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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. V, No. 1
Spring, 1981


(IN THIS ISSUE)

THE EUGENE O'NEILL SOCIETY SECTION: MLA '80, MINUTES OF ANNUAL MEETING, ETC.

1. MLA Special Session on Eugene O'Neill, Houston, December 27, 1980: report by Paul D. Voelker.

"Eugene O'Neill and Music" was the subject of the Special Session on O'Neill at the MLA Convention in Houston last December. In the absence of session director Thomas Marshall, Program Committee Chairman of the O'Neill Society (due to the vagaries of a much-delayed plane), Winifred Frazer, Vice President and a member of the committee, presided.

The session began with Prof. Travis Bogard's reading of a paper entitled, "Eugene O'Neill as a Singing Bird." Prof. Bogard began by citing three biographical notes--a program of recorded classical music arranged by Carlotta O'Neill at Tao House for her husband; O'Neill's own long-standing delight in his mechanical piano, "Rosie"; and O'Neill's personal record collection at Tao House, which included a variety of musical styles, among them, Calypso, Tahitian, and Jazz. Prof. Bogard further noted that O'Neill made wide and varied uses of music in his plays although, in his day, music was not ordinarily used in "straight" plays, but was rather a decadent holdover from nineteenth-century melodrama. Further, in O'Neill's day (as today) music in the theatre was affected by requirements of the musicians' union.

Prof. Bogard then proceeded to detailed historical accounts of the music composed especially for particular O'Neill plays--The Fountain, Desire Under the Elms, and the two plays with O'Neill's most elaborate musical requirements, Lazarus Laughed and, especially, Marco Millions. In addition to providing biographical notes on the various composers, Prof. Bogard pointed out that surviving scores for The Fountain and Lazarus Laughed have not been located, but the full score for Marco Millions, composed by Emerson Whithorne, is housed at the Beinecke Library. (This portion of Prof. Bogard's presentation was illustrated by large photographs.)

In a more comprehensive survey of O'Neill's plays, Prof. Bogard reported that 24 require music, while 21 are "silent." Of the former, 6 use music incidentally, while 7 use it for characterization or to make an ironic point, but all 13 use music only occasionally. The remaining 11 use music more completely. Prof. Bogard then commented on some of these 11, including Ah, Wilderness!, The Great God Brown, Mourning Becomes Electra, The Emperor Jones, All God's Chillun Got Wings, The Moon of the Caribbees (the first to present two kinds of music in conflict), and The Iceman Cometh.

Prof. Bogard's paper concluded with an overview of the adaptations of O'Neill's work for the musical theatre, the opera, and the ballet, including a rumor that Prince and Sondheim have been looking at O'Neill. Upon its completion, Prof. Timo Tiusanen and Dr. Dennis Rich responded to the paper.

Prof. Tiusanen began by citing a new production of Ah, Wilderness! in Finland and suggesting that Arthur's song is a commentary on the relationship of Sid and Lily. He further suggested that when evaluating the importance of a particular piece of music in an O'Neill play, it is important to note the scenic context, or "constage," in which it appears: it may be a comment, particularly as a psychological symbol, on any or all of the characters on stage. Prof. Tiusanen went on to relate O'Neill's use of music to his musical use of language, for example in The Iceman Cometh, to reach a level of expression comparable to a symphony.

Dr. Rich then stressed the point that O'Neill used music artistically from the beginning of his career. He went on to observe that O'Neill's use of music is part of a larger pattern: the use of sound and sound effects, including the musical aspects of language in the dialogue. Finally, he stressed the value of music as an analogy to O'Neill's method of playwriting.

2. Minutes of Second Annual Meeting of the Eugene O'Neill Society, submitted by Professor Paul D. Voelker. The meeting took place on the evening of December 27, 1980, in the Ebony Room of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Houston, Texas.

The meeting was called to order by Vice President Winifred Frazer. Secretary Jordan Miller's minutes of the previous meeting, at Tao House, were read by Prof. Paul Voelker and were accepted. Prof. Virginia Floyd's treasurer's report was read by Dr. Rich and accepted. The report showed balances on hand as of December, 1980, of $521.42 and $334.10 in the Society's savings and checking accounts, respectively.

Prof. Frazer then opened a discussion regarding what the Society ought to plan for its third annual meeting, to be held in conjunction with the MLA convention in New York City. Prof. Frazer reported that Sally Pavetti was preparing a multi-media presentation on the "Monte Cristo Cottage" and had suggested that the next session might be devoted to O'Neill's homes or to his life. Prof. Esther Jackson suggested that a session might be coordinated with the Drama Division of MLA, a session which would take advantage of the theatrical resources of New York and also have a wide appeal. Travis Bogard suggested that Jason Robards, Jose Quintero, et al., may yet be prevailed upon to appear and to talk about O'Neill. [Prof. Frazer was directed by the membership to appoint a committee to plan for the next program and annual meeting. She appointed Esther Jackson, ch., Paul Voelker, and Vera Jiji. Prior commitments later caused Prof. Jackson to withdraw. Current plans include talks on two major elements in O'Neill's dramaturgy: the extended monologue (which Prof. Frederick Wilkins will discuss), and the split personality. The session will be held as part of the 1981 MLA Convention in New York City just after Christmas. Full information on the session, the third annual meeting, and related activities will appear in a future issue of the Newsletter. --Ed.]

3. NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD O'NEILLIANS.... If you have considered membership in the Eugene O'Neill Society, or if your membership has lapsed, do consider joining or renewing your affiliation today. Remember that one of the benefits of member-ship is a subscription to the Newsletter. For information on dues categories and imminent activities and an application blank, write to Secretary Jordan Y. Miller, Department of English, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881. Or call him at 401-792-5931. So you won't forget (as they say in TV record ads), do it before midnight tonight!

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MONTE CRISTO COTTAGE OPEN!

The O'Neills' New London home is now open to visitors from 1 to 4 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays. Under the auspices of the Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theater Center and the skillful eyes of Curator Sally Pavetti and Assistant Curator Lois McDonald, the cottage has been restored to the appearance it had when the O'Neills occupied it between 1884 and 1920. Visitors are assured of an an exciting experience--visiting the real-life site immortalized in Ah, Wilderness! and Long Day's Journey Into Night. However, they must provide their own lobsters, bluefish and fog. (I remember once trading smiles with Ms. Pavetti at an O'Neill symposium when a lecturer provided his impression of the Long Day's Journey parlor with fog rolling through it. Such atmospheric heightening might be utilized in a theatre, but it would be improbable at 325 Pequot Avenue!) --Ed.

EDITORS' INQUIRY. We have been considering ways of enhancing the Newsletter's content, appearance and durability, and welcome the suggestions of readers. For instance, what should there be more of, and what deserves less space than is now allotted it? And would a format with folded pages (i.e., 11" x 17" sheets folded and double-stapled at the middle) be preferable to the current corner-stapled foldlessness? If you have thoughts on these or comparable matters, please let us know.

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