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Elmer Rice Biography

(1892–1967), On Trial, The Adding Machine, Wake Up, Jonathan, Close Harmony, Cock Robin, The Subway

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: John Rhode to Jack [Morris] Rosenthal Biography

American playwright, novelist, and producer, born Elmer Reizenstein in New York, educated at the New York Law School. His first successful play, On Trial (1914), a courtroom melodrama and murder mystery, employed the ‘flashback’ technique and a revolving stage. His later plays are also characteristically experimental in form and subversive in content, notably The Adding Machine (1923), an expressionistic play satirically illustrating the dehumanizing effects of mechanization. This was followed by Wake Up, Jonathan (1928; written with Hatcher Hughes), Close Harmony (1924; written with Dorothy Parker), and the mystery Cock Robin (1928; written with Philip Barry). The Subway (1929) was followed by Street Scene (1929, Pulitzer Prize), a vivid drama of life outside a New York tenement house, subsequently adapted as a musical by Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes in 1947. The focus on social injustice and the plight of the oppressed continued in We, the People (1933), about unemployment and racism; Judgement Day (1934), concerning the burning of the Reichstag building; Between Two Worlds (1935); American Landscape (1938); Two on an Island (1940); Flight to the West (1941); and A New Life (1943). Mainly farces and melodramas, his other plays include See Naples and Die (1929), The Left Bank (1931), Counsellor-at-Law (1931), Black Sheep (1932), Not For Children (1936), Dream Girl (1945), The Grand Tour (1951), and Love among the Ruins (1963). His few novels include A Voyage to Purilia (1930), a satire about the film industry, and one about New York entitled Imperial City (1937). A collection of his essays and writings on the theatre appeared as The Living Theatre (1959). His autobiography, Minority Report (1963), detailed his work as a lawyer through to his involvement in the theatre, which included the directorship of the New York Federal Theatre Project and helping to establish the Playwright's Producing Company. See also Expressionism.

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