr. Chayefsky's intentional cultivation of the average and the obvious has its own limitations. It cannot wholly escape being average drama.

Brooks Atkinson, "Theatre: Edward G. Robinson Back," in The New York Times (© 1956 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 9, 1956 (and reprinted in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews, Vol. XVII, No. 4; February 13, 1956, p. 371).