The Teahouse of the August Moon

by John Patrick

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Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 397

By the time John Patrick wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Teahouse of the August Moon, based on Vern Sneider’s 1951 novel, he was well established as a playwright and screenwriter. His career as a dramatic author was launched with Hell Freezes Over (pr. 1935). Patrick’s next produced play, The Willow and I (pr. 1942, pb. 1943), was much admired but was not very popular. After serving as an ambulance driver with a British unit in Egypt and Syria, he drew from his military experiences to produce, in 1945, The Hasty Heart (pr., pb. 1945), a character drama involving a group of soldiers hospitalized behind the front lines. Two years later, Patrick produced a historical drama, The Story of Mary Surratt (pr., pb. 1947), which portrayed movingly the vindication of a Mrs. Surratt, who had purportedly taken part in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and was hanged before her innocence could be established. Moving to other dramatic genres, Patrick produced two light comedies: The Curious Savage (pr. 1950), about an eccentric widow who hopes to help people realize foolish dreams by investing her wealth in a Happiness Fund; and Lo and Behold! (pr. 1951), which portrays in a fantastic manner the adventures of a Nobel Prize winner who deliberately overeats and consequently dies, only to find himself plagued by a variety of ghosts in the afterworld.

Patrick returned to a military setting in 1953 with The Teahouse of the August Moon. In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize for this play, he was awarded the New York Drama Critics Award and the Tony Award, among others. Several other plays appeared during the next five years: Good as Gold (pr. 1957), based on a book by Alfred Toombs; Juniper and the Pagans (pr. 1959); Everybody Loves Opal (pr. 1961, pb. 1962); and Love Is a Time of Day (pr. 1969, pb. 1970). In 1970, a rewritten version of The Teahouse of the August Moon appeared, titled Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen.

In addition to his plays, a number of Patrick’s screenplays have enjoyed considerable popularity. Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), High Society (1956), Les Girls (1957), and The World of Suzie Wong (1960) are among the most popular. Les Girls received the Screen Guild Award. It has been noted that there is a surprisingly small body of criticism on John Patrick. Reviews abound, however, to acknowledge the variety and the quality of his best work.

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Critical Overview