Sally Benson Brooks Atkinson - Essay

Brooks Atkinson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

About half way through the evening "The Young and Beautiful" … settles down to work and becomes an interesting play.

Sally Benson has written it from some of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short stories. The place is Chicago; the time is forty years ago. Her major problem is how to make a vain, frivolous adolescent girl a dramatic character…. Josephine Perry is an irritating flirt for about an act and a half. Her charm is small compensation for her scheming, cheating, lying and her greediness about men.

But Miss Benson has something more in mind than another comedy of adolescence. Presumably taking her point of view from Scott Fitzgerald, she mixes a little gall with the romance. Although Josephine is patently outrageous, she is also desperate. Other people may regard her as a spoiled brat who is out of control. But Josephine knows that she is seeking the unobtainable.

In the last act, she is a frightened, pathetic young lady, headed for the sort of doom that Scott Fitzgerald coveted. Although he was fascinated by sin, he had a puritanical sense of the punishment that sin exacts from gay transgressors; and "The Young and Beautiful" represents him faithfully.

Miss Benson is an old hand at the humors of adolescence. While she is developing the character of Josephine in "The Young and Beautiful," she sketches in some amusing scenes with the young and the insufferable—the premature decadents, the premature courtesans, working hard to make their little world wicked and glamorous.

Brooks Atkinson, "Theater Reviews: 'The Young and Beautiful'," in The New York Times (© 1955 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 3, 1955, p. 23.