DECEMBER 12, 1945
NEW YORK, Tuesday—During the week I saw two plays which illustrated again for me that good theater can do certain things better than they can be done by any other medium.
I do not consider myself a professional critic and so I judge plays by the standards which I suppose are those of any theatergoer. First, am I interested? Secondly, are the characters portrayed naturally? By both standards these plays rated highly.
The first was Lillian Smith's "Strange Fruit." I had been told the book was better than the play. That may be true, but nevertheless, there are strong, tense scenes in the play. It will be a long time before I forget the one between Dr. Sam and Tom Harris, the kindly courageous Southerner who tries successfully to stop the lynching.
The play points up the tie between the need for low-wage labor and the emotional outlet of a religious revival or a lynching. It isn't pleasant drama, but neither are life and some conditions in our country.
We need to understand these circumstances in the North as well as in the South. There are mental and spiritual lynchings as well as physical ones, and few of us in this nation can claim immunity from responsibility for some of the frustrations and injustices which face not only our colored people, but other groups, who for racial, religious or economic reasons, are at a disadvantage and face a constant struggle for justice and equality of opportunity.
I should like to pay tribute to the cast of this play as a whole, but particularly to Jane White whose first venture this is on the stage and who plays her part with restraint and beauty.
Mr. Robert Sherwood's "The Rugged Path", I had been told, was not a very good play and without Mr. Spencer Tracy might not succeed. Mr. Tracy does a perfectly beautiful piece of acting. I have never seen anything more completely natural and every little gesture is just right.
Even when you have given him his due, however, you must give the play, great credit, too. It says things well that need to be said to all of us who were not actually in combat in this war. As I sat through that scene on the Destroyer Townsend, I hoped there was no man in the audience who had been through such an experience. I felt it would be almost unbearable for anyone who had lived through it, because it would bring back so vividly the agony and the suspense. Certainly no one around me lost interest for a moment.
The entire cast is good. I hope it is giving them all, from Mr. Tracy down, a great sense of satisfaction, to be giving to people at home a little understanding of what their men have been through, and a glimpse of some of the things that all of us must remember for the future if we are going to avoid a repetition of the past.