Dramatist in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912-1958

By Laurence G. Avery; Maxwell Anderson | Go to book overview

151. TO THE NEW YORK NEWSPAPER AND MAGAZINE THEATER CRITICS 1

[ New City]
[ September 15, 1946]

Dear Mr. _____

The tickets enclosed are not for the opening night of Joan of Lorraine but for some weeks later in the run, and I write this letter to explain that the Playwrights' Company has made this change from the usual schedule at my request. It is my conviction that a small group of the theatre critics of New York have become, without intention perhaps, but no less absolutely, a board of censors which a play must pass to achieve a run. And since New York is the only play producing center for the country these same critics constitute a censorship board for the theatre of the United States. There was a time, not so long ago, when a play might, and sometimes did, live down a set of adverse notices and find an audience, but the costs of production and operation are currently so high that this has become impossible. Plays now live or die by your verdict and that of your fellow reviewers. And since it seems to be the opinion of a majority of the critics' circle that it is a critic's duty to destroy whatever play he does not like, and destroy, if possible, the reputation of the playwright along with his play, since the circle has the whole power of the metropolitan press behind it and can operate in security, with no chance of adequate discussion or reply, any play, whatever its merit or demerit, can be blasted off the stage, never to be revived, if a few of the men who occupy positions similar to your own happen to find it unamusing.

This is not a democratic process. Under these conditions the public never gets a chance to discover whether or not a play is worth seeing. Plays are struck down on the opening night, or blown up on the opening night, with very slight consideration but complete finality. The public, reading tens of thousands of words of praise or dispraise, naturally attends or stays away as advised by the newspapers, and hits and failures are so arrived at. How and how much the uncensored judgment of the public would differ from that of the critics is a matter of opinion. My own observation makes me certain that the public would accept many more plays, many more playwrights, and a far wider range of subjects, if it were allowed to choose for itself. It would

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