The claustrophobic reality of living in a six-storey walk-up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan is the focus of Elmer Rice’s Street Scene. With the neighbors all knowing everyone’s business, and constantly passing judgement on everyone’s behaviour, it is easy to see how this melting pot can quickly become dangerous.
On two scorching hot days in June 1929, the pot finally boils over for Frank Maurrant. The rumors about his wife having an affair have become too loud and too persistent for him to ignore. How many times does he have to lay down the law in his own home before it is followed? To make matters worse, that guy keeps turning up and talking to his wife in full view of everyone. It’s enough to turn anyone to drinking. When he returns home to find the curtains drawn mid-morning, he knows exactly what is going on. In a fit of fury and emotion, Frank carries out his threat and kills them both.
Street Scene is a huge piece with themes of immigration, racism, domestic violence, sexual assault, murder, social status, youth culture, and poverty, which won the Pulitzer prize for Drama in 1929. It has enjoyed many retellings, including as the opera by Kurt Weill, created in collaboration with Elmer Rice and Langston Hughes.