Sidney Kingsley is generally regarded as a social dramatist, one who made the social and political problems of his age the subject matter of his plays. Because his early work was done in the 1930’s, a time of economic depression and of a crisis for capitalism, there are strong liberal (at times leftist) perspectives in his dramas. Invariably his characters struggle with a fate not simply personal but, in a very explicit sense, social as well. George Ferguson in Men in White, Thomas Jefferson in The Patriots, Nicolai Rubashov in Darkness at Noon, and Will Kazar in Night Life are very different as characters, yet all of them, in Kingsley’s plays, must weigh their personal desires and private dreams against their social responsibilities and public ambitions.
Kingsley’s plays demonstrate his interaction with the world of his day: its politics, its institutions, its social issues, and its technologies. The movies inspired by three of his plays—Men in White (1934), Dead End (1937), and Detective Story (1951)—expanded his already strong influence on the popular culture of his day.
By concentrating on the interaction between the idealist and the community in which he functions, Kingsley was able to project the tensions and dynamics of society in the midst of industrial transformation. Although the actions in Kingsley’s plays are often melodramatic, they serve to illuminate the...
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Atkinson, Brooks. “Darkness at Noon.” Review of Darkness at Noon, by Sidney Kingsley. The New York Times, January 15, 1951, p. 13. Finds the acting of Claude Rains, as Rubashov, to be effective but believes that Kingsley, “less a writer than a showman in this theatre piece,” does not do justice to Arthur Koestler’s novel: “His melodrama comes with elements of the glib propaganda play that we find so distasteful when it is on the other side.” Also finds fault with Kingsley’s “cumbersome and diffuse” scenes. Kingsley directed this play, as he did all of his Broadway plays except The Patriots.
Atkinson, Brooks. “Detective Story.” Review of Detective Story, by Sidney Kingsley. The New York Times, March 24, 1949, p. 34. This review of Kingsley’s “vivid drama with a disturbing idea” cites Kingsley’s reputation as a responsible playwright, finding this play of intolerance in “the day’s grist of crime in a New York precinct police station often pithy and graphic,” especially in the minor characters. Kingsley “has the saving grace of being thorough and sincere; and he makes quite a play of it in the end.” The play marked the beginning of Kingsley’s reputation as an artist and a technician, rather than a visionary.
Gassner, John. Theatre at the Crossroads: Plays and Playwrights of the Mid-Century American Stage. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960. An overview of Kingsley’s work from the Group Theatre days to Darkness at Noon, of which Gassner opines: “more workmanlike than inspired, more melodramatic than tragic, more denunciatory than psychologically and intellectually explorative.”
Morphos, Evangeline. “Sidney Kingsley’s Men in White.” Review of Men in White, by Sidney Kingsley. Tisch Drama Review 28 (Winter, 1984): 13-22. A full and thorough study of the Group Theatre’s production of Men in White, offering several insights into the selection, rehearsal, and performance processes. Particularly valuable is the discussion of the Lee Strasberg/Sidney Kingsley partnership. Includes many comments by Kingsley about the process, production history, and actors’ methods. This issue is devoted entirely to Group Theatre productions.
“Sidney Kingsley: Playwright Won Pulitzer Prize.” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1995, p. 10. The life and works of Kingsley are summed up in this obituary.