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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. X, No. 1
Spring, 1986



1. "ROBARDS ON ICEMAN AND O'NEILL" is the title of an interview with Jason Robards, conducted by Los Angeles Times drama critic Dan Sullivan, that appeared in the Times "Calendar" section on Sunday, February 9, 1986, shortly before the Los Angeles opening of The Iceman Cometh at the Doolittle Theatre. Copyright, 1986, Los Angeles Times. Reprinted by permission.

S. Barnard Hughes was saying that even those of you who had done Iceman before didn't remember much about it. So this was like a new play for everybody.

R. It was. People say, "Oh, you must remember," but I'm here to tell you--you don't. Also, there's a whole experience in living now that wasn't there the first time. The tragedy of a guy in his 50s who kills his wife--I understand a lot more about that than I did at 33. But with O'Neill it's a new beginning every day. His plays drive you to the conclusion. But if you've rehearsed it well, and set it up well, and come in with it fresh, you find new things all the time. Even now I'll say to myself before going on as Hickey: "I'm really going to sell these guys this time. They're really gonna buy it."

S. What's it like to rehearse with [José] Quintero?

R. José starts telling stories about his mother and his father and his brother, who was a priest or something. He goes on and on, with the terror of life, and the family, and the guilts, and all of a sudden you realize: he's applying it to the play. Doing the play, he's very specific.

S. You've played Hickey in Iceman, and Erie Smith in Hughie, and Jamie O'Neill in Moon for the Misbegotten and Long Day's Journey Into Night. Don't you find that they're the same character?

R. No, I don't. Erie Smith in Hughie is a guy who's hanging around the edges of the rackets in New York. He's staying over at the Knickerbocker Hotel on 45th Street. I stayed in that same damn toilet when I first came to New York. Jamie--he was a brilliant guy who failed through drink, in a family that was all messed up. He's sunk to cheap hotels, but he's an entirely different guy.

S. Who's Hickey?

R. Hickey's a salesman, a drummer from the Midwest whose father was a Jerry Falwell-type preacher. He comes to Harry Hope's saloon once a year to celebrate Harry's birthday. He loves to sit there and tell lies and get drunk and "forget love," as O'Neill says. However, this time he's not that guy. He's now the true outsider. He thinks that he's faced reality. But in the end he finds that he has a bigger pipe dream than all the rest of 'em put together. And then he's taken to the asylum. He's removed. Despair is removed. By hope.

S. But it's a false hope.

R. But, I mean, what isn't? What about this world? Do you want to face the reality of this world? And yet, as O'Neill says: Man lives.

S. Did you ever meet O'Neill?

R. The Theatre Guild invited a group of us students at the American Academy to a preview of the original Iceman back in '46. Paul Shyre said to me, "See that guy standing in the back, with those eyes? That's O'Neill." But by the time I looked he was gone.

S. But you knew Carlotta, his widow.

R. Funny about Carlotta. Once I'd played Jamie in Long Day's Journey, Carlotta would get angry with me every time she saw me. Because she hated Jamie. She couldn't separate the role from the actor. Hickey was removed, but Jamie was ...

S. Her brother-in-law.

R. Yes. Here's something else that's funny. One night Helen Keller came backstage after the show. With Carlotta, by the way. She reached out and she touched my face ... and she slapped the hell out of me! She said, in that strange voice, "Ba-a-a-d boy." She didn't like me either. It wasn't me, it was Jamie.

S. So when people talk about actors being inhabited by a character ... you really have been.

R. By Jamie more than anyone. Maybe because my father was an actor and, in a strange way, did what O'Neill's father did with The Count of Monte Cristo. My dad just kept doing B films until he ran himself into the ground. My mother was absent, like O'Neill's. I had a younger brother, like O'Neill. Maybe the whole thing was too much for me. Freddie March even looked like my Dad. Anyway I couldn't separate my life on the stage. I'd go out afterward and get drunk and try to sleep it off and, ooh, I couldn't lose him. I'd say, I gotta get rid of this guy! And as the show [Long Davis Journey] went on--I played it two years, you know--I got more and more into it.

S. Yet you played Jamie again in A Moon for the Misbegotten.

R. And I got sober on that. It's funny that it would be Jamie again. Had I gone on drinking, I would have died. I almost did anyway. But I stopped in the middle of that run. I took the road that Jamie didn't take. I said, I can't die. Because I will die if I keep this up.

S. I remember you and Colleen Dewhurst in Moon for the Misbegotten at the Ahmanson in '74.

R. I hope you were sitting close.

S. What came across was that, although the play was much too long, the length was part of the journey.

R. This is a very long one, too. Will people come down to Vine Street to see a five-hour play after working all day? That's what worries me. Originally they performed it with a dinner break, you know. After a while they cut it out. People didn't come back, or they came back loaded and started yelling from the audience, "Take your filthy play."

S. How do you manage a part that long?

R. The other guys have a much tougher job. I only have 12 minutes in the first act. I have 10 minutes in the second, and then off for about 15, then 15 minutes on. Third act, I don't come on until halfway through. Then I do that narrative, and leave. Donald Moffat and the others are on from the word go.

S. Do you remember much about the original Iceman?

R. James Barton played Hickey. I remember his face, but not what he did. Face like a skull. What I remember is how it all stayed in the same mood. It never grew into anything.

S. You played Hickey in the old Play of the Week version of Iceman in 1960, but when it came to making a film of it (1973), Lee Marvin got the part.

R. With Lee, they were ready to put money into it. They weren't going to put it in with me, especially not then. I wasn't doing so well. I didn't see the film. I don't know that Hickey is Lee's part. You really have to sing an aria.

S. Literally an aria? You have to notate it?

R. You really have to prepare it well. As I've gotten more and more into shape--I've started a whole cardiac program, exercise and diet--I've found I'm getting much more out of the show. It was wonderful to find I could get a thought out on a breath. It was like Shakespeare in the old days. I had gotten away from that in this documentary acting I've been doing in films.

S. You like things with a little sweep to them.

R. That's what I like, yes. Freddie March and I once did a scene from Count of Monte Cristo at a benefit. Oh, he was terrific. You felt the surge. You accepted the fact that he was impassioned. I love that kind of theater. Make-believe. That's what's fun. That's what it's all about. It's not a lot of self-analysis. And the better you make believe, the more the audience makes believe with you, and the more wonderful the evening is. Either that, or they walk out. You know that little change in Moon for the Misbegotten, when I fall asleep in her arms? Colleen used to say in the dark during the change, "How many are we losing? Tell 'em to come back, the damned play is not over." I'd say, "Come back. We've got another act."

2. Gail Carnicelli Hemmeter, "Eugene O'Neill and the Languages of Modernism." A doctoral dissertation (Case Western Reserve University, 1984, 224 pp.), thusly summarized in Dissertation Abstracts International, 46:2 (August 1985):

It has become a critical commonplace that Eugene O'Neill turned American theater away from its tradition of popular melodrama and toward the mainstream of modern dramatic ideas and style by introducing to it naturalistic plots and settings, Freudian and Jungian themes and expressionistic staging. His late plays, often hailed as triumphs of realism, carry forward into the twentieth century the complexity of Ibsen's realism and Strindberg's expressionism. His tendency to embrace several seemingly contradictory ideas contributes to this complexity; for example, his continued fascination with melodrama's implications of romance even as he experiments with realistic and later expressionistic perspectives. His language, the subject of much critical debate, reflects this complexity of style, but the contribution made by his language to the new modern theater movement he helped establish has been undervalued, even neglected and scorned. Too often judged solely from a realistic perspective and thus found discordant, repetitive and unnatural, O'Neill's language, nonetheless, reflects the experimental nature of his drama no less emphatically than other aspects of his plays so often praised. Rather than challenge the conventions of dramatic language with a language radically different from that of his melodramatic predecessors, O'Neill follows the path taken by Joyce and others of creating something new, not from whole cloth, but from the remnants of other forms, from, in fact, the mixture and juxtaposition of forms. Thus, his language often comes to represent a simultaneous juxtaposition of the language of melodrama, naturalism and expression[ism], a collision of styles which places O'Neill within the shifting confines of modernism.

The introductory chapter locates O'Neill in the modernist tradition, associating his rejection of melodrama with modernism's movement away from romance toward realism. Like other modernists, however, O'Neill constructs new forms out of the fragments of the tradition he seems to overturn. Thus, the melodramatic perspective continues to operate, along with that of realism and, later, expressionism, as is evident in the persistent juxtaposition in his work of the language features which characterize those perspectives. In modernist fashion, O'Neill refuses to replace the old romantic language of melodrama with one authoritative new language, preferring instead to try out a series of dynamic alternatives suggestive of the ongoing struggle for expression in a world where no language is any longer necessarily expressive of total reality.

3. Leslie White, "Eugene O'Neill and the Federal Theatre Project." A doctoral dissertation (New York University, 1985, committee chmn. Lowell S. Swortzell). The following abstract was submitted by the author, at the request of the editor.

This historical study identifies an important connection between Eugene O'Neill and the Federal Theatre Project (FTP). It investigates the Project's thirty-five professional O'Neill productions from 1936-1939, a time when his plays were not produced on Broadway or elsewhere in the country. The study demonstrates that FTP was, in part, responsible for O'Neill's reputation as "America's greatest playwright" and concludes that the Project's near-nationwide exposure brought O'Neill plays to more people in more parts of the country (notably the South) than had previous efforts of the Theatre Guild and other commercial managements.

The documentation employed to trace the O'Neill/FTP connection includes correspondence from the O'Neill Collection at Yale University, original FTP materials from the Institute on the Federal Theatre Project and the New Deal Culture at George Mason University, and the records of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Included in these collections are production notebooks, director's reports, playreader reports, local reviews, administrative files and reports, playlists, letters, and miscellaneous papers. Standard biographical data about O'Neill are also incorporated.

The dissertation comprises eleven chapters. The "Introduction" briefly surveys O'Neill's career as dramatist. "The History of the Federal Theatre Project" recounts the economic crisis in the United States in the late 1920's and the creation of the WPA and FTP. "The O'Neill/FTP Connection" brings the playwright and the government agency together. The productions of the plays themselves are treated in seven chapters.

Ah, Wilderness! (discussed in chapter three), the most popular FTP O'Neill play, was produced eleven times with two full-scale tours. Anna Christie (chapter four) was mounted five times and Beyond the Horizon (chapter five) twice. The Emperor Jones (chapter six) was enacted by Negro units in Hartford and Salem, and adapted for production by the San Francisco Marionette unit. The Sea Plays (chapter seven) were produced in Philadelphia and New York City where changes made in the scripts to facilitate presentation by the Negro unit resulted in critical controversy. Other O'Neill titles produced by FTP were The First Man, The Straw, Days Without End, Welded, Diff'rent, Where the Cross Is Made, Before Breakfast, and The Dreamy Kid (chapters eight and nine).

Included in the appendices are production histories of O'Neill plays (pre-FTP and FTP), the geographical distribution of the productions (pre-FTP and FTP), a list of O'Neill works mounted by FTP, and a breakdown of the FTP O'Neill productions by title.

4. Marc Maufort, "Communication as Translation of the Self: Jamesian Inner Monologue in O'Neill's Strange Interlude (1927)," in Communicating and Translating. Essays in Honour of Jean Dierickx, ed. Gilbert Debusscher and Jean-Pierre Van Noppen (Bruxelles: Editions de 1'Université de Bruxelles, 1985), pp. 319-328.

Strindberg, Kaiser, Toiler and Joyce may have served as inspiration for the inner monologues in Strange Interlude; but one need not look beyond America for a source, or at least an analogy. Henry James' use of the inner monologue in fiction is really closer to O'Neill's realistic method than any of the European examples. A comparison between Isabel Archer's "night vigil" in the 42nd chapter of The Portrait of a Lady and the spoken thoughts of Nina Leeds reveals numerous affinities, both structural and thematic. In both James' novel and O'Neill's play, "the 'stream-of-consciousness' technique serves to unify the fragmented parts of the work and to illuminate aspects of the heroine's soul, on her journey towards self-discovery."

The differences revealed by such a comparison are partly generic and partly philosophical. O'Neill, employing the medium of drama, exceeds James' "degree of syntactic fragmentation"; and he uses the inner monologue device for more than Jamesian purposes:

while James is primarily concerned with psychological issues, O'Neill makes efforts to rise from the personal to the general and to formulate a compelling statement on the metaphysical predicament of mankind. ... Nina's interior monologues chart the evolution of her metaphysical considerations.

Hence the "flaw in O'Neill's asides: their Jamesian structure often fails to insure a suitable support for the playwright's metaphysical pretensions." But even if flawed, the device has merit, and the asides in Strange Interlude "certainly deserve more critical consideration than they have received hitherto." [Ed.]

5. Michael Selmon, "Past, Present, and Future Converged: The Place of More Stately Mansions in the Eugene O'Neill Canon." Modern Drama, 28 (December 1985), 553-562.

Whatever its flaws as an individual and uncompleted text, More Stately Mansions (1936-1938) "merits--and repays--serious critical study" in the context of O'Neill's artistic career. It provides a transitional link, in terms of O'Neill's "increasing concern with the past," between the history plays that precede it ("distant-history" plays like The Fountain, Marco Millions and Lazarus Laughed; followed by works like Desire Under the Elms and Mourning Becomes Electra, "which deal with the more recent past of American history"), and the plays after Mansions, in which "O'Neill turns to the immediate past, autobiography." And it similarly links the earlier use of masks and split characters with the later integration (notable in the characters of Sara and Deborah) "into the characters themselves [of] those oppositions which previously were maintained by masking."

In addition to its transitional importance, Mansions also "continues longstanding patterns" in O'Neill's dramaturgy--patterns both of theme ("past betrayal and the present search for substitutes") and of characterization, especially the "tendency for the dramatis personae in plays written throughout O'Neill's career to conform to the archetypes of the four Tyrones." For instance, "Deborah Harford and Mary Tyrone bear affinities as close as any in the O'Neill canon." So Mansions "occupies a unique chronological and developmental position in the playwright's canon, and students of O'Neill ignore the work at their own risks." [Ed.]

6. Kevin Sullivan, "Eugene O'Neill: The Irish Dimension." The Recorder: A Journal of the American Irish Historical Society, Vol. I, No. 1 (Winter 1985), 4-21.

It seems appropriate that the handsome first issue of The Recorder should begin with an article on Eugene O'Neill. (There are also essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald, James T. Farrell, John O'Hara and William Kennedy, and a review of Margaret Ranald's Eugene O'Neill Companion.) While Recorder editor Sullivan offers little that is new about the playwright's "Irish connection," he does cite the relevant comments on the subject--foremost among them being O'Neill's own; consider the possible influences of Synge, Joyce, O'Casey and the Irish Players; and point out the three forces that comprise O'Neill's "Irish dimension"--family, cultural affinity, and temperament. Temperamental connections are the hardest to support concretely. For instance, if a non-Irish American had treated Jamie O'Neill as Mr. Sullivan has done, he might well be accused of derogatory stereotyping. (Jamie was, he says, "a Mama's Boy, a type not unfamiliar among the Irish," whose attitude toward his younger brother was understandable because "among the Irish envy is the most common of the deadly sins" [p. 11].) Sullivan's essay frequently veers away from its announced focus, and it cites no sources more recent than 1973. But it is a pleasant if not an essential read, and it does permit this promising new journal to begin where it should--with the greatest Irish-American writer of all. [Ed.]

7. John Gatta, Jr., "The American Subject: Moral History as Tragedy in the Plays of Eugene O'Neill." Essays in Literature, 6 (1979), 227-239. The following abstract, by Nancy C. Martinez, Univ. of Albuquerque, NM, is reprinted from Abstracts of English Studies, 28 (December 1985), 401:

The New England psyche furnishes the essential matter of O'Neill's tragic vision, and the failed American dream, an appropriate fable for expressing humanity's limited destiny. The plays chronicle the distortions and corruptions of American idealism and the characteristic Puritan tension "between one's public identity and the unwelcome truths of the private psyche." This dramatization of American moral history raises the question whether greater freedom may simply provide greater opportunities for self-destruction or self-indulgence.



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