The play is heavily metatheatrical, being not only staged at but also set at the Ambassador Theatre, the actors playing actors appearing in a play at the Ambassador. This play-within-a-play concerns a strategic bombing squadron; the squadron commander frequently steps out of character to reassure the audience that they are only watching a play.
This conceit is carried to the point where the actors themselves exhibit confusion over whether they really are actors playing airmen, or actual airmen. For instance, in the second act, Henderson (played by Ron Leibman) is scheduled to be killed – he knows this, being familiar with the script, and is not worried; but then later, a corporal is killed on a mission and Henderson is unable to find him offstage. Henderson worries that the corporal really has been killed, and that perhaps the "play" is reality.
This "phantasmagoric world in which actors might not know where the grease paint ended and the blood began", where the audience is led to believe in both levels of reality as the borders blend and blur in manner reminiscent of the works of Luigi Pirandello, is used by Heller to satirize and excoriate the moral blindness that leads people to treat war as spectacle, equating the real death and suffering of war with the deaths of actors in war movies.
New York Times theatre critic Clive Barnes gave the play a mixed review ("I would call it a bad play any good playwright should be proud to have written, and any good audience fascinated to see"); the New York Post was more enthusiastic ("An exceptional quality of imagination that is at once comic, bitter and moving, and it is immensely effective in dramatic terms").
The title of the play is ironic with a double meaning. In 1967, plays frequently opened in New Haven, Connecticut as a shakedown run before moving to Broadway (perhaps via Boston or Philadelphia), and "bombed in New Haven" would describe a play that was found there to be too flawed to make it to Broadway. And the airmen do literally bomb in New Haven (as well as other targets such as Minnesota and "Constantinople") in the course of the play, reason for these seemingly absurd targeting orders from the High Command never being given.
Prior to its Broadway opening, the play was premiered in New Haven by the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1967 starring Stacy Keach, Estelle Parsons, and Ron Leibman (who went with the play to Broadway). In the original Broadway production, players included Ron Leibman, Anthony Holland, Jason Robards, Diana Sands and William Roerick. Although its eleven-week run was respectable, the play is generally considered to have not been a success, but a Broadway revival was staged in 1972 at the Circle in the Square Theatre, featuring Steven Keats and James Doerr, and the play has been occasionally staged at various venues throughout the rest of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.
- Sletcher, Michael, ed. (2004). New England. Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures. Greenwood. p. 176. ISBN 978-0313327537. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
- "We Bombed in New Haven". IBDb (Internet Broadway Database). Retrieved February 2, 2017.
- "We Bombed in New Haven". Playbill. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
- Clive Barnes (October 17, 1968). "Theater: Heller's 'We Bombed in New Haven' Opens". New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
- Holly Johnson (October 18, 2009). "Review: 'We Bombed in New Haven' is no success in Portland, either". The Oregonian. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
- "We Bombed in New Haven". Samuel French. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
- Steven T. Berry. "Thinking of moving to New Haven?". Steve Berry's New Haven Page. Department of Economics, Yale University. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
- T. H. McCulloh (November 17, 1995). "THEATER REVIEW : War Is Heller in 'We Bombed in New Haven'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
- "We Bombed in New Haven". Original Yale Repertory Program1967. December 4–23, 1967. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
- Horn, Richard (September 26, 1972). "Bombed Into Oblivion". Columbia [University] Spectator. XCVII (15): 4. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
- "In and Around Town – Theater". New York Magazine. September 18, 1972. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
- "We Bombed in New Haven". Williamstown Theater Festival. 1969. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
- "Theater Listings – Off-Off Broadway". New York Magazine. March 24, 1986. Retrieved February 3, 2017.