Sunday, November 28, 2010

There Shall Be No Night by Robert Sherwood (1941)

Summary:  The entire play takes place in the Helsinki living room of Dr. Valkonen (who has recently won the Nobel Prize) and his wife Miranda.  The play chronicles the interactions of the family and various friends from 1938-1940.  In the early scenes, Valkonen spends an extensive amount of time talking about his reasons for being a pacifist and abhorring the war (Finland's Winter War with the Soviets) before his son Erik enlists.  Eventually, Valkonen himself joins the medical corps.  In undramatized moments, both Valkonen men die.  American-born Miranda is left both a widow and a grieving mother who feels responsible for the care of Erik's unborn child and sends his fiancee to America to have the baby.

Thoughts:  In his lengthy preface, Sherwood explains that this play is the sequel to Idiot's Delight, in which Dr. Valkonen was a minor character stuck at the hotel with a zany crew of fellow cast mates (Pulitzer Prize, 1936). 

Once again, I feel like Sherwood had a lot to say, but perhaps a play was not the best possible platform for his thoughts.  When the characters of the play are interacting with plot-driven dialogue, the play moves quickly and believable characters and relationships are created.  However, the bulk of this play (like Abe Lincoln in Illinois and Idiot's Delight) is made up of lengthy monologues about the nature of humanity and war.  In his thirty page preface, Sherwood quotes extensively from his other works and seems to make many of the same arguments that he has made before--war is not the end of humanity, but instead a chance to reflect on our mistakes and learn from them, though he seems dubious about that actually happening.

"Patriotism as now practiced is one of the most virulent manifestations of evil" (79).  

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