Eugene O'Neill

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All God's Chillun Got Wings
Provincetown Playhouse, May 15, 1924


Brooklyn Daily News, May 16, 1924

All God's Chillun


Eugene O’Neill’s “All God’s Chillun Got Wings,” which has had almost as much publicity as a murder, finally made its way to the stage of the Provincetown Playhouse last night, where instead of causing a riot, it was greeted with cheers and loud whistlings.  Possibly if it had not been made so notorious this welcome would have been calmer.  It is not a play to arouse great enthusiasm.

Certainly there had been no enthusiasm for it at the Mayor’s office during the day, for the directors of the theater had applied for a permit to use a group of children in the first scene and the permit had been refused, no explanation being offered.  The Gerry Society had approved, but not the higher authorities.  No doubt it was expected that the refusal of the permit would prevent the play being performed, but the difficulty was easily sidestepped.  James Light, who staged the play, merely read the first scene and the drama proceeded thereafter as if nothing had happened.

This is a play, as every one now knows, in which a negro marries a white girl and is unhappy.  Mr. O’Neill has taken a theme and illustrated it with seven scenes depicting as many stages in the progress of the miscegenetic romance.  “All God’s Chillun” is exposition rather than drama most of the time.  It has its dramatic moments in the second act, but O’Neill can be heard explaining the expounding throughout the evening.  It is sharp and pertinent analysis of the question of intermarriage between whites and blacks, its psychology is good, if palpable; it is more didactic than this dramatist has ever before attempted to be.  Didacticism in O’Neill is not an improvement.

Negro and white children play on the streets in the first scene, and there is no race prejudice to be discovered in their attitudes toward each other.  Two of them are seen growing up in the following scenes, a colored boy and a white girl, and prejudice grows along with a sharp consciousness of it in the minds of the twp.  The girl is a worthless girl, the boy an ambitious youth.  She is cast aside by a prize-fighter and, being alone in the world, is grateful to the negro for his adoration and marries him in order to have some one to love her sincerely.  But she is white and he black, and neither they nor those they live among can forget it.  Furthermore, she cannot blind herself to the fact that, save for her color, which gives her a sense of superiority, she is inferior to him.  So all his ambitions to grow into a man of importance are thorns to her and she thwarts them as best she can.  He tries to pass (an} examination that will admit him to the Bar and she gloats when he fails. By this time she has lost her sanity and, little, shallow, good-for-nothing that she is, she brings the play to a close by shrieking at him the word “Nigger.”  That, to her mind, sums up her feeling toward him, despite the fact that she loves him and is grateful. 

Paul Robeson and Mary Blair, black and white, as advertised, play the leading roles.  Mr. Robeson to us was a sad disappointment.  He is an earnest, hard-working amateur and nothing more, apparently.  During the first act he is merely a big awkward boy; in the second he loses part of his self-consciousness under the circumstances, and lets himself go and gives a good performance.  Mary Blair is an actress who never proves quite adequate but is always improving.  There are nice performances by Dora Cole and Lillian Green as the negro’s sister and mother, an articulate piece of acting by a negro named Frank Wilson in the second and third scenes, and competent work by James Martin and Charles Ellis.

Affectation still persists in the productions of Provincetown Players, and O’Neill is hardly free from it himself in this instance.


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