III. Welded: A Review.
Really, one must love Eugene O'Neill in order to watch a play such as Welded. Not so much because the play is a bad or painful experience, but because it's quite obviously the man's sincere but unsuccessful attempt at dealing with love, truth and that which is unexplainable in life.1 Such a play, no matter how wide of the mark, deserves a sincere, understanding response; and to make that response requires an important sort of love in the breast of the viewer.
The Columbia University production of Welded surprised me by being as watchable as it was. To be sure, there were embarrassing moments--especially in Eleanor and John's Act II scene, which elicited much laughter from the nearly full house--but it was, on the whole, a painless evening. Every member of the cast gave a sincere and professional performance. Had they not, the play would more than likely have been as excruciating as some have made it out to be.
Even so, Philip Anglim as Michael Cape was simply miscast for the role. A fellow viewer commented that Anglim brought to Welded all the mannerisms he had employed in The Elephant Man, which she had seen three years ago. His speech struck me as being extraordinarily affected--a sort of Oxford-on-high, which refused to come down to earth one wit in grubby Uptown Manhattan. In the scene with the prostitute, Anglim moved around the stage as if he were wearing those lead training shoes athletes sometimes use. This slow, drugged movement, combined with the ever-lofty tone of voice, was indeed hard to take. Nonetheless, however inappropriate his behavior, Anglim seemed to be trying hard to do right. It was just the wrong sort of right.
Ellen Tobie as Eleanor was much more believable. My friend found her performance trying because this Eleanor seemed too clear-headed to be caught up in such a ridiculous marriage mess with Anglim's Cape. But still, Tobie produced more than once that cold look of genuine exasperation which comes in real life only as a result of love and anger. And her lines were very often delivered with a high emotional intensity which was effective, to say the least.
Laura Gardner as the befuddled prostitute and Court Miller as befuddled John were flawless. One so wished that Miller had had an opportunity to say a page or two of decent lines; he did so honest and decent a job with the crumbs that O'Neill provided. Miller's was the work of a trooper, and so was Gardner's--they must love O'Neill.
José Quintero said in a New York Times interview that he felt Welded was an important O'Neill play, and that it contained many elements that O'Neill would later develop more fully. I think that this is quite true--a fact that no O'Neill fan or scholar can really afford to ignore. What I find particularly fascinating about Welded is the specifically "welded" character of Michael Cape. Embodied in him are elements of both James Tyrone, Jr., of Moon for the Misbegotten, and Edmund Tyrone of Long Day's Journey Into Night. On the one hand, Cape is a base fellow, emotionally out of control, who leaps at the opportunity to humiliate self and family with a prostitute--not unlike James Tyrone, Jr.'s behavior on his mother's funeral train. And, on the other hand, Cape is a poet without words, a stutterer. ("Oh, Nelly, Nelly," he says in Act III. "I want to say so much that I feel, but I can only stutter like an idiot.") Edmund Tyrone, of course, makes a point out of being a stutterer also, a sensitive man in awe of the universe.
In no way are these coincidences or trivial points. It seems that when Welded was written, O'Neill had yet to sort things out emotionally about who he was or what he believed in. Perhaps he knew intellectually what he should believe in but he hadn't embraced it completely. "To learn to love the truth of life--to accept it and be exalted--that's the faith left to us!" Cape asserts in Act III. But it would be many years before O'Neill could deliver on the stage convincing evidence of this faith.
Welded is remarkably similar to Days Without End in many ways; people's criticisms of it sound similar, too. ("Mr. O'Neill's fundamental error, dramatically, lies in the notion that Faith is an intellectual process to be touched through words," wrote John Anderson of the latter play in 1934. "Its very point, I take it, is that it lies beyond reason.") Curiously, though, I think the separation of James Tyrone, Jr. and Edmund Tyrone in O'Neill's creative mind begins in this play. Even more curiously, both Days Without End and Welded end with the principal character, or characters in the latter instance, embracing a cross (Days) or forming one bodily (Welded). Without real faith, at least in O'Neill's case, there's but one end: crucifixion.
It seems to me all that sorts of people--aspiring playwrights, O'Neillians, and psychologists among them--should find at least the reading of Welded worthwhile. The Columbia University production did nothing to diminish my interest in the play or my respect for O'Neill's work as a whole. If anything, it increased it, and I would like to thank my New York City hosts, Joshua Friedman and Barbara Pearl, whose kindness insured that this review would be written.
1 Ludwig Lewisohn expressed a similar view in his review of the original New York City production. Lewisohn's balanced and insightful review is available in O'Neill and His Plays, ed. Oscar Cargill, N. Bryllion Fagin and William J. Fisher (New York University Press, 1961), pp. 163-165.
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