Holiday in America – Play Review

Just a year before the stock market crash and the Great Depression became the main issues of the country, Philip Barry, was giving laughter to all those who attended at the Plymouth Theatre to admire his latest play, “Holiday.” A play that satirizes social position and the emptiness of the rich contrasted with the carefree spirit of those who see beyond social classes; argued how wealth and convention suffocate the soul . Examining high society coldness and the youth middle class desires of finding happiness not trough finding money but by discovering themselves, has made “Holiday” a universal and timeless play that often reviewers and audience fail to detect its underlying message since they see it as merely entertainment.

Born in June 18 of 1896 in Rochester New York, Phillip Barry, was always intrigued with the relationships and behaviors of insiders and outsiders. He was attracted to the good manners and extravagant lifestyle of the high class society, but remained just as an outsider not because he was born like one; but because it was his choice. Barry did not wanted to be classified as neither one of the social classes, he tried to remain impartial taking only the best of the two classes. He maintained cultivated in case he needed to be in their presence of both. He said that there was a lot to learn from his middle class people that the rich desired and envied but that they never admitted. As an outsider, Barry wanted to understand the inner motivations of his middle class because he believed they are the ones that have more to give and teach. When he was only eight years old he saw his first work published. He got admitted at Yale University on his second attempt. As student, he contributed with his short stories and poetry to the school magazine and newspaper. After his graduation in 1919, he became part of Harvard’s 47 Workshop where he developed in a higher degree is passion for playwriting . In 1922 his first professionally produced play, “You and I” became a success and gave him the opportunity to become a full time playwright.

Barry became one of the most popular and prolific playwrights of his time thanks to the 21 plays he wrote. His comedies were highly praised and his dramas highly criticized probably due to the underlying subtexts that surround them and the psychological analysis that those required. Philip Barry died of a heart attack December 3, 1949, but his contributions to the American literature has making him one of the best playwright representative of the period.

Holiday is one Barry’s most successfully commercial plays that it was not only perfect for the time of the year, but it was also a refreshing comedy that gave audience a splendid evening. The play is set in the 1920’s, it is about the encounter of wealth and middle class romanticism. Represent the sophisticated behavior of the fashionable circles of society. Its humor relied upon elegant verbal wit and repartee and dealt with the conventions and manners of a highly artificial and sophisticated society, their good manners and etiquette. The setting was a room on the third floor and a room on the top floor of Edward Seton’s House in New York City in December 1927 and January 1928. Holiday tells the story Johnny Case, a young successful lawyer who just want to retire and enjoy life. He meets a beautiful woman named Julia Seton while vacationing in Lake Placid. After only ten days of romance they get engaged.

When they get back to New York, Johnny visits Julia’s house to meet her father without imagining how wealthy her family is. There is when we meet the rest of the characters and see how Julia’s father, Edward Setton, controls his children as much as he controls his money. He considers Johnny’s ideas an un-American, but still welcomes him to the family. Ned and Linda are Julia’s siblings trapped in their own house. Ned is an alcoholic because he does not have the courage to contradict his father and live the way he wants. Linda is considered the black sheet of the family just because she has a free spirit. Johnny and Linda get a long as soon as they start talking for the first time. Johnny confesses that he just want to make enough money to vacation until he really makes up his mind about what he really wants to do. That is something that upsets Julia and her father, so they try to convince why doing that could be the most terrible mistake that a man can make. Linda, Julia’s sister, find out that she is falling in love with Johnny but decides not to interfere between them. Johnny’s dream comes true after a good investment has made him rich. Now he has enough money to live his “holiday,” but Setton convinces Johnny to become a money machine for a couple of years.

However, when Johnny sees how controlling Setton is going to be and how he has to let go his dreams, Case changes his mind. He digs deep inside his feelings and decides that although he loves Julia with all his heart, letting something else have the control over his life, is not something that he is willing to give up for money. Only Linda shares the thought of life being a holiday, so she confesses her love for Case to Julia. In the last scene Linda goes after Jonny.

The first Holiday production opened on November 26, 1928 in the Plymouth Theatre and had 229 splendid performances. It was directed by Arthur Hopkins, with who Barry had worked before on his two previous hits. Reviewers were not only delighted by the fun story, but recognized and mention the talented cast in their reviews. Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times mentioned, on an article published after the play opened, that Holiday is the one of the best plays of the season since it gives the audience a sensation of lightness because it tries to transmit its idea of living a carefree and colored life. Atkinson also mentioned that each cast member fitted perfectly into their characters. Explains that Barry argues the emptiness of the rich and the entangling alliances of social positions and that the director has made a by having Hodkins as a director, the play is going to be a hit, just like other Barry’s plays. Review says that the play was a “Splendid True Performance, ” “What Dialogue! Springs directly from the usual sources of polite banter…”At the end of the review, Brooks compares “Holiday” with “Paris Bound” and mentions how it does not flow graciously but it has bright humor and good savor.

I think that this play is differs others because this is not only a romantic story in which parents oppose. This play is about two different philosophies of life in which every decision has a cause and an effect. There is a sort of love triangle in this play but I do not think Barry want us to focus on it. He wants us to focus on Johnny’s decision if being free rather than rich and having to try t keep up with Julia’s father expectations. The message that this play leaves is that we must take risks if we really want to know how far we can go.

Essay for Theatre Class 2010 –  University of Houston – Downtown


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