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Two Leftist Dramatists

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Two Plays—Not for Children and Between Two Worlds, By Elmer Rice. 301 pp. New York: Coward McCann. $2.50.

Elmer Rice and Dr. Friedrich Wolf are both among the left wing contingent of contemporary dramatists. But that is their only point of similarity. Their technique, their ideas of the proletarian drama, are completely divergent. And to this reviewer, at least, one is a successful left-winger; the other isn’t.

Mr. Rice is one of the best of our American dramatists. His “Street Scene” won the Pulitzer Prize some few years back, won it rightly and with the unanimous endorsement of the critics. Since then he has written two other successful plays, “Counselor-at-Law” and “Left Bank.” Then, Mr. Rice turned left. And the results since haven’t been particularly happy. He has given us “We, the People,” “Judgment Day” and “Between Two Worlds.” The latter, plus an un-produced manuscript, “Not for Children,” are the plays now in point. And of the latter, it is best to dismiss it before we get into a discussion of radical plays.

“Not for Children” is a play of release, of the release of all the pent-up venom for critics that Rice has acquired since they indicated thumbs down on his radical plays. It is a strange sort of play, one that probably never will be produced. It is Pirandelloesque in its movements from stage illusion to reality. It is verbose, the speeches are overlong but many of them are amusing, pointed. Pointed always at the dramatic critics. With a male and female commentator at the wings of the stage discussing the action as it enfolds, it is a particular technique created by Mr. Rice to thumb his nose at the metropolitan critics. It is a freak play, interesting to note, and quite often amusing. Whether it is stage-worthy, I wouldn’t dare say. Mr. Rice, himself, doesn’t know. But it doesn’t belong to Mr. Rice’s leftist compositions.

“Between Two Worlds,” on the other hand, does. The story of an ocean voyage in which a Communist motion picture director seduces the modern daughter of a millionaire, before and after which they discuss life and Communism, this play is an exposition of Mr. Rice’s point of view. The revolution, he says, is coming. And he proceeds to debate with a disbeliever. It is strictly parlor Communism. To my mind it is a failure as radical drama; radical propaganda yes, but not radical drama.

Dr. Wolf’s “The Sailors of Cattaro” is truly proletarian drama. It is thus successful where “Between Two Worlds” isn’t. Wolf’s play tells the story of an abortive revolt of a group of Austrian sailors during the later stages of the World War. It is a powerful antiwar play, an indictment of capitalist war. It is a play of the people, a dramatization of a slice of the struggle against capitalism. It is not a discussion of Communism as is Mr. Rice’s play.

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