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Native Son (play)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Native Son
First edition 1941
Written byPaul Green
Richard Wright
Date premieredMarch 24, 1941
Place premieredSt. James Theatre
New York City, New York
Original languageEnglish
SettingChicago, Illinois

Native Son is a 1941 Broadway drama written by Paul Green and Richard Wright based on Wright's novel Native Son. It was produced by Orson Welles and John Houseman with Bern Bernard as associate producer and directed by Welles with scenic design by John Morcom. It ran for 114 performances from March 24, 1941 to June 28, 1941 at the St. James Theatre.

This is the last time Welles and Houseman, co-founders of the Mercury Theatre, ever worked together.[1]: 12 

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Differences in plot

Richard Wright and Paul Green edited Native Son's plot to fit the time constraints of a play more easily. Certain parts are edited or cut completely. In the novel, the daughter of Bigger Thomas's employers, Mary, has a communist boyfriend, Jan, whom Bigger tries to blame for Mary's murder. Bigger even tries to collect ransom for Mary's supposedly missing body. He also becomes the Daltons' chauffeur only after a failed robbery attempt of a white man's store. In the drama, these details are erased. It becomes simpler and more objective—Bigger becomes the Daltons' chauffeur because of a social worker. He kills Mary by accident, as in the book, but is shortly found after a manhunt through Chicago.

Green's original script called for Bigger to become devoutly religious at the end of the story, a theme not present in the novel; Wright helped Houseman remove this aspect and did not inform Green. Houseman believed that the religion twist went against Wright's viewpoint.[2]



Canada Lee as Bigger Thomas in Native Son
Canada Lee (Bigger Thomas), Eileen Burns (Miss Emmett) and Evelyn Ellis (Hannah Thomas)
J. Flashe Riley (Jack), Canada Lee (Bigger Thomas) and Wardell Saunders (Gus Mitchell)

Newspaper Men


The 1941 adaptation of the novel was revised in 1978 for the dedication of the Paul Green Theatre at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.[3] The script by Green and Wright was adapted again in 2006 by Cheryl West for Seattle's Initman Theatre, however, she withdrew the right to perform it prior to the play's opening. An adaptation by director Kent Gash was presented in its stead.[4] A later adaptation, not based on the Green-Wright script, was written by Nambi E. Kelley in 2016 for a joint production from American Blues Theater and Court Theatre in Chicago.[5]

Critical reception

Critics greeted Native Son's 1941 premiere warmly, especially praising Canada Lee's turn as Bigger Thomas. Said Rosamond Gilder in Theatre and Arts, May 1941: " Much of what is important in the novel but is lost in the play -the profound subjective exposure of the Negro's unconscious motivations- is restored by the actor's performance. Bigger's smouldering resentment against the world as he has always known it; his unreflecting violence breaking out even more easily against the things he loves -his mother, his friends, his girl- than against the things he hates; his profound frustration stemming from the denial of his right to live;".[6] The New York Times said it was "powerful" and "exciting".[7] Time called it "the strongest play of the season".[8]

Aljean Harmetz wrote in The New York Times stated "the play got excellent reviews and did good business."[2]


  1. ^ Wood, Bret (1990). Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-26538-0.
  2. ^ a b Harmetz, Aljean (1986-12-23). "PROBLEMS OF FILMING ' NATIVE SON'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2021-02-21.
  3. ^ Green, Paul; Wright, Richard (1980). Native Son: The Biography of a Young American (PDF). New York: Samuel French. ISBN 978-0-573-61291-6. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  4. ^ Berson, Misha (31 October 2006). "'Native Son' has a blazing message". Seattle Times. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  5. ^ Kelley, Nambi E. (2016). Native Son (PDF). New York: Samuel French. ISBN 978-0-573-70465-9. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  6. ^ Gilder, Rosamond (May 1941). "Theatre Arts" – via Wellesnet Theater.
  7. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (1941-03-25). "Stage: 'Native Son'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-21.
  8. ^ "New Plays in Manhattan". Time Magazine. April 7, 1941 – via Wellesnet.

External links

This page was last edited on 17 March 2023, at 11:46
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