REVIEWS AND ABSTRACTS
6. Robert Feldman, "The Longing for Death in O'Neill's Strange Interlude and Mourning Becomes Electra," Literature and Psychology, 31 (1981), 39-48. The following is Robert G. Bass's summary in Abstracts of English Studies, 26 (June 1983), 206:
7. Marcelline Krafchick, "Film and Fiction in O'Neill's Hughie," Arizona Quarterly, 39 (Spring 1983), 47-61.
Hughie, far from being the short story or closet drama many think it, is eminently "suitable for staging," though a performance would be "substantially strengthened" if it included "a device to express the stage directions" which reveal the "mental fertility" behind the impassive, moribund surface of the night clerk. While Erie Smith is a traditional stage character, the clerk, because his "depiction [is] conveyed mostly by an authorial intelligence," is closer to the realm of narrative fiction. And if the latter's thoughts are not made audible, much is lost: dramatic irony, complexity and balance, Aristotelian tension, and "the ambiguity of the title: Hughes becomes Hughie II."
The solution lies in utilizing "technology [as] a helpmeet for drama." Not radio—because "Hughie is, like all of O'Neill's works, as much visual as auditory"--but the very blend of "filmed background and sound track" that O'Neill once suggested to Carlotta for the play. Long before the 1940's, of course, O'Neill's 1928 zeal for the possibilities of film as a medium (especially its potential to "introduce into drama the scope of fiction") had been severely challenged by his exasperation at its abuses as a business and industry. Hence his enigmatic challenge re Hughie: "Let whoever does it figure it out." Whoever, so doing, combines sound and film in producing Hughie "will bring to fruition O'Neill's incorporation of film and fiction to achieve a small masterpiece of theater." —FCW
8. Sheng-chuan Lai, "Mysticism and Noh in O'Neill," Theatre Journal, 35 (March 1983), 74-87.
That O'Neill was "drawn to the mystic by temperament" is clear throughout his career, and his often-quoted ambition to portray the "impelling, inscrutable forces behind life" is first evident in The Moon of the Caribbees. Since "mystical experience ... cannot be explicitly communicated verbally or through demonstration," the play succeeds because it "does not deal with mystical themes discoursively, but suggests 'forces' beyond the action through visual and non-verbal signs."
Subsequent "experiments in non-realistic theatrical effects," largely a result of the baleful influence of Mabel Collins' theosophist booklet Light On the Path, were less successful, as in the doomed attempt, in The Fountain, to have Ponce de Leon "verbalize mystical concepts ... in opaque phrasing reminiscent of Collins," and "the device [in Lazarus Laughed] of the paralinguistic laugh as evocative of the transcendent state of mind of Lazarus and his followers." But the latter play marks an advance, since "the use of laughter as a sign of an enlightened state is an indication that O'Neill no longer believed that words alone could convey mystical states to an audience."
Ironically, it was when O'Neill returned to realism in his last four
plays—"a realism that paradoxically displays strong affinities with
the form and mechanics of the highly stylized Japanese Noh drama"—that
his ambition was most effectively realized. In the Noh plays, "the
presence of forces beyond the world of the drama is manifested through
suggestion of the evanescent, illusory qualities of life. In many
cases, ... this is achieved by bringing the dramatic action to a
standstill that allows the main character to reminisce on the past.
Having set the stage for a revelation of things past, dramatic action
is suspended and memory evokes a sense of the transience of life
within a timeless world." The same dramatic structure unites The
Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey, Hughie, and A
Moon for the Misbegotten: in all four, "dramatic action is
suspended while the characters talk about key events from the past."
There is a de-emphasis on character development and (after Iceman)
onstage action, both replaced by "a focus on a recurring past." And
the obsessed tellers of tales—Hickey in Iceman, parents and
younger son in Journey, Erie Smith in Hughie, and Jim
Tyrone in Moon—resemble the shite of Noh drama, the
tortured ghost figure telling his past-evoking tale, "as the normal
linear sense of time is suspended in a synchronic moment." By setting
this Eastern mode "within the Western conventions of naturalistic
dramaturgy," O'Neill, in his last plays, "successfully evoked the
'impelling, inscrutable forces behind life.'" —FCW
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