Theatre of the 1930s, or: What is The Last Kiss?

Stage Kiss centers around a play within the modern narrative. Here’s what we know about The Last Kiss, the fictional play in which She and He are acting: it was an unfortunate flop on Broadway in 1932 written by the team of “Landor, Erbmann, and Marmel,” and it’s a musical melodrama focusing on a “doomed romance.” What was happening in the 1930s in the world of the theatre, and where would The Last Kiss have fit in?

In the wake of the Great Depression, the financial outlook for theatre dipped. Many theatres remained dark from 1929 on, and many actors fled New York for more promising prospects in Hollywood. While the 1929-1930 season saw 233 productions, the following season only had 187. But that doesn’t mean that there was a dip in creativity! As in countless times of political strife, many writers began to focus on working in the realm of civil & social concerns. The Group Theatre formed in 1931, and was openly anti-commercial, focusing on plays that had social relevance. These playwrights, actors, and producers like Stella Adler, Clifford Odets, Stanford Meisner, and Lee Strasberg, focused on realism, popularizing Stanislavsky’s “method” style of acting and producing works like Odets’ Waiting for Lefty.

Of course, there were other, more populist entertainment-focused works coming out of the American theatre, the type of which The Last Kiss would have fit right in. George Kaufman’s musical Of Thee I Sing, co-written with collaborator Morrie Ryskind, composer George Gershwin, and lyricist Ira Gershwin, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1932, the first musical to do so. It ran for 441 performances. Noel Coward’s work was celebrated in this decade, beginning with 1930’s Private Lives, and continuing with plays like Design for Living (1932) and Present Laughter (1939), and musicals like Conversation Piece (1934). Gay Divorcee (1932) and Anything Goes (1934) were two Cole Porter pieces that typified musicals in the early part of this decade. Ada Wilcox (She) and Johnny Lowell’s (He) relationship, as fraught as it was, might have been appropriate in any of these works.


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