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Theatre / Street Scene

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Street Scene is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play written in 1929 by Elmer Rice.

It takes place in June of 1929, in front of a New York City brownstone apartment building, and is about the various tenants who live there. This contemporary play deals with the issues of urban life and of the immigrants who live in these apartments. The plot of the play surrounds the Maurrant family, who are the subject of local gossip alleging that the wife, Anna, is cheating on her husband Frank. Their daughter Rose yearns to move away from the apartment and has to deal with the obstacles to achieving that goal.

Elmer Rice contributed to two major adaptations of the play: a 1931 film, directed by King Vidor and starring Sylvia Sidney as Rose, and a 1947 musical (or "an American opera") with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Langston Hughes.

The play contains examples of:

  • Book Ends: The 1931 movie begins and ends with the kids in the street singing "The Farmer in the Dell".
  • Bottle Episode: The 1931 movie reflects its stage origins by confining all of the action to the front stoop of the apartment building and the sidewalk in front, except for a short scene in the back of a taxi and a brief shot of Rose getting off an elevated train.
  • Cheating with the Milkman: Mrs. Maurrant and Sankey, the milk collector.
  • Cultural Posturing: An Italian-American and a Swedish-American get into a heated argument over whether Christopher Columbus or Leif Erickson was the first man to discover America.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: "Fresh press! Fresh press all about the double murder!", says the newsboy pestering poor Rose as she comes home from the hospital.
  • Gossipy Hens: All of the housewives gossiping on the front stoop of the apartment building. Mrs. Jones, who makes nasty, snide comments about the Maurrants, is the worst.
  • Heat Wave: Kids getting sprayed by friendly firefighters, adults sitting around complaining about the heat.
  • Home-Early Surprise: Mr. Maurrant unexpectedly comes back home when he was supposed to be off to Stamford. Sam, his daughter's boyfriend, shortly earlier witnessed Mrs. Maurrant inviting Sankey, the milk collector into her apartment, closing the windows (despite the Heat Wave) and pulling the shades down. Mr. Maurrant notices the drawn shades, advances toward the house, and hurls Sam violently aside when he tries to block the steps. When Mrs. Jones leans out the window to see what's happening, Sam hysterically tells her to inform Mrs. Maurrant about her husband's return. But it's too late: a moment later screams of terror are heard coming from the Maurrant apartment, followed by gunshots.
  • Maybe Ever After: Rose is leaving the city, believing that she and her brother have to make lives for themselves, but she holds out the hope that when she's ready she'll come back and get together with Sam. As she's leaving, she says "You'll be seeing me again someday" to Sam's sister.
  • Moral Guardians: The bitchy social welfare worker who chews out a poor widow for taking her kids to the movies.
  • Panicky Expectant Father: Mr. Buchanan is under a nervous strain because his wife is about to give birth.
  • Screaming Birth: Mrs. Buchanan, offstage.
  • Shiksa Goddess: Sam, who comes from a family of non-observant Jews, is in love with the pretty Gentile Rose. Her family isn't worried so much about her not being Jewish as they are that she might distract Sam from his studies, but several of their neighbors in the apartments make anti-Semitic remarks.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Mrs. Maurrant is Cheating with the Milkman because her husband is mean, uncaring, and emotionally abusive.

The musical version also has examples of: