Native Son (play)

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Native Son
First edition 1941
Written by Paul Green
Richard Wright
Date premiered March 24, 1941
Place premiered St. James Theatre
New York City, New York
Original language English
Genre Drama
Setting Chicago, 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


Differences in plot[edit]

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, who Bigger tries to blame Mary's murder on. Bigger even tries to collect ransom for Mary's supposedly missing body. He also becomes the Dalton's 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 Dalton's chauffeur because of a social worker. He kills Mary by accident, as in the book, but is shortly found after a manhunt through Chicago.



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

Critical reception[edit]

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;". [2] The New York Times said it was "powerful" and "exciting". [3] Time called it "the strongest play of the season". [4]


  1. ^ Wood, Bret (1990). Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-26538-0. 
  2. ^ Gilder, Rosamond (May 1941). "Theatre Arts" – via Wellesnet Theater. 
  3. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (1941-03-25). "Stage: 'Native Son'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-21. 
  4. ^ "New Plays in Manhattan". Time Magazine. April 7, 1941 – via Wellesnet. 

External links[edit]