141 Downes Avenue
April 20, 1956
Dear Elmer-- 1
For some reason or reasons which I can't pin down your play seems not to be improved by rewriting. I say this with some regret, knowing that it means a great deal to you, and wishing very earnestly that it could be the play to win all the prizes.
Reading through it I got the effect of being taken through a dazzling display of verbal fireworks, but I was not warmed or stirred by it, and was not moved by the ending. As I say, I don't know why, but the people don't seem real or sympathetic. No hope is held out, nothing but a sort of inhuman facing up to the facts as we know them.
Maybe the theatre isn't up to that kind of statement. Maybe I'm not. As I've grown older I've been conscious of losing illusions, and conscious too that the loss made me less capable of writing salable plays. Maybe it's impossible to make a logical statement of the human position dramatic. If we've lost everything, or everything is worthless, what have we got to lose? The rewriting does, I think, make the story clearer and the motives more believable. But it has also removed a lot of the agony that was present in the first version.
Or so it seems to me. I've never been able to rewrite much. I hear of these playwrights who go over and over scripts, re-working, and emerging with final brilliant versions, but in my case either the first draft looks good or it never will be any good.
If you want to put Ordeal by Fire on I think you should. But personally I wouldn't set my hopes high. People don't want to listen to dusty answers. I wish I could say something more cheerful. 2