Depression Era Radical Novels

Depression Era Radical Plays

Depression Era Humor in Cartoons and Satire

Depression Era Novels about Displaced Farmers Published before the Appearance of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath


A Selection of Depression Era Radical Plays

“Isn’t it a glorious thing to be able to say to bourgeois Broadway: here, from the depths of our poverty, without your resources of high-salaried stars, and publicity men, and hundred-thousand-dollar budgets, and all the rest of the rhinestone-studded machine, working against all the odds of class prejudice and the skepticism of bourgeois critics, the struggling revolutionary theatre has matched you technically?” (Michael Gold, “Stevedore,” New Masses 11, no. 5 [1 May 1934], 28).
“A dramatic high spot was the Theatre Guild’s production of They Shall Not Die, John Wexley’s revolutionary drama of the Scottsboro frame-up. The play ‘failed’ since its natural mass audience—workers and students—were effectually barred by the customary high Broadway admission scale. Had the Guild made special arrangements with workers’ organizations, the play would have run for many more weeks. They Shall Not Die was a powerful, well-built play, as stirring an experience in the theatre as any play of recent years.
But the outstanding development of the season was the successful establishment of the Theatre Union as a producing organization. Its first production, Peace on Earth, a revolutionary anti-war play by George Sklar and Albert Maltz, ran for sixteen weeks to an audience of over 125,000. Its second production, the current Stevedore, Paul Peters’ and George Sklar’s play about the super-exploitation of Negro longshoremen and the growing solidarity with their white fellow workers, seems destined for an even longer run. We look forward to next season in the expectation that the Theatre Union will give us not only revolutionary drama but also revolutionary staging” (New Theatre [1 June 1934], 3).

“I was a radical once, a boy...a fool of a boy — I murdered him, and he’s waiting round every corner to murder me now” (John Howard Lawson, Success Story: A Play [New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1932], 212).

Waiting for Lefty has been suppressed more often than any other play in the history of the American Theatre.

“On January 6, 1935, an audience assembled at the Civic Repertory Theatre in New York City for a New Theatre Night, witnessed by the birth of a new era in American social drama, and the awakening of a new singer. The play was Waiting for Lefty (winner of the New Theatre–New Masses Play Contest) presented by the Group Theatre, and the author was Clifford Odets. Even then, when the audience rose in their seats and cheered until their throats were sore, no one realized fully the widespread significance of this occasion. Today, Waiting for Lefty is playing in twenty different cities from coast to coast, presented by twenty different companies, to audiences ranging from the silk hats and satin gowns of the Hollywood intelligentsia to the textile workers who make those silks and satins in Paterson, New Jersey. Six months after its downtown debut in New York City, the Group Theatre’s Broadway production is still ‘packing them in’” (Alice Evans, “Waiting for Lefty,” New Theatre [June 1935], 25).

“The Federal Theatre is a pioneer theatre, because it is part of a tremendous rethinking, redreaming, and rebuilding of America....It...represent[s] a new frontier in America, a frontier against disease, dirt, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, despair, and at the same time against selfishness, special privilege and social apathy” (Hallie Flanagan, “Introduction,” Federal Theatre Plays [New York: Random House, 1938], xii–xiii).
“I don’t agree with Schwarz that protest is futile. I think that every voice that is raised has its effect. My opinion is that if you have convictions, you shouldn’t be afraid to express them” (Elmer Price, We, the People: A Play in Twenty Scenes [New York: Coward-McCann, 1933], 138).
“You know this mine ain’t owned by one man. Nossir! It’s a company. Got five hundred mines if they got one. An’ do you know where they’re shippin’ their coal? To their own steel mills! An’ do you know how they’re shippin’ it? On their own railroads! You can’t beat that, boy. You start at this company an’ pretty soon you can find out who makes the laws an’ whose elects the Governor. An’ all I know is if you’re gonna be wantin’ your gravy you better stay friends with the cook. Yessir!” (Albert Maltz, Black Pit [New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1935], 43).

“A certain cleverness in striking a compromise between the world about him and the world within has characterized the work of the greatest as well as the least of successful playwrights, for they must all take an audience with them if they are to continue to function. Some may consider it blasphemy to state that this compromise must be a considered and conscious act—will believe that the writer should look in his heart and write—but in the theatre such an attitude leaves the achievement entirely to chance, and a purely chance achievement is not an artistic one” (Maxwell Anderson, Winterset: A Play in Three Acts [Washington, D.C.: Anderson House, 1935], v).

“We have a law in this state, a viciously archaic and outdated law, a law which makes human life of less value than stupid rules of procedure written on the statute books. Once a man is adjudged guilty and sentenced to death in the lower courts, and the judge of the lower court has denied a motion for a new trial, no matter what new evidence, new facts, may subsequently present themselves, no court—not even the Supreme Court, can consider them” (I. J. Golden, Precedent: A Play about Justice (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, c1931], 138).

“The plays which reach the people are the plays which the people not only understand but receive from; those plays from which we illustrate our ideals, our imagination and our standards as to what is vital and what is art. No play which is important artistically is removed from life; it takes its very pattern and strength from the always active powers of life” (Virgil Geddes, Left Turn for American Drama [Brookfield, Conn.: Brookfield Players, 1934], 42).

New City, New York
October 12, 1940

Mr. Archer Huntington
1 East 89th Street
New York City

Dear Archer:

We had a wonderful first night and were on our way to a success but the critics slapped us down very hard and we’re still more or less horizontal.

Coming back to the road after it was all over we found a great change in the landscape. The leaves had turned red and gold, frost was in the air and the Huntingtons were gone. They had drifted away like wood smoke leaving only rumors from Connecticut way. My hat is only two years old but I shall certainly need a new one soon. If you come back this way and have time for a little conversation please let us know. We miss you.

Love to Anna and to you from Mab and me.


[Maxwell Anderson]

An exhibition held in conjuction with CNY Reads John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.
The exhibition is supported by the
Peter Graham Fund for Radicalism in Literature and Art

Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Library
Syracuse, NY 13244
Last modified: June 09, 2012 12:35 PM
URL: /digital/exhibits/g/GrapesOfWrath/case3.htm