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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. IX, No. 2
Summer-Fall, 1985


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IN THIS ISSUE)

NEWS, VIEWS, AND REVIEWS

1. RECENT AND FORTHCOMING O'NEILL PRODUCTIONS.

The Iceman Cometh, dir. Josť Quintero, with Jason Robards as Hickey, Donald Moffat as Larry Slade, and Barnard Hughes as Harry Hope. Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., August 10 - September 14, 1985. The production will subsequently move to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway, with previews beginning September 21 and the official opening on September 29. ((Tel. 212-575-9200.)

An illustrated review will appear in a future issue of the Newsletter. Critic David Richards praised the opening performance ("The 'Iceman' Soareth," Washington Post, August 12, pp. C1, 10), doubting that Robards could possibly have been better when he first essayed the role in 1956, but concluding that the last-act monologue would have been even more "riveting" if it had not been so obvious from the first that Hickey is "death's recruiting officer": "Robards has always had a 'hail fellow well met' heartiness. But here he doesn't quite seem to be doing his own cheerful bidding. With his striped suit, his bow tie and those wide ingenuous eyes, ... he looks like a ventriloquist's dummy. When he throws up his arms to get the party rolling, you wonder if someone isn't pulling the strings. His smile is pasty, skeletal even. He's got the mark of rot on him." Richards admired the "stunningly deceptive simplicity" of Ben Edwards' set and Quintero's "daringly formal" staging--a series of tableaux, effectively complemented by the lighting of Thomas Skelton, "an artful blend of chalky whites, early-morning grays and sunshine golds, filtered through an unwashed window, [that] enhance the production's Old Master texture." Any impatience he felt as the five-hour production unfolded was overcome by the depth of the characterization ("you get the impression that you are hearing more than characters talking: souls are crying out in torment and remorse"), and by the magnitude of O'Neill's achievement: "you never doubt that he is erecting an immense play. The grandeur of that edifice, fully unveiled, is worth the tribulations of the wait." --Ed.

Desire Under the Elms, dir. Warren Hammack. Horse Cave Theatre, Horse Cave, KY. In repertory, July 5 - August 25, 1985.

Long Day's Journey Into Night. New Day Repertory Company, Vassar Institute Theater, New Paltz, NY, August 21-24, 1985.

A Moon for the Misbegotten, dir. Martha Henry, with Clare Coulter and Michael Hogan in the leads. Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto. Opens October 8, as the first production of the Tarragon's 1985-86 season.

2. SEA PLAYS AT MONTE CRISTO. Autumn 1985 at the Monte Cristo Cottage will be devoted to O'Neill's sea plays--a series of Thursday evening readings of the early one-acts, each followed by a moderated discussion. The plays (and dates) are Moon of the Caribbees (Sept. 19), Bound East for Cardiff (Sept. 26), The Long Voyage Home (Oct. 3), In the Zone (Oct. 10), Ile (Oct. 24), Where the Cross Is Made (Nov. 7), and The Rope (Nov. 14), with an eighth evening (Dec. 5) devoted to a screening of the John Ford film, The Long Voyage Home. Moderators are Jess Adkins, Pace Univ.; Linda Herr, Connecticut College; Gitta Honegger, Yale Univ.; and Jordan Pecile, U.S. Coast Guard Academy. The readings will be by members of the community, and the sessions, all commencing at 7:30 p.m., are free and open to the public. The series, entitled "Enacting O'Neill," has been funded in part by the Connecticut Humanities Council and the Frank Loomis Palmer Fund. For information, write the Monte Cristo Cottage. 325 Pequot Avenue, New London, CT 06320, or call 203-443-0051.

3. A NOTE OF APPRECIATION (from Gary Vena, Professor of English, Manhattan College, August 12, 1985):

I found Steven F. Bloom's responses to Mary McCarthy ("Drinking and Drunkenness in The Iceman Cometh," Spring 1985 issue, pp. 3-11) engrossing and informative. For years I have questioned the validity of McCarthy's criticisms of the 1946 Theatre Guild production of Iceman, always finding it difficult to separate them from her usual life-long anti-O'Neill stand. Of the more than 50 New York area reviewers who covered the opening at the Martin Beck Theatre, however, McCarthy was one of the few who focused on such performance details as individual actors' handling of drunkenness. Professor Bloom's cogent analysis incorporates McCarthy's position, so further citation is unnecessary. Nevertheless one other reviewer also bothered to comment on this aspect of the performance, for Cue Magazine, the week of October 19, 1946, just
ten days after the premiere. In an observation that contrasted radically with McCarthy's, this reviewer--unnamed in the issue--thought the actors

as convincing as though they had just staggered out of a Bowery saloon. Under [Eddie] Dowling's notably sensitive manipulation, they sprawl across tables, spit fire and barbed cracks at each other and lift shaking glasses of whiskey to trembling lips in a manner that is starkly real.

As long as this anonymous document exists, I choose to believe that the actors who demonstrated intoxicated behaviors in behalf of their stage characters--including such notables as Dudley Digges, E.G. Marshall, Carl Benton Reid and Russell Collins--were "starkly real" in their vivid interpretations of O'Neill's material. Indeed it is unfortunate that McCarthy's controversial reputation has kept her negative response
preserved in anthologies, while the nameless Cue reviewer has disappeared. But who can really determine whether McCarthy was, at that time, more "accurate" than the reviewer for Cue? For a stage performance that was never filmed, one must consider every extant shred of documentation or evidence in reconstructing and evaluating what actually happened on stage. Thanks, Professor Bloom, for shedding newer light on this fascinating matter!

4. O'NEILL AT ATA '85. Two papers on works by O'Neill were presented during the 1985 Convention of the American Theatre Association in Toronto this August:

"Harnessing O'Neill's Furies: Philip Moeller Directs Dynamo," by Ronald H. Wainscott, Department of Theater Arts, Towson State University, Towson, MD: and "O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh," by William M. Hawley, Theatre Department, University of California, Santa Barbara.

The second comprised a survey of critical evaluations of Iceman. If the authors permit, their essays will appear in future issues of the Newsletter.

5 BIBLIOGRAPHIC ADDENDA. So heterogeneous was his dramatic oeuvre that few books on modern drama, whatever their subject, scope or point of view, fail to include extended comment on one or more of O'Neill's plays. Not all such general studies merit a full review in the Newsletter, but some deserve at least passing reference. One such is J. L. Styan's Modern Drama in Theory and Practice (Cambridge University Press, 1981, paperback 1983), two of whose three volumes will be of some interest to O'Neillians. Styan's commendable goal (commendable in theory at least) is to study representative modern works both as literary artifacts and as products of collaboration between playwrights and theatre artists--directors, designers, theatre companies and performers--who achieve the transformation of dramatic texts into living theatre, and
inevitably influence them in the process. The first volume, Realism and Naturalism, devotes about three pages to O'Neill, whose "natural style" (p. 133), a "mode of realism, intense and obsessed" (p. 135), came only in his last plays, after he had overcome the twenty-year influence of two eclectic and avant-garde colleagues, Kenneth Macgowan and Robert Edmond Jones. O'Neill is excluded from the second volume, Symbolism, Surrealism and the Absurd, but reemerges in the third, Expressionism and Epic Theatre, with a chapter of his own (pp. 97-111), where Jones's influence is more fully elaborated, O'Neill's experimentation with masks is treated, and Styan makes extended comment about The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape, and (more briefly) All God's Chillun Got Wings, The Great God Brown, Lazarus Laughed and Mourning Becomes Electra. The influence of European expressionists, especially Georg Kaiser, is noted, but nowhere in Styan's treatments of O'Neill do the references to productions and performers add anything more than a perfunctory theatre-history documentation to the discussion. To one O'Neillian, at least, the trilogy is disappointing. And an expensive one as well. Between the preface and the "table of events in the theatre" which are repeated in each volume, the combined page total is 542. At $88.50 for the hardbound set ($29.85 in paperback), one has a right to expect more, not just in length but in depth.

Similarly encyclopedic, but happily more limited in scope, is Susan Harris Smith's Masks in Modern Drama (University of California Press, 1984; xi + 237 pp.; $27 cloth; ISBN 0-520-05095-9). Her book, too, studies both drama and theatre, since the mask serves a dual function "as a metaphor in the text and as a device on the stage" (p. 1). Since face masks have figured in about 225 plays from Jarry's Ubu Roi (1896) to the present, Smith has a great deal to cover, and there are times when one hears the relentless shuffle of note cards; but this is less and less the case as the book proceeds and the study has much to recommend it. One is its thematic rather than chronological approach: separate treatments of the various uses made of masks in modern theatre--satiric, ritual, psychological and social--all united at the end in a chronological list of "selected plays" and productions (357 of them, including eight by O'Neill) from 1836 to 1983. Not surprisingly, O'Neill appears repeatedly throughout the book, his protean imagination earning him coverage in each of the thematic divisions. There are valuable discussions of The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape, Lazarus Laughed, The Ancient Mariner, All God's Chillun, Days Without End, The Fountain, and, of course, The Great God Brown, whose deficiencies in performance Smith makes clear by comparing it unfavorably with another play that makes a similar use of "protective masking"--Brecht's Good Person of Szechwan (pp. 137-138). That use of contrast is indicative of one of Smith's greatest gifts--the ability to trace influences and affinities, many of which have not (to my knowledge) been discerned before. She is not the first to suggest the probable influence of Alice Gerstenberg's Overtones (1913) on O'Neill's subsequent use of masks; but she may be the first to detect an O'Neill influence on Jerzy Grotowski, whose Akropolis (1962) is "remarkably similar in essence to O'Neill's Lazarus Laughed" (p. 85). Such leaps and sparks make the book exciting, and Smith is more effective than Styan in using production history to illuminate texts (e.g., her coverage of the 1924-25 Russian production of The Hairy Ape on p. 29). Smith omits my favorite use of a mask (albeit an imagined one) on the modern stage--Marcel Marceau's little pantomime parable, "The Mask Maker," in which the silent protagonist, after trying on a variety of his wares, gets trapped behind a wildly smiling one and is suffocated to the accompaniment of a grotesque grin. But another work of Marceau's is discussed, O'Neill is analyzed revealingly, and Smith has produced a book that not only treats exhaustively its specific subject but reverberates meaningfully in many other areas as well. --FCW.

6. CENTENNIAL PLANS: A REQUEST FOR INFORMATION. Sunday, October 16, 1988, will mark the hundredth anniversary of Eugene O'Neill's birth in New York City, and the entire year is sure to be filled with O'Neill-related activities. For instance, plans are under way for extensive O'Neill celebrations at Florida State University and at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut. (Unfortunately I am not yet permitted to divulge any details.) Mary Henderson, Curator of the Museum of the City of New York, is preparing an O'Neill centennial exhibition that will open at the Museum on October 16, 1987, and will tour thereafter. And an international O'Neill-Strindberg symposium is being readied for 1988 at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. These are but a few of the plans now in the works that O'Neillians are eager to learn about. The editor asks that all such planners share their intentions with the Newsletter's readers. A special Centennial section will be featured in future issues as often as there is sufficient material to justify one. The Newsletter welcomes the opportunity to serve as a clearing house for centennial news, and the sooner the news is forthcoming, the less danger there will be of duplicated efforts and timing conflicts. Please send everything, from utopian whim to funded certainty. Working together, we can make 1988 the annus mirabilis that O'Neill deserves. --Ed.

7. UPCOMING: A CALENDAR OF EVENTS

  • Wednesday, October 16, 1985: 97th anniversary of O'Neill's birth.

  • Friday, December 28, 1985: Special Session on O'Neill at the Modern Language Association convention in Chicago. (See this issue's O'Neill Society Section for hour and speakers.)

  • Friday, April 4, 1986: O'Neill session ("O'Neill's Women: Biography as Theatre") at the Northeast Modern Language Association convention in New Brunswick, NJ. Papers are still welcomed for consideration. Send them to session chair Ellen Kimbel, 244 Meeting House Lane, Merion, PA 19066. (See item 6 on p. 54 of the Spring 1985 issue for more details.)

  • Thursday, May 29 - Sunday, June 1, 1986: International conference on "Eugene O'Neill--the Later Years," at Suffolk University, Boston, MA. (See p. 2 for more information.)

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