NEWS, NOTES AND QUERIES
1. The February 1979 issue of English Journal featured the results of a survey of English teachers that had been conducted via its September 1978 issue and the Kansas City convention of NCTE. The results of the survey, entitled "English Teachers' Literary Favorites," may startle devotees of O'Neill. Or they may not: your reactions will be welcome.
The survey was in two parts: personal favorites and teaching favorites. In the modern drama category, Miller's Death of a Salesman led both lists. Williams was in second place, A Streetcar Named Desire being the second personal favorite, and The Glass Menagerie tying with Miller's The Crucible as the second teaching favorite. Then came O'Neill--but only in the "personal favorite" race, where Long Day's Journey finished third. (Wilder's Our Town was in that spot among teaching favorites.) The fourth-place teaching favorite was Shaw's Pygmalion, with Glass Menagerie and Our Town tying for fourth as personal favorites. Five other plays were listed as "frequently mentioned,'' but none of them was by O'Neill.
There was also a "favorite playwright" race, similarly divided into teaching and personal favorites. In the personal favorite category, O'Neill was fourth, following Shakespeare, Miller and Williams, and just beating Neil Simon. As teaching favorite, he tied for fourth with Wilder and Shaw, following the same trio as in the personal favorite race. [The complete results are printed in "English Teachers' Literary Favorites: The Results of a Survey," English Journal (February 1979), pp. 6-9.]
While, as compilers Stephan and Susan Judy note, the list seems to revolve around "old chestnuts," one wishes there had been more O'Neillian chestnuts in the fire! Though the entire survey smacks demeaningly of the horse race, it is nevertheless revealing, and disquieting. And it leads one to wonder: why only Long Day's Journey? and is O'Neill difficult or unpleasant to teach? I once asked readers who teach to submit the names of courses that include O'Neill and the titles of O'Neill works that are included. I'm grateful for the submissions I have received, but so far they are too few to justify an article on the place of O'Neill in schools and colleges in America and overseas. I now repeat my request (I think it's actually a re-repeat) and offer another suggestion that might also be of value. If you have had a gratifying experience in teaching an O'Neill play--especially one of the less ubiquitous members of the canon--or have devised a particularly successful method for introducing one to students, send in a note or letter on the subject, specifying whether you'd like it printed as-is or paraphrased. If your responses are affirmative and sizable, I'll initiate a new Newsletter section, "Notes on Teaching O'Neill."
2. O'NEILL CELEBRATIONS PLANNED. A committee of theatre professionals and noted admirers of the plays of O'Neill will plan and mount annual observances in the late playwright's honor. The celebrations will culminate in 1988, the hundredth anniversary of his birth.
Members of the panel, called the Theatre Committee for Eugene O'Neill, include producers Joseph Papp and Theodore Mann; actors Jason Robards, Colleen Dewhurst, and Geraldine Fitzgerald; director Jose Quintero; O'Neill biographers Barbara and Arthur Gelb; George White, president of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center; Gail Merrifield Papp, of the New York Shakespeare Festival; Martin Segal, chairman of the Mayor's Planning Committee for the International/New York Celebration of the Arts; Lois Robards, a member of the Committee for Tao House; and theatrical press agent Merle Debuskey. The co-chairmen are Mrs. Gelb and Mr. White.
Producers Papp and Mann have offered the use of their theatres--New York's Public and the Circle in the Square--to the commemorations. The actors involved will head a repertory company specializing in O'Neill's plays, and will produce a season next summer at the Public.
Other activities of the committee include annual observances of the playwright's birthday; cooperation with and aid to organizations looking after three O'Neill-associated buildings (Tao House, Monte Cristo Cottage, and the new Province-town Playhouse, which is scheduled to open on July 4, 1980); a scholarship fund at Yale for the playwright's direct descendants; a festival of films made from O'Neill plays; a program of reminiscences of O'Neill by actors and others who knew him; and a possible revival of the James O'Neill vehicle, The Count of Monte Cristo. Also discussed at the committee's founding meeting, last December 14 at the Princeton Club, was Mr. Papp's plan to commission a playwright to compose an O'Neill evening including material from the playwright's letters and poetry.
A hearty welcome to the Theatre Committee for Eugene O'Neill! Your activities will be followed with interest by Newsletter readers.
[The above information was compiled from reports in the New York Times (December 22, 1978, p. C3) and the Theatre Communications Group Newsletter (February, 1979, p. 2).]
3. Virginia Floyd moderated a special session on O'Neill as part of the MLA's 1978 Annual Convention, in the New York Hilton's Grand Ballroom East on December 29, 1978. The session, which attracted over 2,000 spectators and was described by MLA official Elaine Reed as "the most successful event at the MLA that anyone can remember," was entitled "A Consideration of the Late Plays: Long Day's Journey into Night and A Moon for the Misbegotten." The session's format was as described on pp. 3-4 of the January issue of the Newsletter, except that sections 1-4 of Part II were omitted, no scenes were performed, Paul Voelker served as m.c. for the Arvin Brown-Geraldine Fitzgerald discussion of Mary Tyrone, and there proved not to be enough time for an extended interchange of ideas and insights among scholars, theatre professionals and audience. But those in attendance found the event to be of great interest--especially the surprise appearance of Ingrid Bergman, a more than worthy replacement for some other performers who were indisposed.
Travis Bogard spoke personally and descriptively of Tao House and what it must have meant to O'Neill. Despite its dark interior--dark, that is, in terms of light, not of color--it never has an aura of the haunted, not even on a stormy night when the house is empty. He described the general effect as one of "a subaqueous world where light is a part of the silence." It gives one a feeling of protectedness: not just warmth, but something more "concerned." The creation of Tao was the creation of a "caretaker house," an architectural extension o Carlotta Monterey O'Neill.
Tom Olsson of the Royal Dramatic in Stockholm provided a historical account of the negotiations between that theatre's director in the 1950's, Karl Ragnar Gierow, and O'Neill's widow that preceded the world premieres of Long Day's Journey in 1956 and the other posthumous plays of the "treasure-house" that the dramatist had bequeathed to the Royal Dramatic. He cited a letter, recently found there, by Lizabeth Scott, who had rehearsed as Josie Hogan. And he quoted Gierow: "To us, O'Neill is not just a good playwright, but something very rare--a real dramatist; [one with] deeper understanding of human nature, its passions and its conflicts."
John Henry Raleigh showed that not only personal, autobiographical memories but also racial or cultural memory is at work in Moon for the Misbegotten, making it, even more than A Touch of the Poet, the most Irish of O'Neill's plays. Josie, "probably the most admirable character her creator ever conceived," suggests the fabled warrior-women of the Celtic race and, in her role as confessor, the Virgin Queen as well. Phil, her father, is a reflection of the playwright's Irish patriotism, while also being "a kind of final tribute" to James O'Neill, Sr.: "If the major impulse behind A Moon for the Misbegotten was an urge to pronounce a benediction on Jamie O'Neill, then certainly another impulse on O'Neill's part was to further the absolution of his father."
Ingrid Bergman described the afternoon she spent at Tao House with .the playwright in 1941 when she was appearing in Anna Christie in San Francisco. Carlotta came backstage and invited her to lunch at the house two days later; specifically stipulated that no photographer would be allowed; and explained a special signal--a particular nod of Carlotta's head--which would be Miss Bergman's cue to leave. O'Neill was tall and handsome; "altogether it was the stillness that struck me." That, and the eyes: "those were the most beautiful eyes I have seen in my whole life. They were like wells; you fell into them, and you had a feeling that he looked straight through you." Despite several of the special nods from Carlotta, Miss Bergman accepted O'Neill' invitation to visit his study, where he was working on nine plays, each in its own manuscript pile (she emphasized that she saw and he spoke of nine), the whole being, he said, a 150-year history of an American family. Wanting the same faces throughout the cycle, O'Neill was seeking a company of actors willing to commit four years to its realization--and he offered Miss Bergman a role. But it was 1941; she had just started her Hollywood career and was ambitious. Give all of that up for four years? She said no. His reply: "You're abandoning me." Her response: "Maybe later." And that "later" did come, in 1967, when Jose Quintero approached her about a role in the first U.S. production of More Stately Mansions. O'Neill was abandoned no longer!
Arvin Brown and Geraldine Fitzgerald discussed the interpretation underlying their 1971 production of Long Day's Journey, especially Miss Fitzgerald's role as Mary Tyrone. "Our culture," said Brown, "does a great deal of sentimentalizing about neurosis," and he'd felt that previous productions, including his own in 1965, had treated Mary too sentimentally. "At times she gives back as good as she gets. She's capable of finding the sore spots, and she's capable of wounding as only a mother can wound, if she wants to get back." It was Miss Fitzgerald's conclusion, after consulting four specialists in drug addiction, that Mary "was a kind of Electra, a person who had tremendous guilt for her crime of cutting out her mother with her father."
Timo Tiusanen chaired a concluding discussion by scholars--those mentioned above being joined by Esther Jackson and Horst Frenz--about O'Neill's impact on world theatre, and the reasons for O'Neill's greater popularity in Europe than in America. The testimony of six decades, according to Professor Frenz, is that O'Neill "is a highly successful European dramatist." Professor Jackson noted the cinematic influences on O'Neill's plays: some make exceptional demands which previous technology could not meet. She suggested the establishment of an O'Neill Institute and Theatre where, with the advantage of improved technology, the plays could be tried out, in varying stages of readiness, before "representative audiences."
Professor Tiusanen concluded the wide-ranging discussion by noting that the afternoon's session had proved O'Neill to be "a very remark-able and very American playwright"--and Irish playwright--and Scandinavian playwright. In short, "a universal playwright!"
4. RECENT O'NEILL PRODUCTIONS.
Ah, Wilderness!, dir. Edward Cornell. Arena Stage, Washington, DC, December 1, 1978 - January 7, 1979.
The Emperor Jones, dir. Peter Honchaurk. Masque and Gown of Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, February, 1979. (See review in this issue.)
Hughie, dir. Frank Girardeau. No Smoking Playhouse, 354 West 45th Street, NYC, December, 1978.
The Iceman Cometh, dir. Davey Marlin-Jones. Loretto-Hilton Theatre, St. Louis, October 13 - November 11, 1978. [Attention, score-keepers: this production was also listed in the last issue. It is repeated because the director's name had not then been known to the editor, and because Joe Pollack reviewed it in the December, 1978 issue of the New York Theatre Review, p. 37. Pollack praised the power and "extremely savage overtones, bordering on active sadism" of Robert Darnell's Hickey, and approved of the "proper mixture of whine and bluster, accented with a bit of brogue" of Don Perkins' Harry Hope. But he was critical of the heavy editing of the text, which omitted too much exposition; and of Karen Connolly's set, which "was simply too clean and organized for the saloon it was supposed to represent." --Ed.]
In the Zone and The Long Voyage Home, dir. Norman Morrow. Spectrum, 277 Park Avenue South, NYC. In repertory, Spring 1979.
Long Day's Journey into Night, dir. Bradford Wallace. Asolo State Theater, Sarasota, Florida, April 6-July 12, 1979.
The Long Voyage Home (four sea plays), dir. Bill Bryden. National Theatre (Cottesloe), London, February 20 - March 17, 1979.
Mourning Becomes Electra, dir. Nick Havinga. Five-part PBS "Great Performances" mini-series, December 1978. (See report in this issue.)
A Touch of the Poet, dir. Richard Hornby. The University of Calgary, Canada, February 7-11, 1979. (The University's Drama Department sponsored the event, which included a lecture, "Eugene O'Neill: The House on Pequot Avenue," delivered by New York critic Norman Nadel. The Department's core seminar, required of all Drama majors, included a study unit on O'Neill connected with the production.)
5. RECENT AND FORTHCOMING PUBLICATIONS.
Peter Egri, "Eugene O'Neill: The Iceman Cometh. An Epic Tragicomedy of Illusion and Reality," Hungarian Studies in English XI (1978), 95-105. [Professor Egri's admirable study examines the "epic aspect" and "novelistic features" of the play; compares it with its short-story source, "Tomorrow," and with two dramatic influences on it--Ibsen's The Wild Duck and Gorky's The Lower Depths; and analyzes the characters' pipe dreams, especially that of Hickey, who proves to be the character "most imbued with illusions," and whose attempt "to annihilate tension between illusion and reality by killing the ideal the illusion is associated with" reveals that such an attempt is "inhuman.... It only increases misery and brings death." The essay shows The Iceman Cometh to be "a truth-seeking play of grotesque dissonance and tragic beauty." --Ed.]
A revised edition of Frederic I. Carpenter's Twayne volume, Eugene O'Neill, was published by G.K. Hall & Co. on March 20. The entire book, which includes Professor Carpenter's study of Hughie that appeared in the Newsletter's September 1978 issue (pp. 1-3), will be reported on in the next issue.
Philip G. Hill, "A New Look at Mary Cavan Tyrone," Southern Theatre, 21:1 (Winter 1977), 11-17. (Hill's study, reports Robert H. Wilcox, "emphasizes, with solid support, the weak and vindictive side of Mary Tyrone.")
"The Theatre We Worked For": The Correspondence of Kenneth Macgowan and Eugene O'Neill, edited by Travis Bogard and Jackson Bryer, will be published by Yale University Press.
Eugene O'Neill: A World View. This collection of critical essays, edited and introduced by Virginia Floyd, is scheduled for publication in October by the Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 250 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003. The contents of its three parts are the following:
Part I: A European Perspective.
Part II: An American Perspective.
Part III: Performers on O'Neill.
6. The December 6, 1978, performance of Ah, Wilderness!, directed by Allan Fletcher at the American Conservatory Theatre of San Francisco, was videotaped for inclusion in the Theatre on Film and Tape Collection of the New York Public Library's theatre archives at Lincoln Center. The aim of the collection, begun in 1970 and already containing more than 100 "study prints" of theatrical productions, is to establish "a permanent visual record for research and study purposes of plays and musicals in their ultimate creative form, alive and on stage." The 1975 production of the same play, directed by Arvin Brown at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, is also in the collection, which restricts replay for two years after taping and then makes the tapes available "to qualified theatre researchers, students and professionals" by written application. Persons interested in the project should write to Betty Corwin, Project Director, Theatre on Film and Tape Collection, Library and Museum of the Performing Arts, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, 111 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10023.
The Milwaukee Repertory Theater Company's half-hour television special, O'Neill: Two Families, which was seen in fourteen U.S. cities during the Company's Spring 1978 tour of Ah, Wilderness! and Long Day's Journey, is now available on 3/4" videocassette for use by O'Neill scholars and educational institutions. The production was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the video-cassette is priced at $80 per copy. The following is an MRTC description of the tape.
"O'Neill: Two Families is a unique exploration of [O'Neill's) early life. Filmed on location in New London, Connecticut, and in Milwaukee, it traces the MRTC's discovery of the nature of O'Neill as the Company prepares and presents fully-staged productions of his most autobiographical works, Long Day's Journey into Night and Ah, Wilderness! Set in the same New London cottage, both plays are drawn from the events of a single summer during the boyhood of Eugene O'Neill.
"By contrasting scenes from [both works], O'Neill: Two Families identifies key ideas which thread through numerous O'Neill plays. Once identified, these ideas are brought sharply into focus by inter-weaving a narrative of the playwright's own observations, combined with extensive use of historical photographs and present-day footage of the New London cottage and its environs, and scenes from both productions performed by members of the MRTC."
For more information, contact John Carter, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, 929 N. Water Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202. Tel. 414-273-7121.
8. Magee Hickey's misleadingly-titled UPI interview with Virginia Floyd, "New O'Neill Plays Found" (printed in The Boston Globe on January 4. 1979), describes the wealth of new material, if not "plays," now available to Professor Floyd as "the only scholar in the world allowed to study O'Neill's notebooks and sketches, which were bequeathed to Yale University after his death." Currently immersed in the Yale collection during a spring sabbatical, and undaunted by O'Neill's small and scribbled handwriting," she has discovered a fund of "diagrams with elaborate stage directions for all of his finished and unfinished plays"; more than a hundred jottings and ideas for unwritten plays; and three unfinished works, including a final play. The Last Conquest, that Professor Floyd believes "would have been his masterpiece." More on the research, and the plans for published results thereof, in a future issue.
9. Actor Warren Beatty writes, in a letter received by George McKinnon of the Boston Globe on March 6, "I am making a film about John Reed and Louise Bryant, and would appreciate contact with anyone who knew either of them." O'Neillians who wish to offer assistance, and perhaps find their anecdotes memorialized in celluloid, can write Mr. Beatty at Paramount Pictures Corporation, 5451 Marathon Street, Hollywood, CA 90038.
10. A Tao House update. On the basis of public meetings reported in previous issues of the Newsletter, the National Park Service is conducting a study of alternative access routes to Eugene O'Neill house in Danville, CA. Aerial topography of the historic site and all its approaches is now being prepared, and NPS engineers will shortly be conducting a field analysis of all alternatives, contemplating the impact on the natural environment and the effects on the surrounding neighborhoods. Interested persons can call Superintendent Doris Omundson, John Muir National Historic Site (tel. 415-228-3860) or Park Planner Ron Mortimore (tel. 415-556-6055)
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