The Group Theater:  Johnny Johnson (1936)

Musical play in three acts.
Book and lyrics by Paul Green

Johnny goes off to World War I in spite of his love for peace, and leaves behind his true love, Minny Belle, in their rural town. Naive and idealistic, Johnny baffles the recruiters and commanders, but still winds up fighting in Europe, where he manages to halt the war temporarily by attacking a meeting of the generals with laughing gas. When the leaders come to their senses, the war continues and Johnny is committed to an asylum where he is held for ten years. Meanwhile, Minny Belle has married the dreary town capitalist. Johnny is released and becomes a toymaker, still trying to spread peace in an increasingly warlike society.

The Group Theatre was formed in New York by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg in 1931. The Group was a pioneering attempt to create a theatre collective, a company of players trained in a unified style and dedicated to presenting contemporary plays. Others involved in the group included Elia Kazan, Stella Adler, John Garfield, Luther Adler, Will Geer, Howard Da Silva, Franchot Tone, John Randolph, Joseph Bromberg, Michael Gordon, Paul Green, Clifford Odets, Paul Strand, Kurt Weill and Lee J. Cobb. Members of the group tended to hold left-wing political views and wanted to produce plays that dealt with important social issues.

While working at the Group Theatre Lee Strasberg developed what became known as the Method. Based on the ideas of the Russian director, Konstantin Stanislavsky, it was a system of training and rehearsal for actors which bases a performance upon inner emotional experience, discovered largely through the medium of improvisation. The Group Theatre produced some notable plays including The House of Connelly (1931 by Paul Green), Success Story (1932 by John Howard Lawson), Condemned (1932 by Marc Blizstein), The Black Pit (1933 by Albert Maltz) Men in White (1933 by Sidney Kingsley), Gentle Woman, (1933 by John Howard Lawson), Awake and Sing! and Waiting for Lefty (1935 by Clifford Odets), Johnny Johnson (1936 by Paul Green and Kurt Weill), The Cradle Will Rock (1937 by Marc Blizstein), My Heart's in the Highlands (1939 by William Saroyan) and Native Son (1941 by Richard Wright and Paul Green).

The Group Theatre disbanded in 1941. After the Second World War, most of the members of the group were investigated by House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Some like Elia Kazan, Clifford Odets and Lee J. Cobb testified and named other members of left-wing groups. Those that refused to do this such as Stella Adler, John Garfield, Will Geer, Howard Da Silva, John Randolph, and Joseph Bromberg were blacklisted.




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