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Class of ’29

March 27, 2007

Class of ’29, by Orrie Lashin and Milo Hastings, is the most depressing play I’ve ever read. Not that I’ve read a huge number of depressing plays, but I think it’s fair to say that this one is pretty miserable. It certainly ends miserably, with even the one funny character sharing in the general bad luck.

The play takes place in 1935 and focuses on four Harvard graduates who haven’t been able to get jobs in the six years since they graduated. Ken is an architect interested in prefabricated housing, but it’s the depression and no one is building houses. Ted is the son of a rich family that lost everything in the stock market crash. Tippy is a good natured guy who’s washing dogs for a living since he can’t get by any other way. Martin is an artist and a communist. There are also two girls, both Vassar graduates: Kate, who is in love with Ted, and Laura, who is in love with Ken.

In Act I, Ted is living off Kate’s salary, of which she gives him half every week. At the end of the Act, she has decided to become her boss’ mistress in order to better support Ted. Ken lives off his father, a bishop. He’s depressed because he can’t find work, so his father and Laura concoct a plan: they’ll get a friend to hire Ken and the bishop will supply the salary.

Act II takes place a few months later. Laura and Ken are married now, and the six friends are about to have a little reunion. Kate buys Ted a new suit, so when a woman comes to check up on his application for relief, she finds him looking pretty prosperous and she leaves. Ken is very pleased with himself about having a job, and Ted is upset, so they start picking on each other. Ken accuses Ted of being Kate’s pimp. Ted reveals that Ken is being paid by his dad. Ken goes out and gets drunk. Ted throws himself under a train. Ken is jealous. Oh, and one of Tippy’s customers accuses him of mistreating her dog and indicates that she’s going to tell all his other customers about it, so he’s about to lose all his business, I guess.

One of the things that makes this play so sad is that the underlying worldview is pretty naive and idealistic. There’s an assumption that if you can get a job and keep your self respect, there will be no other problems. In fact, self respect is the one essential. I think the authors realize that this is a little old-fashioned and inadequate for the realities of the Depression, but they don’t come up with anything to supply the deficiency. In the end, the only character who escapes from his or her horrible situation is Ted, and he’s dead, so it’s not like it’s done him any good.

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