new york native philip barry became famous W r i t i n g
Rochester, New York native Philip Barry became famous as a playwright known for depicting upper class comedies of manners, drawing on his own life experiences to some extent. Yale educated, Barry entered the George Pierce Baker Workshop 47, known simply as “Workshop 47,” to help hone his craft. His earlier plays tend to depict upper class families embroiled in trans-generational tumult, infidelity in romances and marriages, and artistic assertion amid established pre-WWI dictates about what kind of work is worthwhile work. His later plays address the roles of good and evil in everyday lives as well as Catholicism, and he shifts more comfortably to serious and satiric instead of purely comedic treatments of topics. All his plays tend to incorporate witticism, repartee, and graceful dialogue.
Holiday (1928) and Philadelphia Story (1939) are arguably his most famous plays, in part on account of their adaptations into movies. Both movies starred Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, and the latter starred Jimmy Stewart, as well. Several other of his plays, not only successful on Broadway, were also made into films. Stage and film actresses of his time praised him for his substantive roles for females.
Despite the effect on the audience of the curtain drop ending of Act II, The Youngest (1922) is considered one of Barry’s weaker works yet arguably his most autobiographical. While The Joyful Season(1934) may have referenced his experiences with his sister who became a nun and his Here Come the Clowns (1938) raises his personal questions about his religion, The Youngest showcases a young writer’s attempt to assert himself in a family who values commitment to the family business and maintaining their esteem in a small New York town; Barry left Yale temporarily to contribute to the war effort, returned for his degree, and then repudiated his family’s attempts to lure him to his rightful place in the family marble and tile business, preferring a career as a writer instead. Another similarity includes the rare New York inheritance statute that I won’t reveal. Barry, also the youngest in his wealthy family, handled his knowledge of this statute differently from the title character in The Youngest.
Please read Barry’s The Youngest in its entirety, making sure to read stage directions, too. Please don’t worry about certain abbreviations like “U.L.” for upstage left, “R.C.” for right center, etc. These are stage directions for actors and directors. You should, however, have a general awareness of who is where on the stage and to where characters cross. Barry is straightforward with his actor movement and placement and is descriptive with his sets and scenes.
As you read, please reflect on the following:
- What is Richard’s standing in the Winslow family and why?
- What does Richard tend to value, and what does his family tend to value?
- What does Nancy tend to value?
- How does Richard suffer? How does he suffer as an artist?
- In what ways is Richard’s suffering as an artist different from Thea’s?
- What is Barry’s message about leading a life as an artist?
Although it’s not his most popular work, one of the earliest reviews of this play (and of Barry’s body of work in general) recorded that the audience applauded for fifteen minutes after Act II. What about Richard’s rousing usurpation of his older siblings’ roles at the family Fourth of July celebration brought the audience to their feet in applause? I hope you will enjoy the banter, the conflict, the levity, and even the drama as they intermingle and unfold in your imagination as if sitting through this comedy of manners.
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