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.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

In 1929, the United States was on the verge of transition from the Jazz Age to the Great Depression. The 1920s were a complicated decade in...

(The entire section is 497 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Street Scene is a drama that takes place in New York City in contemporary time (the late 1920s). The date is a hot...

(The entire section is 623 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1929: The primary entertainment in the home is the radio. Over ten million households (about half of the country) have radios in 1929,...

(The entire section is 198 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

• Research paintings that are ‘‘street scenes,’’ perhaps landscapes of Claude Lorrain, a French artist who influenced Rice when he...

(The entire section is 110 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

Street Scene was adapted for film by Rice, who wrote the screenplay. The film was directed by King Vidor and starred Sylvia Sidney as...

(The entire section is 33 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

The Adding Machine is a play by Rice that was first produced in 1923. The story focuses on how a wage slave, Zero, is affected by...

(The entire section is 96 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Arliss, Laurie, Mary Cassata, and Thomas Skill, ‘‘Dyadic Interaction on the Daytime Serials: ‘‘How Men and Women...

(The entire section is 525 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Durham, Frank. Elmer Rice. New York: Twayne, 1970. Discusses the long career of Elmer Rice as a microcosm of the history of dramatic writing in the United States. Centers on Rice’s employment of types and techniques as an accommodation of the changing tastes and artistic demands of the theater.

Gould, Jean. “Elmer Rice.” In Modern American Playwrights. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1966. Focuses on Rice’s background in law and its incorporation in his plots. Considers his experiments with form as efforts to find a new method of dramaturgy. Asserts that both The Adding Machine and Street Scene are indictments of overmechanization.

Hogan, Robert. The Independence of Elmer Rice. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1965. Laments the “unhealthy” effects of the theater as a commercial vehicle on all playwrights, especially Rice. Assesses Rice’s achievements in relation to other playwrights and within the limitations of the theater itself.

Krutch, Joseph Wood. The American Drama Since 1918. New York: George Braziller, 1957. Classic survey of trends in U.S. drama from 1918 to 1956. Believes the dignifying of human beings in Street Scene is the antithesis of The Adding Machine, which posits people as ciphers victimized by the machine age.

Rabkin, Gerald. “Elmer Rice and the Seriousness of Drama.” In Drama and Commitment: Politics in the American Theatre of the Thirties. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964. Evaluates Street Scene, The Adding Machine, and The Subway as indications of the prevailing fear that mechanistic civilization dehumanizes people. Argues that Street Scene, although despairing of modern life, is optimistic.