Eugene O'Neill

Billboard, April 21, 1928

Lazarus Laughed


Third in the series of strikingly different plays, written by Eugene O’Neill last year, is Lazarus Laughed, which the Pasadena Community Players have had the privilege of introducing to the stage.

In form Lazarus Laughed is a Greek tragedy, while the import is not unlike the mystery plays which used to be done during the Middle Ages.  The story undertakes to reveal what O’Neill believes followed the raising of Lazarus from the dead by Jesus.

Being the first man to return from the realm whose boundary is never supposed to be recrossed, the multitude hangs upon Lazarus’ words.  He tells them that there is no death – only God’s eternal laughter.  That is the burden of the whole play.  The succeeding scenes represent a series of tests by the Jews, Romans and Greeks to try Lazarus’ faith.  In turn the various members of his family are taken from him, but he continues ever to laugh, even to the end when Emperor Tiberius has him burned at the stake.

O’Neill’s point seems to be to be to demolish the idea of the grim reaper of time-honored Christian theology.  Men may die, he infers, but Man never does; wherefore life is eternal.  Continuous laughter is the symbol.  It runs throughout the entire play, not always being convincing, and at times even sounding forced to the point of silliness.  Whether Lazarus Laughed is all that O’Neill enthusiasts claim for it time alone can tell.  Some hail it as the greatest philosophical drama since Goethe’s Faust.  Only 100 years hence will determine that.

Under the direction of Gilmor Brown the Pasadenans have made an elaborate production of Lazarus Laughed.  Only the voluntary co-operation of hundreds of workers of the organization giving their services made it possible.  Loving hands worked on the costumes, the art department of the University of California contributed the several hundred masks which form one of the grotesque features of the play. 

A unit setting, designed by James Hyde, was manipulated for all eight scenes.  Its proportions were such as to dominate the play at all times.  Although the script does not call for a musical score, one was provided by Arthur Alexander, which added to the emotional effect.  What might otherwise have been rather tedious scenes, the music lifted perceptibly.

Irving Pichel, formerly director of the Santa Barbara Community Arts Players, was cast for Lazarus.  He played him in a stereotyped Christ-like manner, which hardly seems to be the Dionysian sort of man the author had in mind.  At best it is a difficult role to tax the skill of the most experienced actor.  Victor Jory portrayed Caligula rather bizarrely and was liked best of the large cast by many.  Others acquitting themselves with credit were Lenore Shanewise, Dore Wilson, Maurice Wells, Max Turner and Richard Menefee.

From a production standpoint Lazarus Laughed must be hailed as an achievement more than compensating what it lacked in the way of satisfactory acting.  Several hundred supernumeraries contributed to the mise en scene, which was effectively handled, colorfully costumed, and for the most part notably lighted.  For any little theater group to be able to visualize with any degree of satisfaction a brand-new O’Neill drama is little short of an accomplishment.  The play’s final worth as drama will remain for more seasoned player to establish.  It is so heavily freighted with philosophical subtleties and long speeches as to call for much more experience playing.


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