On February 20, 1929, writer Wallace Thurman's play “Harlem: A Melodrama of Negro Life in Harlem” (written in collaboration with William Jourdan Rapp), opened on Broadway. "Harlem" centers on the Williams family, who relocate in New York City to escape economic difficulties at the time of the "great migration" of Southerners to the North during the first two decades of the twentieth century. But instead of finding the city a promised land, they encounter many of the problems that often plagued the families of the migration: unemployment and tensions between generations heightened by difficulties in adjusting to city life.
"Harlem" received mixed reviews--ranging from "exciting" to "vulgar"--but was generally considered interesting. It was criticized by blacks who did not care for its focus on the seedier elements of life, like illicit sex, liquor, wild parties thrown to collect rent money, and gambling. R. Dana Skinner stated in a 1929Commonweal review of "Harlem" that he was especially upset by "the particular way in which this melodrama exploits the worst features of the Negro and depends for its effects solely on the explosions of lust and sensuality." Nevertheless, many critics felt it "captured the feel of life" and was "constantly entertaining.""Harlem" played for an impressive ninety-three performances in what was considered a poor theater season and was taken on tour to the West Coast, the Midwest, and Canada.(African American Literature Book Club)