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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. VII, No. 1
Spring, 1983


(IN THIS ISSUE)

IMMINENT O'NEILL CONFERENCE: AN UPDATE

Readers of the Summer-Fall issue of the Newsletter are already well aware of the international conference on "Eugene O'Neill--the Early Years" that will be held at Suffolk University in Boston next spring. And viewers of the Winter 1982 issue have seen the evocative poster created for the event by the Newsletter's associate editor and aesthetician, Marshall Brooks. All that is needed now, in advance of the conference program that will accompany a future issue, is to add the specific dates to the then-incomplete poster--the dates of the conference are March 22-25, 1984--and to give some early, sketchy, appetite-whetting indication of the events that are scheduled for the enlightenment and regalement of the participants.

Perhaps I should precede that with an attempt to explain or clarify the conference's title, in public response to those writers who have asked what I mean by O'Neill's "early years." It's a worthy question, and one that defies an easy answer, since there are late plays by O'Neill (supreme among them, or course, being Long Day's Journey) that cover, with only the lightest of fictionalizing gauze, the playwright's early years! And I would hardly exclude mention at the conference of works such as these. But I have chosen to deny central prominence to those written and produced after 1934, the year that Days Without End (1932-33) was produced at the Guild Theatre on January 8. The subsequent plays, from A Touch of the Poet on, are regularly treated on page, stage and podium; and to feature them would defeat my initial goal in setting up the conference--to give equal time to the underrated early plays that have been denied the attention they deserve. So if you wish to present a paper--and I will still be happy to consider proposals--please concentrate on plays that predate, in their composition, 1935

It is clear from the proposals and suggestions I have already received that the three days of the conference--from noon on Thursday the 22nd to approximately the same hour on Sunday the 25th--will be filled with exciting events. (I've eschewed the early notion of running multiple sessions simultaneously, except perhaps the rescreenings of films and videotapes, since I decided that everyone should be able to attend and participate in everything that takes place, even if my scheduling powers buckle in the attempt!) Especially appealing for visitors from afar will be the day trip, by bus, to the Monte Cristo cottage in New London, CT, where curator Sally Pavetti and asistant curator Louis McDonald will guide us through the renovated environs that provided the setting for Ah, Wilderness! and Long Day's Journey, and where we will view the award-winning multi-media study of the cottage, the town, and O'Neill's years there, by Boston artist Todd Gipstein. (Copyright restrictions prevent its being shown at the conference itself, though a videotaped introduction to the area and the two plays set there--a tape prepared some years back by the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre--Will be shown in Boston, prior to the trip.) And for the stay-at-homes there will be a festival of films of O'Neill's earlier plays--The Emperor Jones, The Long Voyage Home, Strange Interlude, Ah, Wilderness! and at least one of the screen versions of Anna Christie (the Blanche Sweet silent)--which will be repeated at other hours for the day-trippers. Also available throughout the conference will be (1) an exhibit of books by and about O'Neill, including some inscribed editions; (2) a display of photos of recent performances of the early plays; and (3) a media room, in which audiotapes of lectures presented elsewhere and slides of the original productions of a number of the plays will be available for listening and viewing.

Evenings will include, in addition to the Thursday banquet, a variety of live performances: David Wheeler's monodrama "Here Before You...Eugene O'Neill," performed by its author; a program of O'Neill one-acts, including 'Ile, and the recreation of the July 15, 1915 double bill in Provincetown that heralded the birth of the Provincetown Players. (See the first item in this issue's "news, notes and queries" section for the titles and the extra features that will accompany that performance.)

Of course it is the daytime roster of papers and panels that provides the conference's basic raison d'Ítre. Excluding some that are still in the discussion stage, and providing in a few cases titles that have not been approved by the speakers, I offer some of the already scheduled guests and their topics:

  • Thomas Adler, Purdue U.: "Beyond Synge: O'Neill's Anna Christie."

  • Frank Cunningham, U. of S. Dakota: "Romantic Elements in the Early O'Neill." *Michael Hinden, U. of Wisconsin: "Eugene O'Neill and American History."

  • Yasuko Ikeuchi, Ritsumeikan U., Kyoto, Japan: "O'Neill and American Adolescence."

  • Ward Lewis, U. of Georgia: "The Reception of O'Neill's Early Plays in Germany" and/or "O'Neill and Hauptmann."

  • Veenu Luthria, Tiruchirapalli, India: "Emperor Jones: Adlerian Excursus on Criminality."

  • Michael Manheim, U. of Toldeo: "O'Neill's Early Debt to Melodrama."

  • Gerald Ratliff, Montclair St. College: "O'Neill: Playwright-Philosopher, 1914-1924."

  • Yvonne Shafer, Ohio State U.: "O'Neill and Expressionism."

  • Edward Shaughnessy, Butler U.: "O'Neill's Early Plays in Ireland."

  • Susan Tuck, Indiana U.: "Black Characterization in All God's Chillun and in Faulkner."

  • R. Viswanathan, Calicut U., India: "Kipling's Jungle Books and the Early O'Neill" and "O'Neill and the Sea Play."

  • Paul Voelker, U. of Wisconsin Center-Richland: "The Case for Servitude," and "The Overlooked Merits of O'Neill's First Play" (the first a discussion following the videotaped performance of Servitude's US premiere).

In addition there will be a keynote address at the banquet (speaker "to be announced"), and a series of panels, followed by general discussions, on acting, directing and teaching O'Neill. For all of them, volunteer participants are welcome, as are volunteer moderators for the various sections into which the paper presentations will be divided.

Anent the "Teaching O'Neill" discussion, which I hope will include practitioners in secondary as well as higher education, I sound herewith a specific call for volunteers. If you have had experiences, good or bad, in teaching works by O'Neill, or in constructing a course devoted solely to O'Neill, that merit sharing with colleagues; if you have reached answers to such questions as these--

  • Which plays are the most teachable? and which defy pedagogic presentation?

  • Which two (or three) plays, in a broader course, best represent the O'Neill oeuvre?

  • Which one, for that matter, if O'Neill's time in a course must be extremely brief?

  • Should an O'Neill course be organized chronologically, thematically or generically?

--then I hope you will consider joining a panel that will provide a springboard for the fuller discussion of all who attend. If you have a syllabus, course reading list or examination redolent of remembered success, bring multiple copies--or bring one and we'll make copies before the session. Naturally the panel cannot be too large, or there will be no time (or people) left for the general discussion! So write quickly, suggesting briefly what your contribution might be, if you wish your name in that part of the program.

What I request of all program participants, by December 1 at the very latest, is a brief list of biographical details, plus a paper (if you are to deliver one) or a likely outline (if you are opting for spontaneity). Since a book of the proceedings is likely, correctness/completeness are fervently urged!

The nearby Parker House hotel will offer rooms to conference participants at reduced rates--$75 per night for a single, $90 for a double--if the reservation is made via the conference application blank. (The rate, even as reduced, remains admittedly steep, and I will scout the outlying areas for comelier-priced accommodations.) I hope the application blank will be ready for mailing with this issue. If it is not, expect it, along with much more information, in the Summer-Fall issue, that will (I promise) reach you ere summer's end. In the interim I'll be working to assure us (in the words of a favorite toast of James O'Neill, Sr.'s) "sunny days and starry nights" next March--though, remembering Nettie Fowler's description of the leonine qualities of a New England March (in Carousel), I speak only metaphorically, not meteorologically! --FCW

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