Annually for the past sixteen years Burns Mantle, drama critic of the New York Daily News, is represented on the book stalls with a new volume of “Best Plays” (Dodd, Mead & Co.). Issued each Fall it comprises a yearbook of the drama in America and is featured by Mr. Mantle’s selections of the ten best plays of the preceding theatrical year. For his 1933-34 list, Mr. Mantle chooses “Mary of Scotland,” “Men in White,” “Dodsworth,” “Ah, Wilderness!,” “They Shall Not Die,” “Her Master’s Voice,” “No More Ladies,” “Wednesday’s Child,” “The Shining Hour” and “The Green Bay Tree.”
Although all the critics join in the game of selecting a “best ten” list, only Mr. Mantle achieves the distinction of a place between cloth covers. Mr. Mantle is an astute picker, a devotee of no isms and extremes, and his list annually approximates the critical consensus. Therefore, with the great Jewish participation in the theatre, it is interesting to note how Jews fared in Mr. Mantle’s list. Do they, as some anti-Semites charge, produce the dregs of the theatre or do they hold their own or better in the more worthy efforts that see the light of New York production?
AN ENVIABLE RECORD
Based upon Mr. Mantle’s choices, an amazingly enviable record is enfolded. It indicates that among the Jews in the theatre the producers are possessed of a fine, sensitive taste; that the authors are imaginative creative artists, serious thinkers and skilled technicians; that the directors are careful, studious and theatre-wise; that the scenic designers are high grade artists who draw assignments for the best plays.
Nine of the ten plays on Mr. Mantle’s list were produced by Jews. Three of them were written by Jews, five of them directed by Jews, three of them played against sets created by Jews and one of them had a cast which numbered several Jews in its leading roles.
The Theatre Guild, five of whose six directors are Jews (Theresa Helburn, Lee Simonson, Philip Moeller, Lawrence Langner and Maurice Wertheim) produced three of the plays on the Mantle list, “Mary of Scotland,” “Ah, Wilderness!” and “They Shall Not Die.” One of these, “They Shall Not Die,” was authored by the Jewish John Wexley and directed by Philip Moeller, with sets by Lee Simonson. Moeller also directed “Ah, Wilderness.” “Mary of Scotland” was directed by Theresa Helburn.
Max Gordon, among the most successful Broadway producers today, sponsored three productions on the Mantle list, “Dodsworth,” “Her Master’s Voice” and “The Shining Hour.” Jo Mielziner, an ace scenic designer, created the sets for “Dodsworth.”
The Pulitzer Prize play, “Men in White,” was written by Sidney Kingsley, presented by the Group Theatre in association with James R. Ullman and Sidney Harmon. It was directed by Less Strasberg and played against highly regarded sets designed by Mordecai Gorelik. The cast included J. Edward Bromberg, Luther Adler, Morris Carnovsky, Clifford Odets, Harold Ratner, Sanford Meisner and Bob Lewis. Probably more than any previous successful play, it represented almost 100 per cent Jewish effort.
The two other Jewish-produced plays were Lee Shubert’s “No More Ladies” and Jed Harris’ “Green Bay Tree” which was also directed by Mr. Harris. The tenth play, the only one not produced by a Jew, “Wednesday’s Child,” was written by Leopold Atlas.
Mr. Mantle contributes an interesting review of the theatrical year to the volume and for the rest it is made up of the familiar features of the annual, Mr. Mantle’s synopses of the plays he selected as the ten best of the year and statistical information concerning all the shows produced on Broadway from the late August of 1933 through June of 1934.