REVIEWS, REPRINTS AND ABSTRACTS
1. Susan Tuck, "O'Neill and Faulkner: Their Kindred Imaginations."
[While not technically a reprint or abstract, because it is a report of work still in progress, Ms. Tuck's description of her dissertation (Indiana University; projected date of completion: September, 1981) seemed sufficiently significant and meritorious to present immediately, as a foretaste of a valuable study that many will wish to consult in future years. Seldom, except in Peter Egri's comparative studies of O'Neill and Chekhov and John Henry Raleigh's study of O'Neill's place in the wider context of American literature (in The Plays of Eugene O'Neill, Chapter 5), has O'Neill's work been compared to that of non-dramatic writers. As Ms. Tuck notes, "novelists tend to be compared to novelists, dramatists to dramatists. I propose to deal with the manner in which the work of Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953) and William Faulkner (1897-1962) has significant similarities in themes, characterization, and technique." --Ed.]
O'Neill and Faulkner are remarkably similar, personally as well as artistically. Both were almost pathologically shy and withdrawn men who periodically sought oblivion in alcohol. Shunning celebrities, they were most comfortable with "common folk," Faulkner with hard-drinking hunting buddies in Mississippi, O'Neill with hard-drinking sailors or dissipated would-be poets in New York City's various hell-holes. As Dorothy Commins, the widow of Saxe Commins--editor and trusted friend of both Faulkner and O'Neill--commented in a letter to me (June 25, 1980), "both these men guarded their privacy--as few men I know in literature." Perhaps their common shyness is the reason that they (apparently) never met, even though they had several mutual friends.
Of course, Faulkner and O'Neill need not have met to have been aware of each other's writing. That Faulkner was familiar with O'Neill's work is easily verified. In the early twenties, the fledgling novelist wrote, for The Mississippian, a review of O'Neill's Gold and Moon of the Caribbees as well as a short article on American drama; and the Faulkner library at Rowan Oak contains a copy of O'Neill's Nine Plays. O'Neill's knowledge of Faulkner is more difficult to ascertain. No mention of the novelist is made in the playwright's letters (Beinecke Library, Yale University), nor are there copies of Faulkner's books in the O'Neill collection at C.W. Post Centre of Long Island University. However, Arthur Gelb, O'Neill's biographer, commented in a letter to me (June 25, 1980), "[Saxe Commins] told me many times about conversations he had had with O'Neill about Faulkner, and Faulkner about O'Neill, but I don't think he ever managed to bring them together."
Whether O'Neill and Faulkner influenced each other can be debated; whether their thematic concerns are similar cannot be doubted. Both authors show man as victim, not necessarily of a hostile society or of an indifferent nature, but of himself and of his past. Characters are often divided, split between dreams and reality, between the desired and the possible. In both writers' work, man struggles for self-knowledge--for Truth--only to find that Truth is but an infinite variety of truths. Often what self-knowledge the characters are able to attain is too great to bear: Hickey (The Iceman Cometh) hastens to retract calling his beloved Evelyn a damned bitch in the same desperate tones that Quentin denies hating the South at the conclusion of Absalom, Absalom! Both artists explore man's limitations and incapacities yet convey a grandeur about the human race, a sense that somehow mankind will not only endure but prevail.
Each wrote unceasingly about man's need to belong; The Hairy Ape and Go Down, Moses depict man's struggle to find a place in a world that is becoming increasingly fragmented. O'Neill and Faulkner saw the Black as especially cut off, a victim not only of an uncaring world but of his very color. All God's Chillun Got Wings and Light in August deal with black men who have relationships with white women, yet the plight of the individual characters is transcended and the authors express the sense of isolation that is the universal condition of mankind. Both writers sought belief in a world without God, O'Neill in Lazarus Laughed and Dynamo, Faulkner in A Fable. Both retreated into their childhoods to find the happiness and security that was lacking in their adult lives, O'Neill in Ah, Wilderness! and Faulkner in The Reivers. Often their characters retreat into the past, ignoring the present in an attempt to retrieve meaning for their lives: Cornelius Melody (A Touch of the Poet) or old Bayard (Flags in the Dust). Often, however, men cannot escape the events of the past, and history becomes a nightmare from which they try to awake. Mourning Becomes Electra and Absalom, Absalom! show that the past is a web that traps generation after generation. As one Faulkner character comments, "The past is never dead. It's not even past" (Requiem for a Nun [1951; rpt. New York: Random House/Vintage, 1975], p. 80).
In characterization, too, the writers are similar. Often the female is accorded a larger-than-life, almost mythic status: Lena Grove, that pregnant but still unravished bride of Light in August, and Eula Varner, the "primal uterus" of The Hamlet, share many attributes with Cybel, the sacred cow of The Great God Brown or the virgin/whore Josie Hogan in Moon for the Misbegotten. The belle dame Temple Drake (Sanctuary; Requiem for a Nun) and the lamia-like Nina Leeds in Strange Interlude tower over their men, making them seem inferior, incomplete. Eben's mother in Desire Under the Elms and Addie Bundren in As I Lay Dying are both dead, yet they continue to exert a powerful force on their children. Women in Faulkner's and O'Neill's writing often seem to know more than their male counterparts, often seem to be stronger in their capacity for creation or destruction. And, as we see in The Sound and the Fury and Long Day's Journey into Night, their capacity for destruction is very great indeed.
Faulkner's and O'Neill's males are often Romantic dreamers, doomed characters with the fatal flaw of self-consciousness: young Bayard (Flags in the Dust) and Darl (As I Lay Dying); Robert Mayo (Beyond the Horizon) and Dion Anthony (The Great God Brown). We think of Quentin Compson and Edmund Tyrone, both half in love with easeful death, moving Hamlet-like in a seemingly unfathomable world. Contrasting with these loath-to-act types are such materialists as the infamous Snopeses (The Hamlet; The Town; The Mansion), Januarius Jones (Soldiers' Pay), and Jason (The Sound and the Fury); Marco (Marco Millions), Billy Brown (The Great God Brown), Andrew Mayo (Beyond the Horizon), and Jamie (Long Day's Journey into Night).
Both authors are also inconoclasts of technique. O'Neill's innovations include the pulsing tom-toms of The Emperor Jones, the automata figures in The Hairy Ape, and the use of masks to indicate the splitting of personality in The Great God Brown, Days Without End, and Lazarus Laughed. The contrapuntal technique in The Wild Palms, the seemingly endless circularity of Absalom, Absalom!, the constant time shifts in Sanctuary, and the point of view in The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying are as experimental as O'Neill's use of the "spoken thought" device in Strange Interlude and Dynamo, the plastic dome in The Emperor Jones, and the exterior/interior stage setting device of Desire Under the Elms.
Finally, both O'Neill and Faulkner are epic writers who strive for an all-encompassing completeness. O'Neill wrote several massive plays: Strange Interlude, Mourning Becomes Electra and The Iceman Cometh ask a great deal of their audiences in sheer viewing time. The dramatist was attracted to cycle plays because that form conveys a sense of unity; his early sea plays are part of a cycle, as are A Touch of the Poet and More Stately Mansions. Similarly, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! are most effective when read together, as are Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun, and the Snopes trilogy. Yoknapatawpha, the setting for many of the novelist's books, adds to the sense of unity in Faulkner's fiction because it provides a common milieu.
2. Harvey Sabinson, "A Coronet for O'Neill," Theatregoers' Guide (advertising supplement to the New York Times, Sept. 7, 1980), pp. 12-17.
In this excerpt from his book, Darling, You Were Wonderful, Mr. Sabinson, a theatrical press agent from the 1940's until 1976, recounts the trepidation with which he and client Lester Osterman, who had recently purchased the Coronet Theatre on West 49th Street, approached Carlotta Monterey O'Neill to request permission to rename the playhouse in honor of her late husband. (Their August, 1959 visit to her apartment in the Carlton House had been arranged by a mutual friend, Jose Quintero.) The excerpt records her remarks during an hour's monologue between first turning down their proposal ("Gene would never approve of having a Broadway theatre named for him. If it had been an Off-Broadway theatre ... that would be different") and ultimately agreeing to the suggestion and thanking her guests for making it.
It was Carlotta's reputation as "a woman with a short fuse" that had aroused the men's trepidation:
But her graciousness disarmed
them, as did her beauty: that part of the Carlotta
a. About a framed letter, one of a number in the entrance hallway, that had attracted Mr. Sabinson's attention: "it's an apology from Gene after he had signed a petition committing me to a state mental hospital in Massachusetts. They made him say that I was incapable of taking care of myself. He didn't know what he was doing. After all, he was in a hospital too, at the time, suffering from that broken leg. Afterwards, he was sorry.... Most of these letters ... are letters of apology. Like so many sensitive people he was capable of extreme cruelty. He could be loving at one moment and hateful at the next."
b. About her 1956 release of Long Day's Journey: "You know, it's simply not true that Gene wanted publication and production ... held up for twenty-five years after his death. He'd been persuaded to do so by Eugene, Jr., who had some personal reason. After Eugene's suicide in 1950, there seemed to be no logic in withholding its release. Before he died, Gene told me that he no longer wished it to be withheld."
c. About the nadir of their twenty-four-year marriage: "The worst time was Marblehead. Gene always wanted to live by the sea. He loved the sea. We didn't have much money, and I paid for it out of a small account I had. He was so ill, and at times it made him violent. We had terrible disagreements, and on several occasions he struck me. Then he would suffer great remorse and write these letters asking my forgiveness."
d. About their destruction of unfinished manuscripts: "You know, I've received a great deal of criticism for helping him destroy six unproduced plays after we had moved into that hotel in Boston. He knew he didn't have long to live and would never be able to finish them. We tore them up, bit by bit. It was as if we were killing our own children."
As Mr. Sabinson admits, nothing revealed on that "humid night early in August" of 1959 is new or startling in 1980--"but it seemed remarkable hearing it from one of the players in this tragic drama." One hopes that Eugene O'Neill will not suffer the same fate as nineteenth-century actor Edwin Forrest, whose name the same theatre had originally borne before becoming the Coronet in the late 1940's. Whether it fortifies that hope or not, it is interesting to note that the current owner of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre is a fellow playwright, Neil Simon. --Ed.
3. "Before Breakfast" as Opera.
An operatic adaptation of O'Neill's harrowing one-act monodrama, "Before Breakfast," had its premiere, as part of a triple bill collectively entitled An American Trilogy, at the New York City Opera on October 9, 1980. This report of the production and its critical reception is derived from the following articles and reviews, to which subsequent parenthetical citations refer:
With a set by Lloyd Evans, which Kerner saluted as "grubbily realistic" (p. 78), and performed by soprano Marilyn Zschau, whom Gerald Clarke applauded as "generally impressive" despite enunciation problems (pp. 86, 88), the opera itself received less than enthusiastic notices, the main exception being Clarke, who found it "an intense work, musically as well as dramatically, [of which] both the composer and the singer made the most" (p. 86). Otherwise, negative criticism predominated, and was fairly evenly divided between score and libretto.
Of the music of Thomas Pasatieri (who, at 34, has composed sixteen operas and is in his first season as artistic director of the Atlanta Opera), there was general agreement that it was derivative, the only disagreements concerning of whom--Menotti (Clarke, p. 86; Kerner, p. 78; Porter, p. 164: "worthless sub-Menotti stuff") or Puccini. Donal Henahan batted on both teams, calling it "neo-Menottian" in his first review (Henahan 1) and "post-Puccinian" in his second (Henahan 2, p. 23). The composer, in an interview before the opening, described the score as "real low-life American verismo" highlighted by "some very juicy tunes" (Davis, p. 23). Unfortunately, both qualities aroused disapproval, one critic dismissing the "verismo" component as "conservative," mere "bits and pieces ... out of the operatic warehouse" (Sandow, pp. 45, 48), and another noting that one of the "juicy tunes" was not by Mr. Pasatieri [Kerner identifies it as Jimmy McHugh's and Dorothy Fields' "Freeze and Melt"] and that both of them--"a Duke Ellington record and a honky-tonk piano which plays a nostalgic waltz"--served only to "upstage" the remainder of the score (O'Connor). In Kerner's words (p. 78), the Duke Ellington arrangement of the aforementioned "Freeze and Melt" "put Pasatieri's stuff on an even more awkward footing."
Frank Corsaro, who also directed, provided the libretto, which moved the story to the 1930's and added one bit of exposition that the composer described in his New York Times interview: "Frank ... got the idea of making the woman a former marathon dancer. That was her one moment of glory, and after that everything for her has gone steadily downhill.... She is harsh and coarse and cruel to her husband, but we must understand what drove her to this" (Davis, p. 23). While the resultant libretto offered the performer "the opportunity to play at getting drunk on gin, to scream at an offstage husband, to shimmy around in her underwear to a Duke Ellington arrangement on the record player and, finally, to regress into infantile shock" (Henahan 1), it was generally scorned as a "stagy confection" (Porter, p. 164) that succeeded only in "expanding and sentimentalizing the O'Neill original" (Kerner, p. 78).
Clark's review in Time contains the fullest synopsis of the whole (p. 86):
The opera had been commissioned by the National Endowment for the Humanities, in 1976, as a television vehicle for Beverly Sills; but Miss Sills, the composer explains, "decided to retire before I had finished the music" (Davis, p. 23). A wise move. If Donal Henahan is just in dismissing the operatic "Before Breakfast" as "a musically inane and theatrically blunt instrument" (Henahan 1), we and Miss Sills may be lucky that it didn't get to her in time. --Ed.
4. Paul Kresh, "The Actor's Art Captured on Disks," The New York Times (February 19, 1980), Section II, pp. 35, 42. [Mr. Kresh's terse assessment of drama on phonograph records includes, on the first of its two pages, the following helpful survey of the currently available recordings of O'Neill plays. --Ed.]
"For a writer with an essentially tin ear, O'Neill unaccountably could sear the soul with the power of-his language, and it is possible to take his earlier solemn, symbolical studies and technical experiments more seriously on records than it is in the theater. The Caedmon productions are superb. Richard Miller is the young O'Neill spending an idyllic July Fourth in the idyllic year 1906, discovering life and love in a small Connecticut town in Ah, Wilderness! (TRS 340 c). James Earl Jones plays the pullman porter who works his way up to the rank of emperor on a West Indian island in The Emperor Jones (TRS 341 c). Theodore Mann directs both these plays, as well as A Moon for the Misbegotten, in which Salome Jens is the prostitute Josie who joins Mitchell Ryan as James Tyrone, Jr. (the fictional counterpart of the playwright's older brother Jamie) on the route to self-destruction (TRS 333 c). Jose Quintero once started to record the complete O'Neill oeuvre for Columbia, and one of his efforts has survived on the Caedmon label--More Stately Mansions, an unfinished play about the rivalry between a practical wife and a dreamy mother for the love of a New England scholar, with Ingrid Bergman as the mother, Colleen Dewhurst as the wife and Arthur Hill as the husband who gives up books for big business (TRS 333 c). Quintero's version of Strange Interlude, the story of Nina Leeds and the three men in her life, does wonders with the famous O'Neill asides which come off much better on disks than on the stage, and the cast includes Betty Field, Jane Fonda, Ben Gazzarra, Pat Hingle, Geraldine Page, Franchot Tone--an all-star roll-call if there ever was one, but the album is hard to come by (Columbia 688). The Iceman Cometh, the play about what happens to failures and outcasts when their illusions are shattered, is available only through the American Film Theater movie sound track, with outstanding performances by Robert Ryan and Frederic March, but the key role of Hickey, the illusion-shatterer, is badly muffed by Lee Marvin (TRS 359 c). Another great Ryan performance distinguishes Arvin Brown's treatment of Long Day's Journey Into Night, the story of five living ghosts haunting their houses and each other, written "in tears and blood" out of the playwright's memories of tragic days in the history of his family, and performed to perfection by Stacey Keach, Geraldine Fitzgerald, James Naughton and Paddy Croft (TRS 350 c). There is also an American Shakespeare Festival production of Mourning Becomes Electra, with the Greek idea of Fate translated into Freudian terms and a change of venue to a small New England town at the close of the Civil War, excellently done by a cast that includes Jane Alexander, Lee Richardson, Sada Thompson, Robert Stattel and Gene Nye, under Michael Kahn's intense direction (Caedman TRS 345 c).
[I'm sure that Jason Robards once recorded his incisive performance of Hughie, and would be grateful if anyone can tell me what record company produced it and whether it is still available. Mr. Kersh also omits a marvelous solo recording by Robards of scenes from a number of the plays, featuring, as side two, a searing reading of Hickey's monologue in the last act of The Iceman Cometh: "Dramatic Readings from Eugene O'Neill" (Columbia Records Collectors' Series, AOL 5900). The first side includes speeches by Jamie in Long Day's Journey, Jim in A Moon for the Misbegotten, and Paddy in The Hairy Ape. --Ed.]
5 Ronald Hayman, "The Iceman Cometh," Plays and Players (March 1980), p. 23. A review of the National Theatre production at the Cottesloe Theatre, London, directed by Bill Bryden.
Mr. Hayman approved of director Bryden's "great respect" for the play's length (with intermissions, the production ran five hours and twenty minutes), but was displeased at his lack of respect for its breadth, as reflected in the shallowness of the playing area: "O'Neill asks for the tables to be arranged in three rows; Bryden puts them all in one long line so the curtain goes up on an implausible frieze of recumbent bodies slouched in alcoholic stuper"--a straight line formation that "makes it almost impossible for actors to make eye contact with each other, and, more important, makes it equally difficult for them to show that the characters mostly don't want eye contact. So we're aware neither of their interaction nor of their isolation."
The production's other faults were (1) a "lack of sharpness in focus" (Hayman suggests staging the play in the round as a solution to the problem, evidently unsolved at the Cottesloe, "of focusing the audience's attention away from the silent alcoholics when they aren't listening and apportioning it when they are"); (2) a "lack of sharpness in articulation" (the "mixture of New York slang with educated rhetoric and foreign idiom" proved troublesome to "an Anglo-Irish cast"); and (3) one disastrous bit of casting. Jack Shepherd, the production's Hickey, lacked, according to Hayman, "not only the charm and the exuberance and the emotional range but also the vocal incisiveness for the long monologues. It's essential to the plot that his persuasiveness is irresistible to the drunks, who muster all the little resolution they still have in a last ditch effort at adjusting to reality; Jack Shepherd's pep-talk would have been no more effective than halibut liver oil, and no more appetising." Highest praise went to Tony Haygarth (Hugo Kalmar), who "lurched believably from drunken supinity to animation, and then back again"; and to Niall Toibin (Larry Slade), who made "every word tell, and made his silences equally meaningful, listening intently, sustaining both wary alertness and vulnerability through all his attempts to erect barricades against the onslaughts on his sensitivity, the appeals for sympathy or condemnation."
6. Hugh Leonard, "Can a Playwright Truly Depict Himself?", New York Times (November 23, 1980), Section II, pp. 5, 26.
"Perhaps," writes Mr. Leonard, author of Da and A Life, "it is time to throw quotation marks about the term autobiographical drama. Invariably, it shows its subject as the unfocused still center of the storm about him. The author is prepared to confront his past, but not himself." Agreeing with British historian Philip Guedalla that "autobiography is an unrivaled vehicle for telling the truth about other people," Leonard adds that it is also as a felicitous vehicle "for telling lies about oneself."
His primary example, aside from Williams's Glass Menagerie, is Long Day's Journey Into Night, which he calls "undoubtedly the best autobiographical play ever written [and] also one of the least reliable." He describes the play as "a confessional in which the playwright, as priest, hears his family's sins and pronounces absolution." But is the priest himself blameless? In the play he is, but in real life he was not, as Mr. Leonard shows in a comparison of the four Tyrones and their factual models. So the play, as a vehicle in which "Eugene is unjustly accused, confronts the real criminals and attains vindication," corroborates Leonard's addition to Guedalla's remark: Long Day's Journey, as autobiography, abounds in personal untruths.
"Why," he asks, "did O'Neill falsely arraign his dead parents and brother and then 'forgive' them for their non-existent betrayal of himself? The answer, I suspect, lies in his own almost pathological inability to accept guilt.... It was a feat that became a pattern throughout his life." Whenever a tragic event occurred, "or when there was no one but himself to blame, he spoke of the curse of the O'Neills."
Mr. Leonard's point is a challenging one, though he exonerates the playwright from conscious duplicity: "O'Neill was never a liar. He willed himself to believe that he was a man dogged by malevolent fate: the same fate that doomed his characters."
7. Long Day's Journey Into Night, dir. Robin Phillips. Avon Stage, Stratford Festival, Ontario, October 1980.
This will be more a reverie and appreciation than a review--more the report of an old ember rekindled. I've always felt a special attachment to Long Day's Journey, having sat in the front row center (for the then top weeknight price of $4.40) at the play's first American performance, which, Manhattan theater annals notwithstanding, took place at Boston's Wilbur Theatre on October 15, 1956, on the eve of the 68th anniversary of O'Neill's birth. Cyrus Durgin, reviewing the premiere in the Boston Globe the next morning, recorded the exultant response of all who had been in attendance: "At the final curtain the house rang with cheers--something almost unheard of in a Boston theater in this reviewer's time.... In years of many striking performances, I have experienced no acting which so sears the heart."
Never to be re-experienced was the sheer visceral impact of confronting the play "cold," without having read, reread, studied, pondered and taught it. There's much to be said, as I often tell students, for reading a script in advance of a production; and for reading criticism as well. But there are times when one benefits from an immediate, head-on collision with a work of dramatic stature; and the interaction of Frederic March, Florence Eldridge, Jason Robards and Bradford Dillman, under the perceptive guiding spirit of the playwright's words and Quintero's direction, was a literally stunning experience that turned one first row youth into a lifelong acolyte of O'Neill.
Can such a moment ever be recaptured? Can the experienced eye be as affected as the "innocent" one had been? Can one, for instance, reenter such an epiphanic moment by poring through the critical studies that the play has since churned up in the academic world? Assuredly not; for wisdom, though obviously of value, is a different sensation than enlightenment; and how quickly the light fades in human memory. It is only in the theater, if anywhere, that such illumination (or reillumination) can be gained.
So I have searched in playhouses for a production that would equal, or at least approach, that ecstatically right first one. A second Boston production, in 1977, suffered from imbalance--despite Michael Kahn's sensitive direction and the electrifying Jamie of Len Cariou--because Jose Ferrer's James was too shufflingly moribund and Kate Reid's Mary too nastily acidic for one to feel the appropriate blend of scorn and pity for either of them. There are textual justifications for both portrayals--James is at times a broken man, and Mary is at times accusatorially vindictive--but in each case only part of the portrait was realized. A Brooklyn production in 1976--ironically featuring Jason Robards as director and in the role of James, Sr., and nowhere near as effective as he had been as that progenitor's alcoholic firstborn--had a luminous Mary in Zoe Caldwell, and an underpowered but lurchingly passable Jamie in Kevin Conway; but the miscasting of Robards was detrimental, and Michael Moriarty's Edmund, while looking and acting eminently qualified for admission to a sanatorium, offered no intimations at all that he would ever reemerge from it. Moriarty was winningly sweet, but showed none of the stubborn reserve of power that Edmund must demonstrate if we are to realize that, of the four, he alone has a future and that the harrowing day is, for him, a journey into light. The 1977 Milwaukee Rep production, performed in tandem with Ah, Wilderness!--while showing the relation between the two plays because the same actors played father, mother and younger son, and a fourth doubled as Jamie and Uncle Sid--lacked the inspired acting that is required to turn a domestic tragedy into a universal one.
My most recent attempt at relighting that old flame was far more successful than any of the previous three. If there's ever to be a production to equal that first North American one, this was it. (Sadly, it was the last production to be directed at Stratford by Robin Phillips, who has resigned as Artistic Director and severed all ties with the Festival, leaving behind a six-year legacy of productions that were the finest this reviewer has ever seen.) Phillips' hallmark has always been a scrupulous attention to a playwright's words, and his 3½-hour Long Day's Journey continued that admirable fidelity to text. Every line was clear and was delivered with persuasive vocal coloration and gesture. Even if an occasional line-reading sounded a bit too studied to be believably spontaneous--like James's pause between "any place you like" and "within reason" in Act Four, when he is trying, and failing, to overcome his deep-engrained penuriousness and let Edmund choose whatever sanatorium he wishes--the production suffered not at all, and such moments were extremely few.
Susan Benson's spacious set of light stained wood and wicker furniture looked appropriately unhomey as a summer residence, giving credence to Mary's having "never felt it was my home." The few gemutlich touches--a lace tablecloth and a fringed lampshade for the chandelier--were effaced by the window seat piled with scattered magazines and tennis rackets, and totally overpowered by the large stage-left windows, whose nakedness was coldly accented by the bare, ringed curtain rods above them. The lower steps of the stairway to the second floor were visible in the hallway beyond the upstage doorway at stage-right--an appropriate visibility, considering how large those stairs loom in the minds of all four family members. Except for that touch, and the placement of Mary's piano upstairs, so that she descended after playing instead of before, there were no major departures from O'Neill's opening set description.
Michael J. Whitefield's atmospheric lighting traced, with subtle, almost imperceptible gradations, the arc of day into evening, ending each of the three acts (the first three scenes were played without intermission) with an effective tableau as the lights fade to darkness. Let the first act-ending (after Act Two, Scene Two) serve as an example. Before the curtain falls, Mary, with her back to the audience, says "Goodbye"--not before (as O'Neill has it) but just as the screen door slams. Then she turns slowly front, and the light around her fades into engulfing darkness as she delivers her concluding lines. This is, of course, only what the script demands, but every element was done to aching perfection.
The use of non-vocal sound was similarly effective. Each scene began with piano music of Chopin (a melancholy waltz at the start): this was the first performance in which I recall hearing the offstage hedge clippers and automobiles; and Mary's upstairs attempt at a Chopin prelude before her last entrance was wistfully and pathetically inept.
Jessica Tandy captured every nuance of Mary's complex personality: the deep and lasting love for James that she frequently hides; the glow of delight when she remembers tier past in recounting it to Cathleen; the persistent, obsessive rubbing of hands that at other moments are hysterically birdlike, fluttering to brow, cheek, chin and hair; the ominous, more-than-housework meaning in early lines such as "I can't stay with you any longer" in the first scene; and the "strange undercurrent of revengefulness," balanced by an even stronger undercurrent of hurt, when she says to Edmund, later in the same scene, "It would serve all of you right if it was true!" (Kate Reid's delivery had caught the venom; Ms. Tandy's added the pain.) Unforgettable too were the agonized pauses in the last sentence of her Act Two, Scene One speech about "the things life has done to us," which captured the depths of a soul in torment: "at last everything--comes between you and what you'd--like to be, and you've--lost--your--true self--forever." (How inadequate mere dashes are to convey the intense meaning of the broken delivery.)
The Jamie of gravel-voiced Graeme Campbell, after an excessive speed and crispness in the first-act verbal duel with his father, was fully effective, especially in his second-scene hysteria at learning of Mary's return upstairs; in the comic bottle incident with James (rather than following O'Neill's suggestion that he pour himself "a big drink" after James has said, "It'd be a waste of breath mentioning moderation to you," he daintily pours a miniscule nip and holds the near-empty glass with elegant delicacy); and in a particularly effective placement--splayed against the wall beyond the stage-left windows--when he begins his confession of "warning" to Edmund.
William Hutt, that finest and most versatile of Stratford veterans (who returned to the Avon stage less than three hours later as the fool to Peter Ustinov's Lear), was a subdued but moving James Tyrone, fully in keeping with O'Neill's initial description of the man. A slight, intermittent hint of brogue suggested "his humble beginnings and his Irish farmer forebears," while a rich resonance at more serious moments conveyed, along with his commanding presence, "the stamp of his profession." The interpersonal tensions were evident from the first scene, when he spat out his disgust at Jamie but addressed Mary with pitying tenderness. The parents' most moving moment was in the third scene: James's quiet "For the love of God, ... won't you stop now?" and Mary's equally soft response, broken briefly by a pose of affronted incomprehension, and then reemerging with "James! We've loved each other! We always will! Let's remember only that, and not try to understand what we cannot understand...." (Sometimes an exclamation point is a signal of intensity of feeling and sincerity, not of increased volume!) At the start of the last act, playing solitaire in near-darkness, and at the very end of the play, when, after Mary's final line, he slowly turns a defeated head in her direction, Mr. Hutt's James was exactly the broken man O'Neill had described.
Despite these three exemplary performances, it was Brent Carver's Edmund that did the most to make the Stratford Journey a memorable experience and provided a corrective to my memories of his flaccid predecessors in the role. This Edmund certainly had the "parched sallowness" of "bad health"--he was pale and thin, with a springy walk, a sensitive smile, an angular, gawky sincerity, and a touching delicacy. But he also had the spunk and the considerable reserves of strength necessary to see him through his present personal and familial difficulties. Carver's three best moments were in duets with his parents: in Act Two, Scene Two, his tearful plea, "Mama! Don't!", after Mary's "casual" reference to revisiting the drugstore; in the third act, his screamed taunt--"It's pretty hard to take at times, having a dope fiend for a mother!"--which is a partly-Jamie-influenced reaction to her shouted lines to him immediately before; and his last-act scene with his father, when he "provocatively" recites Dowson and Baudelaire with a skill that equals the old man's, and builds slowly in temperature and volume from mild scorn to a fist-slamming, harrowing scream at "you stinking old miser--!" Mr. Carver, in his spectacular first season at Stratford, brought roundness and believability to, and aroused hope for, the filial eye at the center of the Tyrone family hurricane.
The few scattered details here recorded convey little of the total, overwhelming power of the 1980 Stratford Festival production; but this has been less a traditional, formal review than a personal reminiscence of twenty-four years of Long Day's Journeying. I approach the play's second quarter-century on the boards with eagerness and, thanks to Robin Phillips and the splendid Stratford cast, with renewed confidence in its towering greatness.
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