A week ago the Drama Critics Circle assembled to award their prize to the best American drama of the past year. After haphazard balloting, during which only six of the seventeen critics bothered to vote, no decision was reached and the award was cancelled. Critics agreed in calling this the worst season in the history of the American dram.
If not the worst, it is certainly the most disappointing. Playwrights like Odets, Maxwell Anderson, Ben Hecht, Marc Connolly, and John Steinbeck exhibited plays that failed to win either critical or public acclaim. Various reasons have been advanced for the poor theatrical season: the critics blame it on confused playwrights; the playwrights on destructive criticism; and the procedures blame it on present economic conditions, on labor unions, on critics, and on the public.
Out of this "Tag! You're it" melee it is difficult to see just what has happened. Obviously the blame cannot be fastened on any one faction. Our playwrights have been confused and temporarily caught off base; our critics, perhaps a trifle sterilized by their ancient standards of judgment, could be of more constructive aid; and surely the unions could temper their constricting closed shop policy and allow a few more economically budgeted productions to receive a Broadway showing. This might have aided the Group Theatre, one of the few enterprising endeavors in New York, and kept them alive this past season. And, lastly, the producers might give more unknown playwrights a chance. No playwright of adult stature has developed in the American theatre since Clifford Odets arrived in 1935.
We like to call our theatre "the last free theatre in the world," but it isn't Broadway with its strangling commercialism that constitute this free theatre: it might have been the WPA Theatre, until the politicians crushed it; now it is the Tributary Theatre--those hundreds of Players Clubs, Civic Theatres, College Groups and Summer Theatres that extend across the nation. They sustain our national interest in the drama and cater to many more people than ever saw a Broadway production. We may rightly worry about the past New York season, and fear for the future of the commercial theatre, but as long as these many stage-struck amateurs and semi-professional groups produce plays, the theatre in America is still supreme.