Menu Bar

Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. VI, No. 3
Winter, 1982



2. STRINDBERG AND O'NEILL: A SHARED LEGACY, presented by the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Committee and LGR Associates, Inc. Circle in the Square, 50th Street and Broadway, November 11, 1982.

No other playwright was as influential on O'Neill as August Strindberg; accepting the Nobel Prize in 1936, O'Neill called him "my inspiration down all the years." And no drama group has as impressive a record of O'Neill productions as the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden; not only have they presented more plays by O'Neill than any other company in the world, but they staged the world premieres of Long Day's Journey Into Night (1956), A Touch of the Poet (1957), Hughie (1958) and More Stately Mansions (1962). What better way, then, to celebrate O'Neill's birthday, trace the interrelations of the two dramatists, and honor O'Neill's Swedish champions than to watch some of Sweden's and America's finest actors perform, in alternation, scenes from each man's major works, in an evening skillfully stitched together by a narration (the work of O'Neill biographer Barbara Gelb and Strindberg scholar Harry G. Carlson) delivered by Frances Sternhagen and Max Von Sydow. And to watch it "in the gracious presence of His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustav and Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden" was icing on the richest of birthday cakes. The evening was an O'Neill-lover's dream come true.

From the start (a taste of the Long Day's Journey premiere as Jarl Kulle delivered a speech of Edmund Tyrone's—in Swedish—as he had in 1956) to the lacerating finale (Jason Robards' hypnotic, kinetic and justly-famed recitation of Hickey's last-act monologue from The Iceman Cometh), it was an evening of rare theatrical magic. One discarded for ninety minutes all critical distance and bathed in the music of two great dramatists. Besides touches of theatre history—Geraldine Fitzgerald's Mary Tyrone, Helen Hayes' Nora Melody and Colleen Dewhurst's Josie Hogan—there were new performances to savor (and wish for more of), especially the rich and piston-powerful voice of James Earl Jones in Yank's Scene-I monologue from The Hairy Ape:

It takes a man to work in hell. Hell, sure, that's my fav'rite climate. I eat it up! I git fat on it! It's me makes it hot! It's me makes it roar! It's me makes it move!

Though slow, and read rather than memorized, it was a splendid embodiment of O'Neill's prelapsarian powerhouse, effectively directed (like all the American segments) by José Quintero. One hopes that someday Mr. Jones will have the chance to add Yank Smith to his roster of memorable roles. Richard Thomas was a serviceable Edmund Tyrone, and Ms. Dewhurst, in her "medley of O'Neill heroines," offered, in addition to Josie, brief passages by Christine Mannon and Nina Leeds—the last a warmly-received fillip of feminism.

The Strindberg fragments, in Carlson's translations and directed by Goran Graffman, included scenes from The Father, The Ghost Sonata, Dance of Death and A Dream Play. But it was The Stronger that had the most impact, largely because it is a self-contained work and also, more personally, because I'd long yearned to see it. The emptiness of compulsive gab, and the eloquence of silence, could not have been more glaringly revealed than they were by, respectively, Margaretha Bystrom (as Mrs. X) and Margaretha Krook (as Miss Y). The-latter had only to smile, coolly turn her head, or produce an ironically modulated laugh to effectively demolish her oh-so-audible opponent. The old classroom puzzler—who's the title character?—was vibrantly answered!

After the performances, Ms. Dewhurst delivered a moving tribute to Ingrid Bergman, and Oona O'Neill Chaplin and Mr. Quintero presented the EOTC's Eugene O'Neill Birthday Medal for 1982 to the Royal Dramatic, whose Artistic Director, Lars Poysti, received it gratefully.

The Eugene O'Neill Theatre Committee, co-chaired by Barbara Gelb and George C. White, found a multiply regal was to celebrate the ninety-fourth anniversary of O'Neill's birth. Those who attended the gala—an s.r.o. crowd of over 700—will never forget it. [P.S. I salvaged a few copies of the evening's Playbill, which I will happily send, along with the next issue of the Newsletter, to subscribers who request one. But the supply is small, so send requests quickly!]

—Frederick C. Wilkins



© Copyright 1999-2007