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Robert (Woodruff) Anderson 1917–
American playwright, novelist, and scriptwriter.
In many of his plays, Anderson questions the sanctity of such societal institutions as marriage and family. Critics generally applaud his ability to present human situations through shifting undercurrents of emotion but regret his occasional lapses into melodrama.
Tea and Sympathy, his 1953 Broadway success for which he also wrote the screenplay, established Anderson as a sympathetic spokesman for young people.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed. and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 7.)
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["Tea and Sympathy"] is a totally successful play because it deals with a theme which has a strong appeal to our audiences…. (p. 317)
I speak of the play's theme, although I was not altogether sure at first what the theme was. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the play tells an interesting story which suggests a number of themes none of which are emphasized or probed at any particular depth. The story is that of a sensitive prep-school boy who on very slight evidence is suspected of being a homosexual…. The main theme therefore is a defense of the special person in a society which tends to look askance at the "odd" individual, even the unpremeditated non-conformist. If the play has a message, it is to the effect that a boy like its protagonist may be more truly a man than those falsely rugged folk who oppress him.
The play also cautions us against prejudice, slander, and false accusation—in a word, is a plea for tolerance. Naturally, we are all for it: every contribution in this direction is more than welcome. Yet in this regard I cannot help thinking that we have arrived today at a peculiar brand of tolerance. We tolerate the innocent! We say "this person who is accused of being off-beat—socially, sexually, or politically—is not guilty; we must therefore be tolerant." If he is guilty, should we then tear him to bits? I should prefer to see a play in which, let us say, a homosexual is shown to be a genuinely worth-while person and the persecution that he suffers is presented as a disease within ourselves. (pp. 317-18)
Though now easily acceptable, a play like "Tea and Sympathy" is probably still regarded by many as adventurous and advanced, though it is actually primitive in its theme, characterization, and story development. It is, in fact, a very young play.
This is no adverse comment on it. It is the work of a young playwright, Robert Anderson, whose approach is honorably craftsmanlike and humane. (p. 318)
Harold Clurman, "Theater: 'Tea and Sympathy'," in The Nation (copyright 1953 The Nation magazine, The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 177, No. 16, October 17, 1953, pp. 317-18.
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As a composition for the theater, "Tea and Sympathy" is entrenched in that plenitude and elegance of craft of which the American stage is sometimes capable: dramatically, it has been arranged with economy and poise; its psychology is fashionable, its "values" unexceptionable. What elevates it to serious interest is a refinement of personal feeling, and a certain ambiance in which Mr. Anderson has wisely permitted the play to repose….
Mr. Anderson's dish of tea, sweetened with love, is served to a troubled adolescent (again), maliciously accused of sexual inversion in an aggressively "adjusted" New England prep school. Amid so much contempt and bullying, the boy finds an ally in his housemaster's warm and responsive young wife, and together they share in innocent collusion against a system which holds the test of everything to be its durability. (p. 90)
The explicit outlines of "Tea and Sympathy," so morally outrageous, do not in point of fact permit the charge. Mr. Anderson has confined himself to recording the weather of a human situation, and here the criterion must always be the quality of feeling. What disturbs, rather, is the strangely adjustable nature of the playwright's moral imagination. He approaches the public, or social, aspects of his theme with restraint and a fine, civilized intelligence, but his manipulation of personal relationships is far less fastidious. When Lillian Hellman wrote "The Children's Hour," a play of similar preoccupation and consequence, she somewhat inverted the pattern: make a melodrama of morality. Mr. Anderson has succumbed to the melodrama of sentiment.
Mr. Anderson would appear to be the more humane; he nourishes the current mode of sentimentalism. But sensitivity has again exacted its toll: the evidence is plain in the pallid language of "Tea and Sympathy," in its inability to bear the moral traffic, and the drama's neat, faintly vulgar psychology (is a single sexual act, for example, so therapeutic? will it unravel so tangled and branching a history of inferiority?). What the play lacks is any dimension of power or moral vivacity. (pp. 90-1)
Richard Hayes, "The Stage: 'Tea and Sympathy'," in Commonweal (copyright © 1953 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. LIX, No. 4, October 30, 1953, pp. 90-1.
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Robert Anderson, whose "Tea and Sympathy" established him as one of our foremost authorities on the sensitive young man in a hostile world, has practically sewed up this title with his new play, called "All Summer Long."… The unhappy adolescent this time is harried not by a false charge of homosexuality but only by the stupidity of his family, and the boy-and-older-woman relationship has been discarded in favor of a similar tender understanding between two brothers. The play, however, remains substantially the same in mood and message. The young, Mr. Anderson continues to insist, suffer with an intensity that is far beyond the average comprehension, and our society, generally speaking, is ruthlessly organized against them. Since it is without the automatic shock and calculated dénouement of its predecessor, "All Summer Long" seems to me a better and more reputable play, but I still can't help feeling that the author's tendency to identify himself with children in a child's world, to see life sheerly as a war between passionate young innocence and tarnished adult experience, keeps his work from being really very stimulating to the mature. In this case, the enormous volume of evidence advanced to prove that grownups are awful strikes me as more than a little dull, and since his contrasting affirmations of faith in their juniors depress me only slightly less, I think we'll just let that point go.
The action of the play focusses on a boy who celebrates his twelfth birthday midway in the proceedings. The argument—which I might debate but won't—is that this is a peculiarly significant age. Social criticism is born, and for the first time the child is aware of cruelty, vulgarity, and futility, and, of course, their opposites, as actual qualities in those around him. It is a time when models for future behavior are chosen, when the first genuine moral decisions are made, and, especially, when sex can turn into a wonder or a horror overnight. (p. 63)
The boy's only solace [is his elder brother]…. Together, the brothers meet and rout the family's concerted efforts to corrupt the younger boy's dreams, and together they try to fight back the river, and though they fail pathetically at that, the great affirmative lesson is learned. This would seem to be that, on the whole, love and faith are better weapons than hatred and despair, and what reasonable man would think of quarrelling with that? In justice to Mr. Anderson, it should be stated that "All Summer Long" contains a good many quite funny and touching things. The complaints against it here are, first, that there are not nearly enough of them; second, that the drawing of character in almost absolute terms of black and white has a rather naïve air on a modern stage; and, third, that having said just about the same thing once, the author might have been well advised to refrain from saying it again. (pp. 63-4)
Wolcott Gibbs, "More Tea," in The New Yorker (© 1954 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 30, No. 33, October 2, 1954, pp. 63-7.
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Tea and Sympathy by Robert Anderson is about a private-school boy who is to lose the feeling that he is a homosexual by proving his potency with the housemaster's wife. The subject matter suggests a whole roster of other plays (The Green Bay Tree, The Children's Hour …) but most of all Tea and Sympathy strikes me as the 1953 version of Young Woodley, not so much for its plot, or even its setting, as for its relation to the public's current view of what is scandalous. The formula for such a work is Daring as Calculated Caution. Or: Audacity, Audacity, But Not Too Much Audacity. Such a play must be "bannable" on grounds of what used to be considered immoral but also defensible on grounds of what is now considered moral. Sweet are the uses of perversity.
Tea and Sympathy is a highly superior specimen of the theatre of "realist" escape. Superior in craftsmanship, superior in its isolation, combination, and manipulation of the relevant impulses and motifs. Its organization of the folklore of current fashion is so skilful, it brings us to the frontier where this sort of theatre ends. But not beyond it. One doesn't ask the questions one would ask of a really serious play. Here, in the cuckoo land of folklore, one doesn't ask how the heroine knows the hero is innocent, one doesn't permit oneself the thought that he may not be innocent, for he has an innocence of a kind the real world never supplies: an innocence complete and certified. One doesn't ask how her husband could be so unloving and yet have got her to love him: one accepts her neat, fairy-tale explanation that, one night in Italy, he needed her. One doesn't ask just how the heroine's motives are mixed—to what extent her favors are kindness, to what extent self-indulgence—for, in this realm, the author enjoys the privilege of dreamer, neurotic, and politician to appeal to whatever motive is most attractive at the moment. (pp. 150-51)
Day-dreams are of course full of real objects, yet the effect of the realities in Tea and Sympathy is strangely dual. At times it lifts the show out of the commodity theatre altogether—and into the theatre of the masters. (p. 152)
Eric Bentley, "Folklore on Forty-Seventh Street," in his The Dramatic Event: An American Chronicle (copyright 1954; reprinted by permission of the publisher, Horizon Press, New York), Horizon Press, 1954, pp. 149-53.
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All Summer Long is another mood play, belonging to the succession that began with Summer and Smoke and Member of the Wedding. The aim is Chekhov's trigger effect: the releasing of large forces by tiny movements. The actual fact is a series of tiny movements, each ticketed, in at least one speech, with the author's intentions and even views. All sorts of motives and motifs hover about the play without quite getting into it. Or, if they do get in, it is in the form either of clumsy symbolism or overt mention. Under the former head, I would place the main incident of the action: the house in which our family lives is being undermined by the river and will collapse. Under the head of overt mention, I would place many of the cripple's speeches, especially one in which he lists and sums up the other characters and another in which he states the theme of Joseph Conrad's The Shadow Line. The general effect is not of large forces and tiny movements but of big intentions bogging down in small facts…. Then, too, as in Tea and Sympathy, this author tends to substitute clinical information explaining people for dramatic action presenting them. In fairness it should be added that, when we are momentarily not oppressed by all the paraphernalia of the family mechanism, we enjoy his ingratiating humor. (pp. 4-5)
Eric Bentley, "The Family" (originally published in a slightly different version as "Theatre: 'All Summer Long'," in The New Republic, Vol. 131, No. 2080, October 4, 1954), in his What Is Theatre? A Query in Chronicle Form (copyright 1956, by Eric Bentley; reprinted by permission of the author and publisher, Horizon Press, New York), Horizon Press, 1956, pp. 4-5.
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In Robert Anderson's "Silent Night, Lonely Night,"… [a man and a woman] conduct a long discussion of love, marriage and adultery….
But after an act and a half of recollections and rationalizations, a theatregoer cannot be blamed if he wishes that Mr. Anderson and his actors would please change the subject….
For an act and a half they tell each other the unhappy stories of their lives and resist adultery for noble reasons. Between the first and second scenes of the second act, however, they resort to adultery to assuage their grief. For all practical purposes this seems to solve their problems. On Christmas Day they are both refreshed, and they resume their separate married lives in good heart….
To Mr. Anderson, all this doubtless has a private significance that has to be respected. But his elegy on marriage is performed in public and has to be judged by public standards. They are likely to seem a little chilly to Mr. Anderson. Although the dialogue is written by a man who respects the graces of style, "Silent Night, Lonely Night" is excessively verbose. It is also uneventful….
[Subordinate characters] bring a little variety from the outside into Mr. Anderson's series of confessions by two grieving people. But "Silent Night, Lonely Night" is also a long night. During the discussion between the man and the woman, one phrase turns up frequently: "I'm so sorry." Perhaps that would be a suitable phrase with which to conclude this notice.
Brooks Atkinson, "Theatre: 'Silent Night, Lonely Night'," in The New York Times (© 1959 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 4, 1959 (and reprinted in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews, Vol. XX, No. 23, December 7, 1959, p. 205).
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"Silent Night, Lonely Night" is touching, gentle, sensitive and very, very wistful. Robert Anderson's new play … contemplates the brief encounter of two tormented and unhappy young people in a New England inn on Christmas Eve with tender and rueful understanding…. But it seems to me that its forlorn mood of wistfulness has the misfortune to grow so monotonous that the eventual effect is far more trying than moving….
The sad, short, tender relationship between the pair, which is based on mutual loneliness and compassion, is presented with delicacy and sympathy, but the monotony does creep in, and the one note on which the narrative is based becomes as wearying as it is undramatic. Unrelieved wistfulness can go only so far in theater, and I'm afraid the bounds are soon exceeded in Mr. Anderson's play. The tenderness becomes cloying, and not even the addition of such minor characters as a young bridal couple can destroy the pall of the monotone….
Mr. Anderson's writing is graceful and often charming, but his tender drama is lost in its one small note.
Richard Watts, Jr., "Two Sad People on Christmas Eve," in New York Post (reprinted by permission of the New York Post; © 1959, New York Post Corporation), December 4, 1959 (and reprinted in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews, Vol. XX, No. 23, December 7, 1959, p. 205).
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[All Summer Long] revolves around the failure of an American family to save its home, because of listlessness and disorientation…. It would have been difficult to find a more intelligent and sensitive playwright for the assignment of dramatizing Donald Wetzel's A Wreath and a Curse, the novel upon which All Summer Long was based. Nobody familiar with Tea and Sympathy could doubt that Robert Anderson would make sensitive drama out of the tensions of these confused young characters who receive little sympathy, guidance, or encouragement from their bumbling elders…. (p. 289)
A just appraisal of Robert Anderson's second Broadway work must distribute praise and blame. Praise should be given to some excellent details of characterization and feeling; blame to laboriousness in underscoring the lesson and for a general mildness of action and characterization. An excellent argument may be advanced against the requirement of an exciting plot, but only if the author's work on theme and characters provides an inner excitement of its own. All Summer Long drifted too long before coming to its conclusion. If no objection could be raised against the expectedness of the conclusion itself—who does not expect Chekhov's Cherry Orchard family to lose its estate—our judgment of the play was nevertheless affected by the degree to which interest was sustained while we were waiting for the blow to fall. How much interest could we take in those who endeavored to avert the blow and failed to do so. How much concern for whether or not the blow would fall? In All Summer Long the movement of the play was too uneventful, and some torpor overcame us while we were being languidly carried toward the catastrophe.
The drift of the characters was the very subject of the dramatization, and their lassitude gave an aura to their personality that was distinctly attractive. It was possible to agree with those reviewers who found All Summer Long appealing, for Robert Anderson's talent made it possible for us to take some interest in the play's characters, especially in the little boy who patiently erected his pitifully inadequate stone wall against erosion. But it is also true that the characters were not particularly engrossing on their own merits. One of the principals, Don, who encourages his little brother with lectures while indulging his own melancholy, did not wear well. One could only wish that the playwright had managed to make the drifters and their drift more arresting and poignant. More poetry of characterization and symbolism was needed to avoid the mild depressiveness of the family drama. It is a pity that the proper and full employment of a keen sensibility is so difficult and rare on the contemporary American stage with native middle-class characters. Which is perhaps only another way of saying that Chekhovian artistry has a difficult time of it in our theatre.
It is interesting to observe how the sensibilities of a writer like Robert Anderson have fared in this extrovert theatre of ours. Whereas the Chekhovian progression of All Summer Long was a descending one, Tea and Sympathy, written later but produced earlier on Broadway, had an ascending movement. It also had a sensational conclusion and a dramatic pressure that propelled the action forward in spurts of intrigue, conflict, discoveries, and reversals. (pp. 291-92)
It is hardly necessary to point out that the progression of [Tea and Sympathy] consists of one theatrical reversal after another. We arrive at one high point when the wife pins the charge of homosexuality on the manly teacher and at another high, indeed distinctly sensational point, when the woman offers herself to the adolescent in order to save him from a dangerously wrong opinion of himself…. The boy's libido might easily have failed him again, for instance, if for no other reason than that she is his schoolmaster's wife as well as a person who could have overawed him with her dignity. Even at the considerable risk of forcing the development of events and of moving toward a hazardous resolution Anderson … took his drama of adolescence out of the cherry orchard. Whatever we may think of his means we can hardly doubt that Robert Anderson's decidedly un-Chekhovian playwriting sustained the interest of his public and secured his sensitivity a place in the popular American theatre. (pp. 292-93)
Anderson's last play of the Fifties, Silent Night, Lonely Night, was an exercise in restraint. Not many reviewers appreciated the discipline he imposed on himself in his story of two lonely adults who find each other on Christmas night only to part the next morning, the hero going to his mentally disturbed wife, the heroine to her unfaithful husband. (p. 293)
Complicating events were sparse in Silent Night, Lonely Night. These could have been supplied easily enough if the author had been willing to contrive a plot. But he would have regarded such tinkering with the feelings of his characters or with their limited capacity for action as an act of sacrilege. He rested his case instead solely on the shy rapprochement of two people and took the calculated risk of exhibiting nothing else on the stage. It was quite a risk to take on Broadway but it was worth taking for those of us, apparently a minority, who were held by the author's finely spun web of feeling and insight. I enroll myself with that minority, although I believe that ideally Silent Night, Lonely Night should have been a long one-act play in two or three scenes. (pp. 293-94)
But the Anglo-Saxon stiffness or restraint in the relationships of the two protagonists, while thoroughly natural in the play, is far removed from the buoyancy and rich variety of tone and mood that enabled Chekhov to turn even stalemate into drama. When the curtain fell on Silent Night, Lonely Night one felt that the author had gone as far as it was possible to go with his subject matter and that he had even taken longer than necessary go get there. (p. 294)
John Gassner, "Affirmations?" in his Theatre at the Crossroads: Plays and Playwrights of the Mid-Century American Stage (copyright © 1960 by Mollie Gassner; reprinted by permission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Publishers), Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960, pp. 274-312.∗
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After expressing mild discontent over his giving them the collective title of "You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running," I have only enthusiasm for Robert Anderson's four short plays…. They are notably fine comic and dramatic episodes, written with skill and insight….
[The first of the quartet] has to do with a dramatist who, having achieved a reputation by writing dignified but conventional plays, wants to do a daring one in which a character will appear in the nude. Dealing with the audition of a startled but eager actor who is a little surprised but anxious to get the demanding role, it is not only remarkably hilarious but has a good deal of shrewd comment to make on matters concerned with the state of the contemporary theater….
["I'll Be Home for Christmas"] is the most impressive in indicating the quality of Mr. Anderson's talent, because it is … moving and has depth of feeling. Beginning humorously as a colloquy between husband and wife, in which the growing sexual urges of their two children are regarded amusingly, it soon grows desperately serious in its contemplation. And by the time it has ended, the troubled bewilderment of two thoughtful people, intelligent parents worried by the mystery of a new and puzzling generation, has been shown with sympathy and understanding….
["I'm Herbert"] achieves the feat of being humorous about senility without losing its sense of humanity.
Richard Watts, Jr., "Four Welcome Plays at Once," in New York Post (reprinted by permission of the New York Post; © 1967, New York Post Corporation), March 14, 1967 (and reprinted in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews, Vol. 28, No. 7, March 20, 1967, p. 345).
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Sex is the theme that links the four short plays written by Robert Anderson and presented under the over-all title You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running. Actually, Anderson has written three plays, the fourth (or, rather, the first) being an introduction and a guide to the others. How one responds to the initial play will set one's pattern of interpretation for the others. I do not like to brag, but I got the message of the first play, and therefore found the others warm and humorous insights into the grandeur and misery of human sexuality.
In the first play—"The Shock of Recognition," which is what the author solicits from his audience throughout the evening—a fictional playwright, Jack Barnstable, must convince his producer, Joe Silver, that his new drama demands that a male actor appear on the stage in the nude…. The producer wants the scene eliminated, but the playwright considers it absolutely essential because it will give the audience the shock of recognition.
By that, Barnstable means that the audience will know that this is not going to be a play that glamorizes or plays it cute with the way people behave. Anyone viewing that naked actor and hearing that line will realize that this play's author has experienced life as it is, will identify the scene with something from his own experience and so credit the play…. [Barnstable feels that] the theater should come of age and treat life as it is lived, not hide behind stage-prop fig leaves….
Having thus prepared his audience, playwright Anderson proceeds to present variations on the theme. If you have accepted his premise, the mention of menopause, masturbation and contraception will provoke in you the shock of recognition and the readiness to have private matters explored in and through a public forum. (p. 1048)
Robert Graham Kemper, "Sexual Credibility Gap," in The Christian Century (copyright 1967 Christian Century Foundation; reprinted by permission from the August 16, 1967 issue of The Christian Century), Vol. LXXXIV, No. 33, August 16, 1967, pp. 1048-49.
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[What] emerges from [I Never Sang for My Father] is a gentle reminder of how well-to-do American families unintentionally pollute the lives of their members.
But what also emerges is a kind of dull disappointment in the ordinariness and familiarity of it all. The play begins rather promisingly as the son, Gene, steps forward to share his intelligence with us. His philosophical statement, "Death ends a life but not a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor's mind towards a resolution it may never find," is spoken in a special density of light that suggests the mysterious area of the subconscious. Then by a subtle brightening of the lights we bob up to the surface of the play's actuality, to meet the son's aged parents returning from a Florida vacation.
There is some amusement in the rambunctious rudeness of the father…. And there is also fun in the mother—about whose health the father pretends to be concerned…. But from this point on it is all only a sporadically engaging demonstration of the falseness of the family's interrelationships. Theoretically, this demonstration is leading Gene to an understanding of the truth about himself and his father, but, as the playwright has warned us, resolution is not to be expected in his play any more than it is in life….
[There] is insufficient time for a really convincing Freudian explanation to be expounded. Not that there isn't something very profound in a self-centered father who regards his son as a dividend, and who exploits him by manipulating his guilt, but the playwright doesn't stay underwater long enough….
One suspects that the whole play would have benefited had it stayed more consistently within the mysterious world of memory as did The Glass Menagerie. For the best parts of I Never Sang for My Father are those that treat its important and unusual subject least literally and least logically. Unfortunately, they are outnumbered by the drearier ones in which the playwright's sense of fair play and verisimilitude prevail.
Henry Hewes, "Fair Play for Schrafft's," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1968 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. LI, No. 6, February 10, 1968, p. 39.
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As a popular commercial dramatist for home consumption [Anderson] is fine, but of precisely the sort that does not travel. In [I Never Sang for My Father] one is conscious all the time of the adroitness with which he is pressing the right buttons for an American audience, from the things the Americans around one laugh at, the things they listen to in apparently moved silence. But, kept apart by a common language or not, most British playgoers are likely to find that the buttons do not produce the right effect, or indeed often any effect at all. (p. 43)
As you may perhaps have gathered, this is another of those plays, with which the American theatre is strewn, about an agonised father-son relationship. (pp. 43, 78)
Clearly the situation is not, in human terms, inconceivable. But the hero's endless devotion to the idea of winning his father's love is so weird as to be positively morbid, and to hold our interest in it Mr. Anderson would have to be a very different sort of writer: the sort who can capture the essence of a personal obsession and make it vivid even to those who are as far as possible from sharing it. That he is not: he writes quite a nice, straightforward little naturalistic play of conversational scenes linked together by an unobtrusive narrator, and simply assumes that his hero's neurosis will be near enough to our own experience for him just baldly to take it for granted and be sure that we will catch his meaning. In Britain, at any rate, I would think he is quite wrong: that is not a button one can safely press and expect results. (p. 78)
John Russell Taylor, "Duke of York's: 'I Never Sang for My Father'" (© copyright John Russell Taylor 1970; reprinted with permission of A D Peters & Co Ltd), in Plays and Players, Vol. 17, No. 10, July, 1970, pp. 43, 78.
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Another addition to the two-character bedroom boom is Robert Anderson's Silent Night, Lonely Night…. There are minor characters in the play, but the action centers on the man and woman in a New England inn on Christmas Eve. They are middle-aged, unhappy in their marriages, and terribly despondent…. They circle back and forth in their preparation for the affair, with the telephone handy as a means of communication with the missing mates. Sex again is salvation, and the implicit approval of extramarital relations is mitigated by each one's returning to his marriage in the end, better prepared to endure his unhappiness…. The Christmas background implied the religious approval of resurrection through adultery. The play is amazingly devoid of action, a subdued, nonviolent, and often graceful discussion of two people's quest for human warmth, but it falls into the trap of skirting the forbidden and restoring the accepted. (p. 155)
[Tea and Sympathy], Robert Anderson's first play, which has become a standard vehicle in summer stock, did indicate a delicacy of feeling and show skill in constructing a realistic suspense drama. Anderson intended to have Tom Lee a non-conformist, the young man who cannot bring himself to engage in the usual vulgarities of school life. The accusation of homosexuality dominates the play. The now-famous resolution in which Laura Reynolds, the housemaster's wife, unbuttons her blouse and invites Tom to the proof of his manhood has little relation to the logic of the plot, but is a nicely superimposed shock-ending. Anderson's other play, All Summer Long …, was based on Donald Wetzel's novel A Reef and a Curse, and is less concerned with sex. A boy builds a retaining wall to save the family house from the expected flood, while the adults are too busy with their petty bickering to become involved in anything beyond the self. (pp. 155-56)
As with many of Arthur Miller's works, [I Never Sang for My Father] deals with a father-son obsession, this time a 40-year-old son and an 80-year-old father. Each pursues in his own ego satisfaction and never reaches out to the other in mutual understanding. Anderson attempted to write a generation gap play but it had little connection with the actual dislocations of young people in today's social upheaval. (p. 156)
Allan Lewis, "The Emergent Deans—Kingsley, Inge, and Company," in his American Plays and Playwrights of the Contemporary Theatre (copyright © 1970 by Allan Lewis; used by permission of Crown Publishers, Inc.), revised edition, Crown, 1970, pp. 143-63.∗
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[Solitaire/Double Solitaire] has its heart in the right place (if a little too much on its sleeve). It is honest, occasionally poignant, an evening of serious purpose and fleeting humor and, in its way, uncompromising. But it is also tiresome, tedious and ultimately unsuccessful. The reasons why will not be unfamiliar to anyone who has followed Anderson's career.
[The first play,] Solitaire, is set sometime in the future. The System has taken over, and marriage and the family have been abolished. People may work only one day a week, and those men whom the System has decreed are qualified must periodically deposit a specified amount of sperm to continue the race. Whether its automated form renders it unworthy of continuation would seem to be one of Mr. Anderson's questions and, perhaps agreeing, the wife of his hero has chosen the "early self-disposal" available to all inhabitants of its 1984-style nightmare….
The idea is hardly original and Mr. Anderson does little that is original with it. Near the end, when Sam has left his brothel of the future, he opens the box he was given as a gift only to find it empty—as empty as the life he now leads, reads the all too obvious symbol. In its way, so is Solitaire; empty at least of any development of its idea beyond banality.
Double Solitaire is marginally better…. For Charley, the request [from his parents that he and his wife renew their marriage vows] unleashes a whole chain of reactions. His own marriage has become a vacuum in which he is searching for "some saving intensity" to rescue it and his life from their meaninglessness. He wants desperately to reach his wife, Barbara, to recapture whatever it was they once shared….
There is nothing heroic about Mr. Anderson's characters, but there is something true and, because it is true, something at least fleetingly touching. Lonely and regretful, they each seek love, at least the hint of love. But because they will settle for so little—or perhaps demand so much—they are more ordinary, more real, than dramatic. And that, along with Anderson's failures of imagination, dooms them to the very "blandness" Charley decries in his own life.
Catharine Hughes, "Theatre: 'Solitaire/Double Solitaire'," in America (reprinted with permission of America Press, Inc.; © 1971; all rights reserved), Vol. 125, No. 12, October 23, 1971, p. 322.
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In Double Solitaire, a play that many critics believe to be his best, or at least his best since Tea and Sympathy, Robert Anderson makes his most trenchant and personal statement on marriage. The play centers on Charley and Barbara Potter, who must decide whether or not to renew their marriage vows on their twenty-fifth anniversary, as Charley's parents, Ernest and Elizabeth Potter, had done twenty-five years before. (pp. 93-4)
The question that informs the entire play is: Will Barbara and Charley stay together or separate? In essence, this is what their decision to renew or not renew their vows would mean. The deeper question raised is: What kind of an institution is marriage? Is it good or bad inherently? Is it good for some but not for others, and, if it can be good, does its goodness last? (p. 94)
Despite their admitted incompatibilities, both Potters wish that their son and daughter-in-law would stay together. They feel that one must work to maintain a marriage, often in the face of unsatisfactory conditions. They feel that reaffirming their vows helped them twenty-five years ago and that their son and his wife could also gain comfort from such a cementing ritual.
After [the Potters'] parallel advice-giving process, there is another monologue, by Barbara's friend Sylvia, and then a series of dialogues (including some long, nervous speeches) until the end of the play. (p. 95)
While the play explores the conflict between Barbara and Charley, its scope is larger; it ultimately succeeds in putting all marriages on trial. In so doing, the play makes one of the most tortured, honest, and sensitive explorations of marriage in American theatre. It is in terms of this fundamental exploration, this examination of the inherent and ultimate value of marriage, that Sylvia's timeless and almost placeless appearance makes its special, and especially subtle, aesthetic contribution. (pp. 96-7)
[The] play leaves many questions unresolved; most importantly, we are left to ponder its central dramatic question: will or should Barbara and Charley stay together? In a "well-made play," we would be directed toward an answer. However, Anderson elects not to wrap things up so tidily. Instead, he provides us with a thorough exploration of "a marriage on the rocks" and some very trenchant criticism of the marriage institution itself. Rarely has any writer written so sincerely, so personally, and yet so dispassionately of portions of human experience that are usually hidden away and left unexplored. By doing this, he confronts pain. (pp. 103-04)
Whether the term "well-made play" is a useful critical conception or merely a misleading and exclusivist tag is a moot point…. [But] we must surely exclude Robert Anderson's Double Solitaire from this category. Anderson's play is not mechanical; rationalistic; grounded simply in logic; bound by cause and effect; unidimensional; or beset by the sometimes tortured, artificial devices of playwrights intent on "well-made" works with clear, simple conclusions. Rather, it is a sensitive, multidimensional, episodic, detailed exploration of marriage as a highly troubled institution clung to by very vulnerable individuals. It is honest and direct, and it uses many experimental devices to move itself along. (p. 104)
Samuel J. Bernstein, "'Double Solitaire' by Robert Anderson," in his The Strands Entwined (copyright © Northeastern University 1980; reprinted by permission of the publisher), Northeastern University Press, 1980, pp. 87-110.
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