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COMRADES IN ARMS: GEORGE JEAN NATHAN AND SEAN O’CASEY PATRICIA ANGELIN april, 1993, marked the thirty-Wfth anniversary of the death of drama critic George Jean Nathan, and September, 1994, the thirtieth year after the passing of Sean O’Casey. It is a Wtting time to recall the unusual friendship between this American critic and an Irish playwright. Although the two men had only one concentrated period of time together, during New York pre-production of Within the Gates in the 1934–35 Broadway season, their rapport ran deep. O’Casey expresses their relationship in inscriptions on two of the dozen of his works which the playwright sent to his friend. To George Jean Nathan, Poet-Critic Champion of the truth as it is in the Drama, from Sean O’Casey, his comrade in the Wght that Drama may have life, and have it more abundantly. New York, 1934.1 From Sean O’Casey to George Jean Nathan, comrade in arms for righteousness , deep sorrow, the loud, reckless laugh, the stirring dance, and the gay song in the theatre; the voice of man speaking his best, in good round terms. . . . Devon, 1945.2 Nathan was forty-four and O’Casey forty-six years old when they encountered each other’s work on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Nathan saw an inadequate production of Juno and Paycock at the tiny Mayfair Theatre in New York in March, 1926. Thomas Quinn Curtiss, Nathan’s biographer , says: Nathan had x-ray sight for theatrical value. He could detect the value of a script however shoddy the production. He was at once aware of O’Casey’s skill at character delineation and in treating situations, and he perceived COMRADES IN ARMS: GEORGE JEAN NATHAN AND SEAN O’CASEY 7 1 Personal inscription in Windfalls, 1934. George Jean Nathan Collection, Olin Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. 2 Personal inscription in Drums Under the Windows, 1945. O’Casey’s daring dovetailing of uproarious comedy and stark tragedy. He appreciated O’Casey’s extraordinary ability to turn a phrase that transformed the talk of Dublin slum-dwellers into lyric speech.3 Later that same spring Nathan saw The Plough and The Stars in London . He thought that this play went beyond Juno and the Paycock in its deep and ruthless humanity and lyricism. He wrote in The American Mercury that O’Casey’s play was the major event of the London season, and heralded it again when performed in New York the following year.4 And later, in 1928, George Jean Nathan heard of and was shocked by Yeats’s rejection of The Silver Tassie for Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. He had not seen the play, but had read the published version. At the same time, O’Casey discovered the critical writings of Nathan in a second-hand bookstore along the River LiVey in Dublin, as O’Casey himself relates in his fourth volume of autobiography: So Sean . . . was now puzzled by the Irish critics, for, innocent gaum that he was, he didn’t realize then that these fellows didn’t know what they were talking about. . . . Then Wrst began Sean’s distrust of, and contempt for, the Irish critics. . . . Two critics now began to shine on his thoughts—one Irish, curiously enough, and the other American. They were George Jean Nathan and George Bernard Shaw—the two Georges. The books formed a gorgeous episode in Sean’s life. . . . Comments . . . on plays which—bar Shakespeare, Wilde, and Ibsen—he had neither seen nor read, and which, now, he would never see nor read, for they were all dead, never to rise again; but the criticisms lived on, and gave Sean a candle-light view of the theatre dead, and an arc-lamp view of the theatre living. Nathan’s The Critic and the Drama, was a book of revelations to Sean. He was becoming less of the innocent gaum every page he passed. Here was a live man of the drama. As deep in what he wrote as he was gay. A wise philosopher, an undaunted critic, a lover of the theatre with cothurnus and sock attached to the glittering costume of the harlequin who...


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