Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Manhattan apartment building

Manhattan apartment building. Ordinary brownstone tenement, crowded with roughly a dozen families in New York City’s Manhattan borough. Although the stage directions indicate the geographic location only as “a mean quarter of New York,” Elmer Rice later revealed in his autobiography that he and designer Jo Mielziner had modeled this particular facade on an actual brownstone located on Sixty-fifth Street. The stage directions further indicate that this is an “ugly brownstone” built in the 1890’s, surrounded by a storage warehouse on stage left and a building being demolished on stage right. The most prominent features of this street scene are “a ‘stoop’ of four shallow stone steps flanked on either side by a curved stone balustrade,” the apartment’s vestibule just inside the front door (always open) at the top of the steps, the windows of the janitor’s basement apartment, and the six narrow windows of the first-floor apartments, through which some of the residents can be seen. The windows of the apartments located on the upper floors are not visible.

As an example of social realism, Street Scene relies on its detailed stage setting to evoke an atmosphere of everyday life in New York, not only visually but aurally. According to the stage directions, the sounds of the city should be heard as constant background noise, from the distant roar of elevated trains and rattling trucks, to the barking of dogs and murmurs of New Yorkers at work and play over the course of twenty-four hours on a sweltering June day.