By FREDI WASHINGTON PV's Theatrical Editor May 18, 1946 p. 26
I HAVE ALWAYS had a healthy respect for the guys who criticize the theatre and its works. I, as an actress, have learned much from their valid criticism of my work. But more and more, I am coming to the conclusion that most of the boys have become cynical, or are just downright lazy, or are tired of going to the theatre, or, what is even worse, in the best fascist tradition, have agreed on an unwritten plan to kill with a stroke of their pens any play which tends to dramatize the problems of the people and in particular, the problems involving the Negro.
Specifically, I refer to the clever juggling of words by these gentlemen of the press in their reviews of On Whitman Avenue. Their obvious intent was to kill the play at the outset. I hasten to add that Vernon Rice of The Post, Arthur Pollock of The Brooklyn Eagle, William Hawkins of the World Telegram and Samuel Sillen of the Daily Worker are the four critics who were honest and sincere in their summation of the play. They understand Allardyce Nicoll's definition of theatre; "an expression subtly symbolic of all literary media and one which consistently meets the needs of a particular age." They know and recognize that On Whitman Avenue without a shadow of doubt, meets with vigor and power, several of the pressing needs of our age.
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BEFORE GETTING to Ward Morehouse of the Sun, Lewis Nichols of The Times, John Chapman of the News, Howard Barnes of Herald Tribune, Robert Garland of the Journal American, Robert Coleman of the Mirror and yes, Kronenberger of PM, I want to quote John Mason Brown on the subject of Critics and Criticism. The magazine Upstage, in 1928, printed an article in which Brown says: "Before a man is a dramatic critic, and not a reporter or a reviewer, he must have standards that are born of the theatre itself and not of the press-room. He must serve it, and dedicate himself to its interests rather than to his own or those of his editor or his readers. He must be the first to realize that the traditions of hard-boiled journalism which the reviewer and the reporter have held up to the stage as its final standards, have less than nothing to do with the theatre and can only harness and imprison the imagination that is its life blood."
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AS YOU MUST HAVE GUESSED BY NOW, I, like many others who have seen On Whitman Avenue, am hoping mad about the attempt by these ivory towered judges to keep audiences away from the Cort theatre box office, on the assumption that housed there is a play which projects a worthy subject but so badly written that it isn't worth the price of admission. John Chapman sloughed the play off giving it a third of the space he gives to a musical which usually says the same old thing in the same old way. The play he says: "is an argument for social equality for the Negro among whites." I cannot help but wonder if this is not the key to the almost uniform bad notices given the play. Maybe I can understand Ward Morehouse when he says: "This new play sags and drags. It makes its plea for tolerance very clumsily and in a great multiplicity of scenes, some of which seem to go on forever." Yes, Mr. Morehouse, these things for Negroes have been going on daily for as long as we can remember only it's more acute now. I can readily understand how painful it must have been for you to sit and watch yourself stripped of your phony liberalism. You, like most of your colleagues, went around robin's red barn to try to cover up the fact that you, like Mrs. Tilden in the play, would probably be horrified at the thought that you might have to live in the same house or neighborhood with Negroes.
Wonder how these critics, who so blithely string words together which have the effect of choking off the very life line of a group of people who are trying to fulfill a social need of the theatre, would feel if the shoe was on the other foot? I can tell you, they wouldn't like it.
You've made us mad, boys, and we don't intend to sit by and see you close to us an avenue which might very well serve to cure some of our ills--ills I might add which have been created by a narrow, bigoted attitude of a goodly portion of our white citizenry. We intend to do everything in our power to keep On Whitman Avenue at the Cort theatre. It is a vital, powerful play which has drama, suspense and humor. It is enacted by a cast equally as capable as its playwright.