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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. V, No. 1
Spring, 1981


(IN THIS ISSUE)

NEWS, NOTES AND QUERIES

1. O'NEILL AND THE "INNOCENT REBELLION." Adele Heller, Producing Director of the Province-town Playhouse, was guest speaker at the Suffolk University Literary Society's O'Neill Week last April. In her talk on April 9th, she used historian Henry May's phrase, "innocent rebellion," to describe the exuberant artistic ambiance in America in the second decade of this century--an explosion that led, among many other manifestations, to the emergence of the Provincetown Players and their major playwright-in-residence, Eugene O'Neill, whose rapid success in the more commercial theatre of Broadway paradoxically provided the death blow for the very group with which he had first achieved prominence. Mrs. Heller's talk, which compared the era of the Provincetown Players with the present and led to a stimulating debate on whether such a phenomenon could happen in the 1980's, excited the large audience and proved to be the highlight of the week-long festivities, which also included a showing of the 1923 Blanche Sweet film of Anna Christie. The editor urges any school, college or group interested in learning about the cultural milieu from which O'Neill sprang to consider inviting Mrs. Heller to share her insights with them. Few O'Neillians are as knowledgeable and stimulating.

2. O'NEILL AND QUINTERO REUNITED. Jose Quintero's retreat from the world of O'Neill, which he announced a few years back, was fortunately short-lived. Not only did he direct an O'Neill play at a Mexico City O'Neill Festival last year; he will also give three lectures and direct a seldom-performed O'Neill work at an O'Neill festival hosted by the Drama Department of Columbia University this summer. The lectures will concern the man in general and two of his plays--A Moon for the Misbegotten and The Iceman Cometh. The play he will direct is Welded (1924), which he chose for reasons that he explained to Carol Lawson in the New York Times (April 10, 1981, p. C2): "If you want to understand O'Neill's love relationships, you have to see Welded. It deals with [his] expectations of a love commitment, which was absolutely passionate--and forever. This play is more autobiographical than Long Day's Journey Into Night." He also explained why he thinks the play an important one for student audiences: "Young people today are so alienated from passion. It has become archaic. O'Neill comes in and tells you it is the essence of all life: you must make commitments and embrace life with passion." Welded, which will have a professional cast, is scheduled to open on Wednesday, June 10, for a run of four weeks. (The editor hopes to review the production in the next issue of the Newsletter.)

3. The Eugene O'Neill Foundation, Tao House, has added four new Honorary Members to its Board of Directors: actresses Lillian Gish and Blanche Sweet, the latter of whom played Anna Christie in the first film version of an O'Neill play, and Eline and Sophus Winther, close friends of the O'Neill's. The Winthers recently donated to Tao House a set of priceless documents including approximately 150 letters from Carlotta O'Neill, notes on Winther's visits with O'Neill, drawings and descriptions of the lower floor of Tao House, and miscellaneous clippings about O'Neill and photographs of Eugene and Carlotta. "The National Park Service has placed the above materials in an acid-free file," reports Foundation President Walter G. Appleby in the Foundation's Spring 1981 Newsletter. "Scholars will use xeroxed acid free copies of the materials for future study." The Foundation has also taped Mr. Winther's recollections of O'Neill, from which President Appleby quotes a passage that he says "may well summarize the Foundation's zeal in their pursuit of perpetuating and preserving O'Neilliana":

Eugene O'Neill was not only one of the great writers but also one of the great men. Eugene O'Neill had integrity beyond what anyone could imagine. He never compromised on anything. He had nothing but contempt for those who thought the art of writing was in order to make money.

4. RENT-A-READING. In the aforementioned newsletter, The Eugene O'Neill Foundation, Tao House, also announced the formation and availability of a theatrical group named the Tao House Masquers. So that subscribers in the area can consider this new resource for school assemblies, group functions, etc., we reprint a portion of the announcement:

The Tao House Masquers are presenting dramatic readings from the works of O'Neill and other great playwrights. The founder of the group, Director Barbara Nelson, is a graduate of Northwestern University's School of Drama and Speech. Al Gentile, also a member of the Foundation Board, is a Professor of Literature at J.F.K. University. Matt Schneider, a third member, is a graduate student at the University of California. They are now preparing a program, "Dreamers, Lovers and Poets... Young and Old," that comprises readings from Shaw's Candida and O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! A question and answer period follows if desired. Anyone interested in engaging the Tao House Masquers can contact Barbara Nelson at 415-837-2696.

5. ON THE TRAIL OF EUGENE O'NEILL. From June 7-20, Travis Bogard will lead a tour of many of the sites where O'Neill lived and from which he took inspiration for his plays. Sponsored by the Eugene O'Neill Foundation at Tao House, and open only to its members, the tour will begin and end in San Francisco. Included in the fortnight's itinerary are New York City (tour led by Pulitzer Prize-winning O'Neill biographer Louis Sheaffer), New Haven (tour of O'Neill memorabilia at Yale's Beinecke Library with Donald Gallup), New London (tour of the Monte Cristo Cottage with curator Sally Pavetti, and visit to the O'Neill Memorial Theater Center in nearby Waterford), Provincetown (tour led by Adele Heller, Producing Director of the Provincetown Playhouse), Boston and Bermuda. We wish Prof. B. and his trekkies a happy, sunny and insightful trip and hope to be able to print a report on the group's adventures in a future issue.

6. O'NEILL IN SONG. O'Neill's works have frequently undergone musical metamorphosis. Anna Christie and Ah, Wilderness! were transmogrified into musicals, emerging, respectively, as New Girl in Town (1957) and Take Me Along (1959); and Ile and Before Breakfast are but the latest in a sizable list of operatic adaptations. But O'Neill himself in song, caroling with Carlotta, and in the unlikely company of such other writers as Bernard Shaw, Groucho Marx, Errol Flynn and Lenny Bruce? Scoff not; it's happened! Ah, Men, a "musical entertainment" by Paul Shyre with music and lyrics by Will Holt, opened on May 11th at the South Street Theater in New York City, with Jack Betts as O'Neill and Jane White as Carlotta. The fate of this tuneful potpourri "on the male experience" will be recounted in the next issue of the Newsletter--if it proves to deserve it.

7. RECENT AND FORTHCOMING PRODUCTIONS.

Ah, Wilderness!, dir. Daniel Sullivan. Seattle Repertory Theatre, Dec. 31, 1980 - Jan. 25, 1981. (See review by Deborah Kellar Pattin, with accompanying photographs in this issue.)

Ah, Wilderness!, dir. David Rotenberg. Indiana Repertory Theatre, Indianapolis, April 24 - May 16, 1981.

Ah, Wilderness! Lakewood Theater Co., Skowhegan, ME, Summer 1981. The play has been announced as "under consideration" as part of the company's ten-week summer season (June 23 - August 31). For confirmation, write to the LTC at P.O. Box 99, Skowhegan, ME 04976.

Ann Christie. New England Repertory Theatre, Worcester, MA. Scheduled as the fourth production of a six-play 1981-82 season. For dates and other information, call 617-798-0060 or write to the New England Rep at 23 Oxford St., Worcester, MA 01609.

Beyond the Horizon, dir. Charles Clubb. Theatre Exchange, New York City, March 26 - April 12, 1981.

Beyond the Horizon, dir. James Jennings. ATA Theatre, New York City. Closed on April 25, 1981.

Bound East for Cardiff, dir. Sean Skilling. A Spring 1981 production of Cup & Saucer, a Tufts University student drama group, at the Tufts Arena Theater, Medford, MA.

Desire Under the Elms. The Tacoma Actors Guild, Tacoma, WA, February, 1981.

Long Day's Journey Into Night, dir. Jay E. Raphael. The Virginia Players, Culbreth Theatre (University of Virginia), Charlottesville, VA, Dec. 5-13, 1980. (See Mr. Raphael's report on the production, with accompanying photographs, in this issue.)

Long Day's Journey Into Night, dir. David O. Glazer. Apple Corps Theatre Co., New York City, Jan. 8 - Feb. 1, 1981.

Long Day's Journey Into Night, dir. Geraldine Fitzgerald. The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., New York City. Current production, transferred on March 18 to the Public's Anspacher Theater from the Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art at St. Peter's Church (Lexington Avenue at 53rd Street), where it had opened on March 3rd. The production will journey uptown again this summer as part of the Third Annual International Black Arts Festival (July 12 - August 2), produced by the Richard Allen Center, at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. It will then presumably return to the Public, where its run has been extended indefinitely. (See review by Marshall Brooks, with accompanying photographs, in this issue.)

A Moon for the Misbegotten. Old Globe Theatre, San Diego, CA, Jan 18 - Feb. 22, 1981.

A Moon for the Misbegotten, dir. Robert Brewer. StageWest, West Springfield, MA, Feb. 12 - March 7, 1981.

More Stately Mansions, dir. Ronald Miller. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dec. 15, 1980. A staged reading by members of Theatre and Drama 911, a course jointly conducted by Professors Esther M. Jackson and John Ezell. An illustrated report on this pioneering project in theatre and education will appear in a future issue of the Newsletter.

More Stately Mansions. Irish Rebel Theatre, Irish Arts Center, New York City, through May 31. For information, call 212-757-3318.

Welded, dir. Jose Quintero. Columbia University, Summer 1981. The production, scheduled to open on June 10 for a four-week run, is part of an O'Neill Festival offered by the theater department of the university. For more on the festival, see an entry in this issue's News, Notes and Queries section.

8. RECENT PUBLICATIONS.

Ron Butler, "O'Neill's New London Turns Back," Boston Herald American (Feb. 22, 1981), p. B10. A report on the many restoration projects now taking place in "the true crucible of [O'Neill's] genius" and "the one place he most considered home." Seven years ago, when a group of New Londoners proposed changing the name of Main Street to Eugene O'Neill Drive, three-time former mayor Thomas Griffin echoed the attitude of the town's citizenry to their theatrical summer neighbors in the playwright's youth: "O'Neill was a stew bum. What did he ever do besides write a few plays?" Butler's survey of current O'Neill-related renovations in New London, particularly the restoration of Monte Cristo Cottage, suggests that such sentiments as those voiced by Mayor Griffin have met with the oblivion they deserve.

Michael Hinden, "Desire and Forgiveness: O'Neill's Diptych" [Desire Under the Elms and A Moon for the Misbegotten], Comparative Drama (Fall 1980), pp. 240-250. (See abstract in this issue of the Newsletter.)

Michael Hinden reviewed Jean Chothia's Forging a Language: A Study of the Plays of Eugene O'Neill and O'Neill's Poems: 1912-1944, ed. Donald Gallup, in the Winter 1980-81 issue of Comparative Drama (pp. 374-379).

Eric Pace, "Preserving the Homes Where O'Neill Lived and Worked," New York Times (Sunday, Feb. 8, 1981), Sec. II., pp. 5, 18. (Reprinted in this issue.)

James A. Robinson, "Taoism and O'Neill's Marco Millions," Comparative Drama (Fall 1980). The essay follows Michael Hinden's on pp. 251+. An abstract will appear in a future issue of the Newsletter.

Louis Sheaffer reviewed Eugene O'Neill: A World View, ed. Virginia Floyd, in the December 1980 issue of Theatre Journal (pp. 540-541), noting that the subtitle is unjustified as only four countries other than the United States are represented; and that the assertion of the editor of the volume, and of several represented authors, that O'Neill has not been done justice by his own country is inaccurate. But he had praise for other aspects of the work, especially the "informative pieces" by Olsson, Sienicka and Jarab, and the essays by Raleigh, Wilkins and Frenz.

9. Doris Hart, a doctoral candidate at New York University, is working on a dissertation entitled, "A Comparative Study of the Three New York Productions of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night."

10. ATKINSON ON O'NEILL ON CRITICS. The Theater Committee for Eugene O'Neill presented Brooks Atkinson with a medal on Saturday, November 29th, the critic's eighty-sixth birthday. The medal, designed by Al Hirschfeld, was awarded for "enriching the universal understanding" of the late playwright's works. "My personal relations with O'Neill were very spare," Mr. Atkinson reported in accepting the tribute. "Someone asked him once what he thought of critics, and he said, 'I love every bone in their heads.'" [For a fuller report of the event, which took place at Mr. Atkinson's home in Durham, NY, see John Corry, "Brooks Atkinson Honored by O'Neill Committee," New York Times (Dec. 1, 1980), p. C14. --Ed.]

11 A week-long five-film tribute to Paul Robeson at New York's Public Theater in late November, 1980, included several screenings of The Emperor Jones. According to Carrie Rickey (Village Voice, Nov. 26, 1980, p. 46), this was the first time that an unabridged version of the 1933 film had ever been publicly shown. "Some of the original footage [had previously been] cut because it was considered 'racially violent'--that is, it showed a black taking a powerful instead of submissive position. Nevertheless," Ms. Rickey reports, "the Dudley Murphy picture is static, stagy--saved only by the pleasure of listening to Robeson declaim O'Neill."

12 ROBERT REDFORD'S O'NEILL CONNECTION. On a business trip to the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center last December, Robert Redford made it clear that he was no stranger to New London or, indirectly, to Eugene O'Neill. From early childhood, starting at the age of six, he made repeated visits to the Spring Street home of his grandfather, Charles Redford, who had played in pit orchestras in local theatres, had known actors Richard Mansfield and Edwin Booth, and had palled around with playwright O'Neill. "They hung out together," Redford said, recalling his grandfather's stories. "They would meet at Doc Ganey's Second Story Club. [The club was described by Morgan McGinley of the New London Day as "a drinking society and book discussion group in which the ability to consume whiskey and talk all night was essential to membership."] My grandfather liked O'Neill, but he thought his brother was a bum." [Sources: The O'Neill (Dec., 1980), pp. 11, 13, 16; and New England Entertainment Digest (Jan. 16, 1981), p. 3. The O'Neill is a quarterly publication of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. --Ed.]

13 The death, last September 9th, of director, critic and author Harold Clurman is a sad loss for the American theatre in general and for the O'Neill community in particular. His memorable direction of the first American production of A Touch of the Poet in 1958 was but one of his landmark O'Neill productions around the world. In a 1979 interview at the O'Neill Theater Center, Mr. Clurman said, "I rank O'Neill as the greatest American playwright. He had the greatest scope of all. In his best plays the range is terrific. He wrote about America. What he wrote about has deeper meaning, greater application than just to himself." Clurman first noticed O'Neill's writing in Smart Set, the Mencken- and Nathan-edited literary magazine; and as a college student he attended a matinee performance of O'Neill's first play on Broadway--Beyond the Horizon--at the Morosco in 1920. For the last four years of his life, Mr. Clurman had been working on a critical study of O'Neill. It is to be hoped that the completed portions will be published.

14. The O'Neill community mourns the passing, on January 5th, of Arthur H. Nethercot, dedicated O'Neill scholar, whose enthusiastic support of the Newsletter was a source of strength for its editor, and whose writings on the playwright will ever remain among the best.

(IN THIS ISSUE)

 

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