Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 789

When Street Scene was first produced, most critics praised the play for its realism and its characterizations. R. Dana Skinner of Commonweal called it ‘‘a play of extraordinary sweep, power and intensity, which catches up with amazing simplicity and sincere feeling the ragged, glowing, humor and tragic life that pours in and out of one of those brownstone apartment houses hovering on the upper edge of the slum district of New York.’’ New York Times critic J. Brooks Atkinson was also nearly unqualified in his praise. He wrote, ‘‘He has transferred intact to the stage a segment of representative New York life, preserving not only its appearance but its character, relating it not only to the city but to humanity.’’

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Atkinson also approved of Rice’s characterizations. In another review, he wrote, ‘‘Mr. Rice has succeeded in relating it to life and enlisting your sympathies for the tatterdemalions who troop along his average street, hang out of the windows on a hot summer evening, gossip, quarrel, romance, and make the best of their stuffy lot. Mr. Rice does not sentimentalize about them. He does not blame them for their prejudices and blunders and short tempers.’’ Later in the same review, Atkinson argued, ‘‘Never did the phantasmagoria of street episodes seem so lacking in sketchy types and so packed with fully delineated character.’’

Many critics of the original production commented on these ideas, though they were more mixed in their praise. The unnamed critic in Catholic World believed that Rice’s characters alone redeemed the play. The critic wrote, ‘‘[B]ecause all these insignificant bits of characterization are a legitimate and helpful part of the larger design, Street Scene is rescued from being merely photographic.’’ Similarly, Joseph Wood Krutch of the Nation wrote, ‘‘One may distrust the ‘slice’ or the ‘cross-section’ of life. One may doubt, as I certainly do, the ultimate importance of this particular kind of naturalism as a dramatic method. But one cannot doubt Mr. Rice’s remarkable mastery of it.’’

Stark Young of the New Republic was one of the few critics who had many problems with the play. Street Scene, he noted, ‘‘on one plane of consideration is pleasantly entertaining. On another plane, where you take the play seriously and where you ask yourself whether for an instant you have believed in any single bit of it, either as art, with its sting of surprise and creation, or as life, with its reality. For me, who was not bored with it as an evening’s theater, it is something less than rubbish, theatrical rubbish, in that curious baffling way that the stage provides.’’

In writing about the original London production in 1930, Charles Morgan of the New York Times had some problems with Maurrant’s love/ murder plot and how it affected the story but found much to praise structurally. He wrote, ‘‘Mr. Rice’s method is an extremely interesting one which has its symbol in the fact that we see the apartment house always from the outside, never entering into it and being permitted only...

(The entire section contains 789 words.)

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