1933 Fifty Years Ago


Brooks Atkinson’s review for The New ‘York Times prefigured Woolsey’s argument, but at a feverish pitch. The play is “indecent,” certainly, but it is also Art. “[The play] is also one of the grossest episodes ever put on the stage. Once the theatre used to be sinful. But now it is the novel that ferrets out the abominations of life and exposes them for sale in the marketplace … the theatre has never sheltered a fouler or more degenerate parcel of folks than the hardscrabble family of Lester that lives along the ‘Tobacco Road.’”

And yet, “Mr. Caldwell is a demoniac genius—brutal, grimly comic and clairvoyant. … He writes with the fiery sword. Although Tobacco Road reels around the stage like a drunken stranger to the theatre, it has spasmodic moments of merciless power when truth is flung into your face with all the slime that truth contains. That is why Mr. Caldwell’s grossness cannot be dismissed as morbidity and gratuitous indecency. It is the blunt truth of the characters he is describing, and it leaves a malevolent glow of poetry above the rudeness of his statement.”

The play ran for 3,182 performances, breaking the record that was held by Abie’s Irish Rose.