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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. I, No. 2
September, 1977



1.  The nationally acclaimed Milwaukee Repertory Theater Company’s 1977-78 season will provide theatergoers in nine states with a unique and exciting opportunity to compare O’Neill’s comic and tragic treatments of his own youth. In November, the Company will present, in revolving repertory, productions of Ah, Wilderness! and Long Day’s Journey into Night, with the same actors playing the corresponding roles in the two plays. Afterward, from January 23 through March 5, 1978, the productions will tour, as a package, through the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Sponsoring groups will receive, in advance of the productions themselves, an invaluable multi-media kit of educational resource materials. Some open dates remain, and groups interested in hosting the O’Neillian duo should quickly contact Sara O’Connor, the MRC’s Managing Director, at 929 North Water Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202. Or call the Company’s tour-information hotline: (414) 289-9467. This praiseworthy project will receive full coverage in a future issue of the Newsletter.

2.  There’s little doubt that it was Annie rather than Anna that was the box-office champ of the ‘76-’77 Broadway season. Still, the Quintero-directed production of Anna Christie, starring Liv Ullmann, received creditable notices and far outlasted its originally-scheduled closing date. Though the play itself received few words of praise, Ms. Ullmann’s performance in the title role won many affirmative responses and perceptive reactions from critics in New York and elsewhere. (A survey of critical reactions to play and production will appear in the next issue of the Newsletter.) One critic, Brendan Gill (“Mal de Mer,” The New Yorker, April 25, 1977, p. 92), paused in his generally unfavorable review to speak more generally about the playwright, in words to which O’Neillians may wish to respond:

On three or four occasions in his long career, O’Neill managed to marry strong emotions to a dramatic construction and utterance worthy of them; more often, he was simply a second-rate writer with delusions of literary grandeur. It is a constant embarrassment to observe the disparity between the effort it has cost O’Neill to grapple with an idea and the intrinsic merit of that idea. Again and again, he proves as brave and dogged in pursuit of a commonplace as if it were a Bengal tiger, and once he has captured the poor, toothless tabby nothing will do but that he repeat the laborious act of capture several times; the result is that at the end of an evening of O’Neill we tend to feel battered instead of purged, leaving the theatre with the impression not so much that we have been run through by a rapier as that we have been run over by a bus.... Long Day’s Journey Into Night is one of the greatest plays written in my lifetime, but it is the mighty exception among O’Neill’s works; everything else he wrote lies far down the slope from it and in its shadow.

3.  James A. Robinson’s essay, “O’Neill’s Grotesque Dancers” (Modern Drama, December 1976, pp. 341-349), should be of value to anyone studying or staging plays of O’Neill in which dance or stage movement is emphasized. After suggesting the influences on O’Neill’s use of stage movement for thematic effect (Nietzsche, Kenneth Macgowan, Max Reinhardt, Gordon Craig and German expressionism), Robinson demonstrates the relevance of such movement to O’Neill’s “major themes of the irrational, alienation, and the tragicomic condition of mankind.” He studies the use of grotesque and distorted dance in The Emperor Jones, Desire Under the Elms and The Great God Brown; and the meaning of the automation effects in The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape and Lazarus Laughed. Many of the effects, he shows, underscore themes of psychological and social determinism; while the more mechanical movements are shown to have even broader implications.

4.  Egil Törnqvist, in “Miss Julie and O’Neill” (Modern Drama, December 1976, pp. 351-364), begins with O’Neill’s own acknowledgement of his debt to Strindberg in the 1936 Nobel Prize speech and elsewhere, and shows, in greater depth and detail than has ever been done in the past, the specific influences of the great Swedish dramatist on his American protégé--not just in the post-Inferno plays, but especially in Miss Julie, both the play itself and the author’s foreword. Mr. Törnqvist provides valuable analyses of the echoes (and more) of Miss Julie in Recklessness, Bound East for Cardiff, Diff’rent, Before Breakfast, The Emperor Jones and Mourning Becomes Electra. In addition to social and psychological parallels, he delineates numerous “similarities between Strindberg’s and O’Neill’s concept of fate, between their dramatic technique and their use of symbolism,” showing conclusively the great extent to which O’Neill is Strindberg’s “true disciple.”

5.  Lucina P. Gabbard’s “At the Zoo: From O’Neill to Albee” (Modern Drama, December 1976, pp. 365-374), begins by citing the many similarities between O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape (1921) and Albee’s The Zoo Story (1958), such as the alienation and “relatively suicidal” drives of the protagonists (Yank and Jerry); the comparable conformity and indifference of the antagonists (Peter in The Zoo Story; both Mildred Douglas and the Fifth Avenue crowd in The Hairy Ape); and both playwrights’ use of “the same metaphor: man imprisoned within himself equals an animal caged at the zoo.” (It’s even the same zoo!) Then Ms. Gabbard reveals the extent to which “differences in the plays’ content and form highlight developments in American drama and its milieu during the intervening thirty-six years.” Among the social changes that a comparison of the two plays reveals are the greater proximity of social classes in the 1950’s, a “progressive loss of creative energy,” and “the increasingly suicidal nature of modern man and society.” (Jerry, for instance, while more aware than O’Neill’s Yank, is also less vital and more consciously suicidal.) In form, the two plays reveal the shift in American drama from expressionism to absurdism above a continuingly realistic base (Ms. Gabbard shows how this shift suggests a decline in optimism), and a movement from “tragic pattern” to “ironic mode.”

6.  Two special sessions on O’Neill will be featured at the 1977 MLA Convention in Chicago next December. One, on “Critical Approaches to O’Neill’s Later Plays (after 1931),” is described in the passage on Frank R. Cunningham in the “Persons Represented” section of this issue. The other, chaired by Virginia Floyd, will concern “A European Perspective of O’Neill.” Here is a tentative list of speakers and topics: Timo Tiusanen (“O’Neill’s Significance: A Scandinavian and European View”), Tom Olsson (“The O’Neill Tradition at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm”), Clifford Leech (“O’Neill in England, from Anna Christie to The Iceman”), and Peter Egri (“The Uses of the Short Story in the Plays of Chekhov and O’Neill”). For further information, contact Dr. Floyd at Bryant College, Smithfield, Rhode Island 02917. The content of both special sessions will be summarized in the May 1978 issue of the Newsletter.

7.  The centerpiece--not centerfold--of the January 1978 issue of the Newsletter will be The Hairy Ape. Essays by Ann D. Hughes (on Biblical allusions in the play) and Michael Hinden (on the Nietzschean aspects of the play’s treatment of the myth of Dionysus) have been received, and the editor welcomes additional brief submissions about the play--comments, queries, reviews, whatever. Naturally, contributions on any subject, literary or theatrical, that is of interest to O’Neillians will be received with gratitude--especially succinct contributions! (A number of kinds of material that the editor is particularly anxious to receive are described on pages 20-21 of the May issue.) The deadline for the January issue is Friday, November 18.



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