MacLeish wondered how modern people could retain hope and keep on living with all the suffering in the world and offered this play as an answer. MacLeish had been earning his living as a poet for fifty years before this, his third verse play, was published. Shortly after the publication of the book, the play was produced on Broadway and underwent substantial revisions. There are, therefore, two versions of the play available for readers: the original book published by Houghton Mifflin and the acting script available from Samuel French. Both were published in , and neither has ever gone out of print.
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There is probably no way to prove that the people who like J. If only all the forms of intellectual laziness and disinfected passion were some-how congruent, the Enemy would be more clearly defined, easier both to see and to grapple with. But, alas, what Dwight MacDonald has dubbed "the Middlebrow Counter-Revolution" is a more diffuse and deceptive thing than that: it manifests itself in lush arrangements of Bach and suburban productions of Shakespeare, its artifacts are slow to be recognized because they are forever hiding themselves behind the skirts of greatness.
Good grounds do exist, however, for holding that the J. For it was from there, a year ago last May, that the first salvo of literary enthusiasm was discharged, by the noted American poet and fearless antagonist of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, John Ciardi. Only MacLeish has found the line that teaches the American language how to go greatly on the stage. Ciardi felt he couldn't escape that day.
MacLeish's triumph is that he has been equal to his great theme. But Mr. Ciardi had misgivings about the ability of commercial old lowbrow America to recognize true Greatness overnight. Meanwhile, Yale is preparing it for production, and certainly the summer theatres and the college groups throughout the country will have found a new star forever. For J. We now have a great American poetic drama. What it mainly offers for the modern reader is a literate statement of philosophy which finds the middle ground between religious panacea and existentialist despair.
This is not the tragedian's agnosticism or the atheist's bland facility--MacLeish has added to the stature of man at the expense of God. If man can presume to forgive his maker, then his maker, although omnipotent, is no longer omniscient. MacLeish has humanized his God. The Yale production created a stir in drama circles up and down the Ivy League, drew in droves of New Haven academics and New York critics, and was shipped off to Brussels by the State Department to represent the American theatre at the World's Fair.
Charles A. Fenton, Assistant Professor of English at Yale, hailed the New Haven production in the pages of the Nation as a "moving and exciting play" notable for its "superb craftsmanship. And then, on the cold, wet night of December eleventh, just eight short months after John Ciardi had despaired of a major professional production for years to come--on the stage of the ANTA Theatre, at the corner of 52nd Street and Broadway, Archibald MacLeish's "play in verse" received its New York City premiere.
The production had enlisted a somewhat disparate but unquestionably distinguished group of the biggest talents in the business: Elia Kazan, Boris Aronson, Raymond Massey, Christopher Plummer, Pat Hingle. Everyone involved, in Newsweek's candid prose, was taking "a calculated risk; the drama had arrived via the egghead circuit. Hobe Morrison in Variety spoke of "this exalted drama," John Chapman of the Daily News thought it "a magnificent production of a truly splendid play," Richard Watts of the Post called it "a fine drama" with "stunning performances" and Walter Kerr of the Herald Tribune felt he stood before "a sober and handsome monument" that was "enormously impressive" and, of course, "sheer theatre.
But the most moving critical tribute was yet to come. The great newspaper strike was on in New York at the time, and early the morning after, all those involved in the production appeared on NBC's Dave Garroway Show to hear the reviews read to the world for the first time over the airways.
MacLeish reported later. In every respect J. Atkinson had called J. The magazine critics had time for second thoughts but most of them joined in with the newspaper hymnsinging. Marya Mannes of the Reporter complained about Hingle's naturalistic acting in the title role--"This is a classic role that demands a classic actor with the kind of diction only the classicists of the theatre possess"--and would have preferred to see "Olivier or Richardson" in "MacLeish's exalted poem"; but she had no reservations about the play itself--"I know of no other American poet who could write this legend in such noble and flexible language or maintain, as he does much of the time, its purity and its dimensions.
Summing Up: One you shouldn't miss. And Life had the great good fortune to be publishing, that very week, their huge, astoundingly vulgar "Entertainment Issue;" it sang of "verse that is both savagely rugged and soaringly lyrical," and used the occasion to add several hundred decibels more to Henry Luce's loud, everlasting orgy of American self-congratulation: "As news about J.
The CRIMSON, which has somehow acquired a reputation for excessive rigor among its readers, had the same editor on hand for opening night as had previously reviewed the text of the play with deep qualms about the verse. He underwent a positively Pauline conversion. Here is a playright who is not afraid of beautiful literate language, and none too soon. He has rejuvenated the anemic field of Poetic Drama Since Shakespeare.
Milling at the intermission, filing through doors, Manhattan secretaries with their tweedy, nebulous fiances, asthmatic maiden aunts from New York, students and old gentlemen and matron dowagers were discussing innocence and evil and faith and love and what is guilt with a passion admirable in a college freshman The Modern Language Association dubbed J.
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MacLeish's 'J. B.': A Review of Reviews
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Macleish’s play J.B. and the Problem of Evil
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J.B.: A Play in Verse
The play went through several incarnations before it was finally published. MacLeish began the work in as a one-act production but within three years had expanded it to a full three-act manuscript. There are two versions of J. The play opens in "a corner inside an enormous circus tent". Two vendors, Mr.
J.B. A Play in Verse, by Archibald MacLeish
There is probably no way to prove that the people who like J. If only all the forms of intellectual laziness and disinfected passion were some-how congruent, the Enemy would be more clearly defined, easier both to see and to grapple with. But, alas, what Dwight MacDonald has dubbed "the Middlebrow Counter-Revolution" is a more diffuse and deceptive thing than that: it manifests itself in lush arrangements of Bach and suburban productions of Shakespeare, its artifacts are slow to be recognized because they are forever hiding themselves behind the skirts of greatness. Good grounds do exist, however, for holding that the J. For it was from there, a year ago last May, that the first salvo of literary enthusiasm was discharged, by the noted American poet and fearless antagonist of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, John Ciardi.