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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. VI, No. 1
Spring, 1982


(IN THIS ISSUE)

NEWS, NOTES AND QUERIES

1. NEW AND IMPORTANT O'NEILL BOOK. "The Theatre We Worked For": The Letters of Eugene O'Neill to Kenneth Macgowan, edited by Jackson R. Bryer with introductory essays by Travis Bogard, arrived too late for a review to be readied for this issue. Published by the Yale University Press (292 pp., $25.00), it has been highly praised by Library Journal ("a major contribution to the study of modern American drama") and Publishers Weekly: "O'Neill's [letters] ring with the accents of genius.... This book adds an important facet to our knowledge about O'Neill and the American theater in the first half of this century." A substantial review will appear in the Newsletter's next issue, but potential purchasers need not wait. This is a collection we have been eagerly awaiting for a long time. Congratulations to Professors Bryer and Bogard for their success in getting it to us.

2. DEVELOPMENTS IN AMERICAN THEATRE STUDIES. Two recent announcements suggest that the ideal American theatre of which Eugene O'Neill dreamed is coming closer to realization. On October 8, 1981, Larry D. Clark, President of the American Theatre Association, announced the first board of directors for an ATA-sponsored Institute for American Theatre Studies (IATS). Chaired by Walter J. Meserve, board membership includes Esther M. Jackson, John Ezell, Oscar Brockett, Stephen Archer, Gresna Doty, Yvonne Shafer, Don Wilmeth, Richard Moody, David Addington (ex officio), and Barry Witham (ex officio). The Institute, which will involve the cooperative efforts of ATA, IATS, and the college or university that is chosen as host institution, has much important work to do, as was explained in the February issue of ATA's Theatre News:

Theatre in America has existed for more than 300 years. That theatre, once meager and imitative, is now rich and innovative. Histories, therefore, must be written, styles of production researched, archived materials analyzed, plays and playwrights evaluated related to their times. Students of American theatre must be given the opportunity to learn of the past and to experiment for the future. Well-organized and aggressive research at IATS will satisfy these objectives.

The second announcement, in the February 21 New York Times, was the approval, by the Federal Commission of Fine Arts, of the initial design (by George Hartman of Hartman-Cox) for a four-level addition to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The addition, which includes classrooms, practice rooms, faculty studios, a 600-seat recital hall and a 250-seat theater, will house an institute for the training of advanced graduate students in music and theatre. According to Thomas R. Kendrick, director of operations for the Kennedy Center, the institute's purpose "will be to bridge the gap between the academic world and the professional world." Since America's greatest dramatist will doubtless loom large in the work of both institutes, this double bill of news must be heartening to all O'Neillians.

3. TEARING TATTERED ENSIGNS, BROADWAY-STYLE. Care to see where the first Broadway production of an O'Neill play, Beyond the Horizon, was premiered in February, 1920? Or where Long Day's Journey Into Night first staggered the American consciousness on November 7, 1956? How about the sites of Broadway's two most recent O'Neill revivals--A Moon for the Misbegotten (December, 1973) and A Touch of the Poet (December, 1977)? Forget it, friends. Progress--a.k.a. the Portman Hotel project and a proposed pedestrian mall--has taken a merciless bite of the Big Apple, the choicest chunks being precisely the two theaters that housed those four productions: the Morosco (1920 and 1973) and the Helen Hayes (1956 and 1977).

Not that the demolition of so much American theatre history occurred without acknowledgement and resistance. On March 4, an army of theatre folk, organized by producers Joseph Papp and Alexander Cohen, demonstrated in front of the Morosco, a number of them reading scenes from major plays that had first been performed in the two houses. Among them was Jason Robards, who must have felt the imminent wrecking ball most personally since he'd been in three of the aformentioned O'Neill productions. John Corry, reporting the event in the New York Times (March 5, 1982, pp. A1, C7), recorded that quintessential O'Neill actor's part in the proceedings:

by the reckoning of most people on the street, and of the other actors on the stage, Mr. Robards offered one of street theaters finest hours. Glancing only once at his hardbound copy of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, he did the lengthy speech in which the father, an actor, tells his younger son that by surrendering to commercialism he had ruined his life. "I'm so heartsick, I feel it's the end of every-thing," Mr. Robards said. He was only reciting from the play, of course, but as he spoke he turned and glanced at the Morosco. ... When he finished, Mr. Papp three times shouted aloud, "O'Neill lives."

Sadly, the demonstration was unable to stop the "march of progress." (After all, folks, the big bucks are in the tourist trade, not the nostalgia traffic.) The Morosco and the Helen Hayes are gone, and from the dust of their destruction will soon rise a rather grotesque, gargantuan phoenix--a 50-story, 2,020-room hotel. It's fortunate that an Institute for American Theatre Research has begun--if it's not already too late. Given the ubiquitousness of the American bulldozer, there soon may be nothing left!

4. SHEAFFER REVIEWS EUGENE O'NEILL AT WORK. O'Neill biographer Louis Sheaffer reviewed Eugene O'Neill at Work, ed. Virginia Floyd, in the New London (Connecticut) Day (January 3, 1982) and in the Long Island paper Newsday (January 31). In the former, he hailed the volume as "an invaluable, indeed, indispensable book. Not that it is beyond criticism, for it contains some errors [such as O'Neill's charge, which was inaccurate but unrefuted by the editor, that Agnes Boulton stole his 1925 work diary] and at times the editor's judgment appears to me questionable. But despite these problems, the book is genuinely fascinating. While reading it, I felt as though I were looking over O'Neill's shoulder as he struggled to express himself." Sheaffer noted that the newly released materials give "important new insights into the creative workings of the author's mind," and that, since the book "provides specific evidence of the subjective nature of [O'Neill's] art," it "adds measurably to our knowledge of the man himself." One fact abundantly clear in both the book and in Mr. Sheaffer's review, was that the playwright never suffered from a lack of material or creative ideas:

O'Neill, unlike many of his calling, practically never suffered from writer's block or a lack of story ideas. His problem was the reverse; he couldn't write fast enough to keep pace with his mind. He used to say that he had enough ideas to keep him writing ten years, a situation that would remain true to the end of his career.

5. Michael Manheim, Chairman of the Department of English at the University of Toledo, delivered a paper on "O'Neill and Melodrama" for an English Department colloquium at the University of Hartford on April 22. The paper, he reports, "represents an early stage of an article I am working on."

6. Desire Under the Elms is one of the works discussed in Roger Asselineau's 1981 book, The Transcendentalist Constant in American Literature, published by the New York University Press. (189 pp. $22.75, paperback $9.10.) A summary of the discussion will appear in the next issue of the Newsletter.

7. Thanks to Abstracts of English Studies, I discovered an article not previously noted in the Newsletter: H. M. Leavitt, "Comedy in the Plays of Eugene O'Neill," Players, 51 (1975-76), 92-95. Here is the abstract provided by J. L. Disbrow: "Eugene O'Neill uses six elements of comedy in his plays: comic taboo, physical comedy, comic plot devices, verbal humor, comic characters, and comedy of ideas. These elements heighten the intensity of his later, more mature tragedies."

8. O'NEILL AND FILM is the subject of a special session tentatively scheduled for the 1982 MLA Convention in Los Angeles next December. Eugene K. Hanson, a Director of the O'Neill Society, will lead the session. To gain further information or make suggestions, contact him at College of the Desert, 43-500 Monterey Avenue, Palm Desert, CA 92260. And watch for more details in the next issue of the Newsletter.

9. JIM'S TEAR JERKER. When Jim Tyrone tells Josie Hogan, in the third act of A Moon for the Misbegotten, about his train trip east with his mother's body and his liaison with a "blonde pig" whose embraces brought no forgetfulness, he mentions that "the last two lines of a lousy tear-jerker song I'd heard when I was a kid kept singing over and over in my brain," and he quotes the last two lines of the refrain. The lyrics of the song, entitled "The Baggage Coach Ahead," recently appeared in the Boston Herald American (April 9, 1982, p. B14), and are reprinted here for scholars and sentimentalists:

On a dark and stormy night, as the train rattled on,
All the passengers had gone to bed
Except one young man with a babe in his arms
Who sat there with a bowed-down head.

The innocent one began crying just then,
As though its poor heart would break.
One angry man said, "Make that child stop its noise,
For it's keeping all of us awake."

"Put it out," said another. "Don't keep it in here,
We've paid for our berths and want rest."
But never a word said the man with the child,
As he fondled it close to his breast.

"Where is its mother, go take it to her,"
This a lady then softly said.
"I wish that I could," was the man's sad reply,
"But she's dead in the coach ahead."

Refrain:
While the train rolled onward,
A husband sat in tears,
Thinking of the happiness
Of just a few short years.

For baby's face brings pictures
Of a cherished hope that's dead.
But baby's cries can't waken her
In the baggage coach ahead.

10. BOOKS FOR SALE. Two subscribers are interested in selling books by and about O'Neill, some of them signed. John Von Foeppel, as was noted in the last issue, has a number of first editions for which his asking price is $50 each, exclusive of signed copies whose price, like their value, is somewhat higher. For details, write him at 20 W. Lucerne Circle, Orlando, Florida 32801. And Peter Scott, a dealer in rare books, has a list of 48 volumes, including condition and price, which list any interested O'Neillian can have by writing him at Ridge Books, Box 58, Stone Ridge, New York 12484.

11. O'NEILL DOWN UNDER. Long Day's Journey Into Night will be a part of the 1982 seasons of two of Australia's major drama groups: the Melbourne Theatre Company (in Victoria) and the Queensland Theatre Company (in Queensland). Performance dates are not yet available, but subscriber Terence Watson hopes to provide reviews for a future issue of the Newsletter.

12. PLANS AT TAO HOUSE. The most important project that the Eugene O'Neill Foundation, Tao House, will initiate this year is the restoration and furnishing of the House's "heart": O'Neill's bedroom and dressing room and the study in which he "shut himself off from the world and produced ... Long Day's Journey Into Night and A Moon for the Misbegotten." The project is announced in the Foundation's February 1982 mailing to its members, in which it also states its goal "to completely restore Tao House by October 16, 1988, the centenary of O'Neill's birth." For this to be achieved, in a time of federal budget cuts, the Foundation is "presently seeking funds from corporate, business and private sources." The most important of the "private sources" are individual memberships in the Foundation. If you would like to join and be a part of this and many other important activities, write for information. The address: P. O. Box 402, Danville, CA, 94526.

13. SEVENTH GRADERS MEET O'NEILL. In the February 2nd New York Times ("A 7th-Grade Class Is a Stage for One-Act Play by O'Neill," p. B1), Laurie Johnston reported on the visit of Rob Mulholland and Harold Easton to a classroom in New York City, where they led the students in acting exercises and prepared them for a visit to the team's production of Moon of the Caribbees (which is reviewed in this issue). Joined by three actors from the NYU Studio Theatre company, Mulholland and Easton were so successful in introducing the class to the play and the atmosphere it evokes that the students were totally attentive when they later visited the production, and engaged in almost an hour of post-performance discussion with the company. A splendid example of theatre-in-education.

14. HUGHIE ON 42ND STREET. Hughie seems to be finding a number of dramatic partners these days. In addition to its performance with Moon of the Caribbees at NYU's Studio Theatre (reviewed in this issue), the play appeared last fall, at the South Street Theater, 424 West 42nd Street, in a double bill with Strindberg's The Stronger, the latter directed by Gene Nye, the O'Neill by Gino Giglio. Mel Gussow reviewed the production in the New York Times (January 1, 1982, p. 15) and praised the "compatible pairing of plays performed by an assured quartet of actors." (Michael Fischeti played Erie Smith, and Frank Geraci was the night clerk.) Why are the two plays so appropriate together? Because each pairs a garrulous lead and a silent or near-silent listener, and both plays, in Mr. Gussow's words, deal with "silence as a catalyst for confession": "The clerk says only a few words, but, as with the silent woman in The Stronger, his presence seems to encourage a catharsis from the speaker. Erie is irresistibly led into a one-man ocean of conversation...." And the message learned from the double bill? That neither play is a one-person show. "Friends and foes, the couples are allied, and in dramatic terms the silent partners are as much reagents as reactors. Each play seems like a soliloquy but is actually a mutually responsive two-character sketch."

15. REED LA RUSSE. Work nears completion in Moscow on a Soviet version of the John Reed story, recently the subject of Warren Beatty's Reds. The Sergei Bondarchuk-directed film, a trilogy, is a Soviet-Italian-Mexican co-production. How extensive the O'Neill connection will be is not known, but John F. Burns, reporting from Moscow in the February 8 issue of the New York Times (p. C11), records the effect of the international situation on the choice of filming locales:

The Russian portion of the trilogy includes scenes set in Provincetown, Mass., where Reed, Louise Bryant and others collaborated in founding the Provincetown Players. Perhaps because of the freeze on cultural exchanges between the two countries, the Russians chose not to film in Provincetown but at a dacha on the Gulf of Finland, near Leningrad.

If placing O'Neill among the "others" reflects the Russian point of view, and not just Mr. Burns's, we may expect little from the Soviet answer to Jack Nicholson!

16. RECENT AND FORTHCOMING PRODUCTIONS.

Ah, Wilderness!, dir. Penelope Hirsch. NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Department of Undergraduate Drama, New York City, March 31 - April 3, 1982.

Anna Christie, dir. Cynthia Sherman. St. Nicholas Theater Company, Chicago. Closed on December 21, 1981.

Before Breakfast, dir. Barry Bartle. American Theatre Arts Conservatory, Los Angeles, CA, Fall, 1981. Reviewed in this issue.

Beyond the Horizon. Queens College Little Theatre, Flushing, NY, March 18-20, 1982.

Desire Under the Elms, dir. Sonia Moore. V. A. Smith Chapel Theatre, 656 Sixth Avenue, New York City. Opened on February 12, 1982.

The Hairy Ape, dir. Rob Mulholland and Harold Easton. Studio Theatre Productions, Washington Square (NYU), New York City, June 1982. (For information, call Mr. Easton at 212-598-3067.)

Hughie, dir. Rob Mulholland and Harold Easton. Studio Theatre Productions, New York City, January 26-30, 1982. (Double bill with Moon of the Caribbees.) Reviewed in this issue. [The production, "if all goes well," will be repeated at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. --Ed.]

Long Day's Journey Into Night, dir. Marco Zarattini. Nucleo Eclettico, Boston, MA. Closed on April 3, 1982, after being extended a week beyond announced closing date. Reviewed in this issue.

A Moon for the Misbegotten, dir. Henry Hoffman. McCadden Theatre Company, Los Angeles, Fall 1981. Reviewed in this issue.

A Moon for the Misbegotten, dir. David George. Barton Square Playhouse, Salem, MA, February 26 - April 3, 1982. Reviewed in this issue.

A Moon for the Misbegotten. 2nd Story Theatre, Newport, RI, March 9 - April 25, 1982.

A Moon of the Caribbees, dir. Rob Mulholland and Harold Easton. Studio Theatre Productions, Washington Square (NYU), New York City, January 26-30, 1982. (Double bill with Hughie.) Reviewed in this issue.

"Six Plays of the Sea" (The Long Voyage Home, Bound East for Cardiff, In the Zone, Ile, Where the Cross Is Made and The Rope), dir. Skip Corris. Apple Corps Theatre Company, New York City. Closes on May 2, 1982.

A Touch of the Poet, dir. Gini Andrewes. ANTA presentation at Springfield (MA) College, January 8-10, 15-16, 1982.

17. MINUTIAE.

a. "The Legacy of George Pierce Baker" is one of the programs that have been approved for the 1982 American Theatre Association convention in New York City next August.

b. The January 26 Staten Island Advance reported the death of Hubertine Zahorska Robinson, 80, of Jerusalem, Vermont, a longtime Staten Island resident who had once been Eugene O'Neill's private secretary. Born in Liverpool and a graduate of Simmons College in Boston, Mrs. Robinson had many notes and reminiscences of O'Neill which she provided to several of his biographers.

18. ODD ADDENDA.

a. Fowl play! Richard Lederer reported the following student blooper in the Winter 1982 issue of The Leaflet, a publication of the New England Association of Teachers of English (p. 22): "In 1957, Eugene O'Neill won a Pullet Surprise."

b. Thanks to The New Yorker for sharing with the world the following comment by Gary Gregory in the Centerville (Ohio) Times; "Strangely enough, O'Neill's death provided a momentary hiatus in his distinguished career." The New Yorker's reply? "Oh, it happens all the time." (The New Yorker, December 28, 1981, p. 74.)

c. Thanks to Edwin Lee for sharing a ghastly gaffe in the San Francisco Chronicle of November 21, 1981. L. M. Boyd, in his "Grab Bag" column (a title particularly infelicitous in this instance), responded to a reader who sought verification that "Eugene O'Neill was another one of those impetuous fellows who proposed marriage on the first night he met his wife-to-be." Boyd's response: "Quite so. In a Greenwich Village saloon, he sat down beside Agnes Boulton, and shortly thereafter he said to her, 'I want to spend every night of my life with you from now on. I mean this. Every night of my life.' Their marriage lasted until her death ten years later." Lee's response to Boyd's: "Seems as though Louis Sheaffer and the Gelbs will have to correct their biographies! How do errors such as this occur?" Good question.

d. Alan Stern, compiling a list of local productions in the Boston Phoenix (February 23, 1982), "warned" potential attenders that the current production of Long Day's Journey "runs just short of four hours: evidently O'Neill believed in truth-in--advertising."

(IN THIS ISSUE)

 

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