Robert Anderson Analysis

Other Literary Forms

ph_0111207669-Anderson_R.jpg Robert Anderson in 1953 Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Robert Anderson wrote numerous radio, television, and film scripts, including screen adaptations of Kathryn Hulme’s 1956 novel The Nun’s Story (1959), of Richard McKenna’s 1962 novel The Sand Pebbles (1966), and of his own I Never Sang for My Father (1970). The only one of these that has been published, however, is the screenplay of I Never Sang for My Father. Many interviews with Anderson and essays by him on the practice of playwriting and the state of the theater have been published in various newspapers and journals. He also published the novels After (1973) and Getting Up and Going Home (1978).

Achievements

Considering Robert Anderson’s lifelong devotion to the theater, the number of his plays which received wide notice was relatively small. Although he wrote The Days Between with Broadway in mind, Anderson offered it to the newly formed American Playwrights Theater when that organization was having difficulty getting good new plays to offer its member theaters. As a result, The Days Between was produced during 1965-1966 in fifty regional theaters but was never produced on Broadway. Come Marching Home, which did have a short New York run, was never published.

Although Anderson’s plays are to some extent marred by imitativeness and by a lack of variation in theme and motif, they nevertheless represent a solid, if modest, achievement. Anderson created several memorable characters—for example, the rigid, domineering, irascible, charming, and pathetic Tom Garrison of I Never Sang for My Father, a self-made man who in his old age is unable to admit to himself, much less communicate to his family, his need for them and his loneliness; the comic, anxiously adaptable actor Richard Pawling of The Shock of Recognition, also pathetic in his eagerness to be or to do anything at all in order to get a part in a play; and the middle-class, middle-aged, anguished Chuck of I’ll Be Home for Christmas, suddenly, by a letter from his son, brought face to face with his own fears about the meaninglessness of his existence.

In addition, Anderson was willing to take chances in his plays, and in so doing helped enrich both in subject and in technique the possibilities open to the theater. In subject, for example, Tea and Sympathy was the first American play to deal explicitly with homosexuality, and Double Solitaire carries frankness in the discussion of sexual experiences to what is probably the limit of public acceptability on the stage. In stage technique, The Shock of Recognition introduced for the first time the possibility of presenting male frontal nudity in the theater (though not itself actually presenting such nudity); and in format, his You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running successfully defied the well-entrenched belief that a group of one-act plays could not achieve commercial success on Broadway. These accomplishments established Anderson’s reputation as a dramatist seriously interested in making stage depictions of life correspond more closely to real life.

Bibliography

Adler, Thomas P. Robert Anderson. Boston: Twayne, 1978. Adler examines Anderson’s life and works, providing critical analysis. Bibliography and index.

Ayers, David Hugh. The Apprenticeship of Robert Anderson. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms, 1970. The first book-length study of Anderson, with a valuable bibliography of reviews and articles that appeared in The New York Times. Also contains a definitive account of Anderson’s salad days, Navy plays, the period of his wife’s cancer, the lawsuit concerning Tea and Sympathy, and the formation of the New Dramatists in 1951.

Gordon, A. C. A Critical Study of the History and Development of the Playwrights’ Producing Company. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms, 1972. A thorough study of this producing organization, where Robert Anderson and Maxwell Anderson (no relation) crossed careers between 1953 and 1959. The work underlines Robert Anderson’s lifelong interest in producing and developing new playwrights.

Klein, Alvin. “Giving a Theater Force His Due.” The New York Times, October 22, 2000, p. 15. This article about Hofstra University’s tribute to Robert Anderson provides some glimpses into Anderson as a person and playwright, including his influence on playwright Donald Margulies.

Sullivan, Dan. “Anderson Makes a Living: Between Killings.” Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1987, p. 53. In this article on the revival of I Never Sang for My Father at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles, Sullivan talks with Anderson about his love for the theater and the difficulty of getting plays produced.

Wharton, John F. “The Sixth Playwright.” In Life Among the Playwrights. New York: Quadrangle, 1974. Presents the story of the Playwrights’ Producing Company, of which Wharton was a founding member. This chapter introduces Anderson’s involvement, claiming he could have been the revitalizing force for the group in its waning years.

Wharton, John F. “The Sixth Playwright.” In Life Among the Playwrights. New York: Quadrangle, 1974. Presents the story of the Playwrights’ Producing Company, of which Wharton was a founding member. This chapter introduces Anderson’s involvement, claiming he could have been the revitalizing force for the group in its waning years.