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Philip Barry

Philip Barry

Philip Jerome Quinn Barry (1896–1949) was born in Rochester, New York, to a successful Irish immigrant and a mother who was of old Philadelphia Irish‐Catholic stock. Young Barry was a frail child with defective eyesight, yet despite his myopia he became an avid reader and a precocious wit, entering Yale in 1914 and plunging eagerly into campus literary activities. During World War I, he was rejected for military services but served in the Communications Office of the State Department in London where he became a life‐long Anglophile. Returning to Yale after the war, his play Autonomy won a prize offered by the school dramatic society, and, over strident family objections, he enrolled in George Pierce Baker's famed 47 Workshop at Harvard. Barry's play The Jilts, in which a businessman attempts an artistic career, won the Herndon Prize and Richard Herndon himself agreed to produce it in 1923, changing the title to You and I. Its success was the first of many on Broadway for Barry. A deep‐seated disenchantment with life began to seep to the surface in his In a Garden (1925), whose dramatist hero sets up his wife for an affair to test a theory. Barry moved even farther away from traditional high comedy with the semifantasy White Wings (1926) and the curious Biblical piece John (1927), dealing with John the Baptist. Both failed to run, but he had a major hit with Paris Bound (1927), a look at infidelity among the rich. Barry's subsequent plays met with varying degrees of success: the mystery Cock Robin (1928) written with Elmer Rice, the civilized drawing room piece, Holiday (1928), the fantasy Hotel Universe (1930), the domestic drama Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1931), and the domestic comedy The Animal Kingdom (1932). Deeply saddened by the death of his baby daughter, Barry took darker turns in his next plays: The Joyous Season (1934), a somber story of a nun's attempt to rejuvenate her family spiritually; Bright Star (1935), a gloomy tale of misguided ambition and tragic, misdirected love; and Here Come the Clowns (1938), an experimental piece concerning a confrontation between an old stagehand and God. Returning to the sort of play the theatre expected of him, Barry enjoyed his greatest success with the high comedy The Philadelphia Story (1939), followed by the Tallulah Bankhead vehicle Foolish Notion (1945). Generally considered our finest creator of high comedy, Barry's strange interplay of wit and despair gives his best works a dramatic tension and meaningfulness unique to our theatre.


Samuel French Titles by Philip Barry