“THEY SHALL NOT DIE,” a play in three acts, by John Wexley. Satged by Philip Moeller (production com-Simonson); settings by lee Simonson; presented as the fifth play of its sexteenth subscription season by the Theatre Guild. At the Royal Theatre.
Cooley William Lynn Henderson John L. Kearney Red Tom Ewell St. Louis Kid Fred Herrick Blackie Frank Woodruff Deputy Sheriff Trent Ralph Theadore Jeff Vivian Ralph Sanford Lewish Collins Bob Ross Walter Colton William Norton Virginia Ross linda Watkins Lucy Wells Ruth Gordon Luther Mason Hale Norcross Benson Allen L. M. Hurdle Reberts George r. Hayes Purcell Alfred Brown Walters Bryant Hall Warner Graftion Trew Heywood Parsons Al Stokes Roy Wood Allan Vaughan Andy wood Joseph Scott Morris Joseph Smalls Moore Frank Wilson Killian Eddie Hodge ofiver Tulley Rober Thomsen Dr. Thomas George Christie Captain Kennedy Frederick Persson Sergeant Ogden Rss Forrester Mrs. Wells Helen Wetley Russell Evans Dean Jagger Principal Keeper Charles Henderson Lowery Carroll Ashburn William Treadwell Brandon Peters Rev. Wndell Jackson Fred Miller Warden Jenries Leo Curley Rokoff Louis John Latzer Cheney St. Clair Bayfield Nathan G. Rubin Claude Rains johnny Hugh Rennle Mr. Harrison Frank Wilson Frank Travers Douglas Gregory Judge Thurston Hall Dr. Watson Robert J. Lawrence Attorney General Dade Ben Smith Seth Robbins Harry Hermsen Circuit Solicitor Slade Carl Eckstrom
Sincerity (although it may be a virtue), is not in itself sufficient to excuse a badly written, poorly acted, inadequately produced play. Unfortunately, in most instances, serious plays which have as their theme some outstanding example of social injustice seem to suffer from these defects. However, in the case of John Wexiey’s “They Shall Not Die” which opened at the Royale Theatre under the sponsorship of the Theatre Guild, all the usual pitfalls have been successfully avoided.
Instead of the uncontrolled passionate zeal of the outraged “fighter for eauses” the Guild has produced with artistic simplicity and quiet dignity a play that should stir New York audiences to the depth of their social conscience. It is one of the most powerful indictments against the demon, prejudice, that has been seen across a row of footlights.
Although the name Scottsboro is never mentioned in the three acts that the author of “The Last Mile” and “Steel” has written, it is made apparent even to the most simple-minded of play-goers that Mr. Wexley has used as a vehicle the case of the nine poor negroes twice convicted of criminal assault by southern juries after trianls that made a mockery of the accepted ideas of Anglo-Saxon justice. It is true that Mr. Wexley has not followed the actual facts, as they are known to newspaper readers: but he has not exaggerated the situation to make a stronger case for his thesis. His deviations are for the sake of clarity and a concession to the limitations of the drama.
The play opens with a scene in the Cokesville jail where a group of colored and white boys and two white grils have been brought by the sheriff after a fight on a train. The play then unfolds a sordid tale of race antagonism that is gripping in its intensity and you are shown how, with a callous disregard for the fruth, case is built up against these boys; the trial in which a Jewish lawyer from New York speaks his mind against the brutality of southern justice and how he stirs up a wave of hate against himself and the defendants; and finally you hear the jurymen laughing and joking in the juryroom as they decide the fate of these black boys.
The courtroom scenes are particularly effective. Claude Rains as the attorney for the defense gives a fine and believable performance. Hit part is one that might easily be overdone but Mr. Rains stays safely within the limits of his lines. Ruth Gordon and Linda Watkins, as the two alleged victims of the negroes’ lust, are unusually convincing and the rest of the large cast is one of the most competent and talented the Guild has ever gathered together for one production.
The settings by Lee simonson are fully up to the high standard that we have become accustomed to expect from that gentleman and the intelligent directing of the entire production is something the Theatre Guild can be proud of As its fifth play of the season the Guild has again done nobly by its subscribers, it has given them a chance to spend an unforgettable evening in the theatre. “They Shall Not Die” deserves the praise and attention of everyone who belives that we have not as yet quite reached the Valhalla of Justice.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.