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Crime Against Humanity

By Herbert P. Gleason

This is the first of a series of weekly columns on drama and film which will appear on the Crimson editorial page.

Dramatic Criticism, at best, is tenuous and un-substantial. The sure way of gauging a play's true worth is to view it in the best production possible. Through a variety of circumstances New York has become the center of America's commercial theatre. And the drama reviewers on the New York papers have more or less set the dubious standards of quality for the American theatre. There are also trade papers, weekly magazines and a few scholarly articles in Theatre Arts Monthly reviewing shows, but by and large, dramatic criticism is slight and much too subjective to support and encourage the only remaining free theatre in the world.

Not only are the newspaper reviewers inclined, as Ben Hecht recently wrote, "to come to drama not to drink or sup But more to shine their little egos up," but their reviews are also conditioned by the editorial policies on the papers. No wonder a value standard in modern drama is completely lacking. A reviewer must see "Hamlet" tonight and the latest Cole Porter musical tomorrow night and comment intelligently on both. This calls for immediate reactions to an art form existing only for a short period of time. A high aesthetic standard, a delight in the whole range of the theatre, snap judgment, and a scholarly background--these are the requisites for the drama critic. No wonder that the critic retreats into individualistic displays of bon mots and wit in his reviews.

Differences in opinions occur all too frequently. Witness the reviews given "Woman of the Year" and "King's Row" last week by two fairly reputable critics of motion pictures. In the New Yorker, Russell Maloney, who knows what he's talking about, called "King's Row"--"a job done crisply, competently and with confidence," and then proceeded to pan "Woman of the Year." Sunday, in the New York Times, Bosley Crowther, who also knows what he's talking about, says of "King's Row"--"utterly depressing and artistically sour" and then says of the other, that it is a film "which knows where it is going and goes there with clarity and dispatch." If these good gentlemen can be at variance to such a degree, it surely points up the moral that both dramatic and movie criticism today need a lot of redefinition, some standards of excellence and a more objective viewpoint.

Drama and the film require close examination today; they are pertinent social forces, moulding opinion, establishing norms of taste in beauty and art. The social horizon of our time effects the theatre and it, in turn, effects the social mores of the day. The war, to use the most immediate example, has altered the current of production in both Hollywood and New York. We can look forward to no more pessimistic war plays and films; instead the emphasis will be put on the necessity of saving our national honor, through exploitation of Betty Grable and other stars. And these changing conditions, both economic and technical, have altered the theatre and movies in acting techniques, in scenic design and set construction, as well as in scripts and scenarios.

The purpose of this column will be to investigate and probe the various aspects of the theatre in America today, to look for some rational standard of criticism, to show the intrinsic strengths and weaknesses of contemporary drama, to revaluate certain productions, to help, in some measure, the continuance and growth of a dynamic and energetic form of entertainment art.

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