Ronald Ribman Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ronald Ribman has worked extensively as a screenwriter, both for film and for television. Among those scripts that have been produced are The Final War of Olly Winter, an original television play produced by the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1967; The Angel Levine, a screenplay written with William Gunn and based on a story by Bernard Malamud, produced by United Artists in 1970; and Seize the Day, a teleplay based on the novel by Saul Bellow, produced by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1987. Three of Ribman’s stage plays have also been adapted for television: The Journey of the Fifth Horse for NET in 1966 and for the Canadian Broadcasting Company in 1969, The Ceremony of Innocence for NET in 1972 and for Granada Television in London in 1974, and Cold Storage for the Entertainment Channel in 1983.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Since the beginning of his career in the late 1960’s, Ronald Ribman has been recognized by a relatively small number of discriminating critics, and by foundations dedicated to improving the literary merit of the American theater, as one of the most significant voices of the stage, one that rings out with poetry in the face of the prosaic norm that values language itself: Ribman’s language emphasizes the beauty and fluidity of words. Though The Journey of the Fifth Horse was savaged by the mainstream critics, it received the Obie Award for the best Off-Broadway play of the 1965-1966 season. The Final War of Olly Winter was nominated for five Emmy Awards; The Poison Tree won the Straw Hat Award for Best New Play in 1973, and Cold Storage won the Hull-Warriner Award of the Dramatists Guild in 1977. The Rug Merchants of Chaos was the winner of an award from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays. Ribman received Rockefeller grants in 1966 and 1968, and in 1975 the Rockefeller Foundation awarded him a fellowship “in recognition of his sustained contribution to American theatre.” In 1976, Ribman was awarded the Creative Artists Public Service grant, and in 1984, he received the Playwrights USA award for Buck. He has also been awarded a Guggenheim Foundation grant in 1970 and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in 1973 and 1986-1987.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Brustein, Robert. “Journey and Arrival of a Playwright.” In The Third Theater. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969. In this discussion of The Journey of the Fifth Horse, Brustein, who was the drama critic for The New Republic, highlights the flexibility of Ribman’s language, which can move from evocative tenderness to stinging rebuke. He also praises the way the dramatist suggests the hidden affinities of his two central characters, men who, at first glance, seem worlds apart.

Gottfried, Martin. Opening Nights: Theater Criticism of the Sixties. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1969. Theater critic Gottfried reviews The Journey of the Fifth Horse and compares it favorably to a contemporary British drama. Gottfried gives Ribman high marks for his fluid use of structure and his compassion for those tormented by loneliness.

Gottfried, Martin. A Theater Divided: The Postwar American Stage. Boston: Little, Brown, 1967. Analyzes Ribman’s role in the early history of the American Place Theater along with some of his early plays. Argues that the American theater after World War II was divided between left (liberal) and right (conservative) wings, each contesting the shape of drama in the United States. Notes that Ribman’s works were rejected by both camps. Even if, as Gottfried states, Harry, Noon and...

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