"EUGENE O'NEILL--THE LATER YEARS": CONFERENCE REPORT, PART I
A throng of well over 10O from all areas of the U.S. and nine foreign countries gathered at Suffolk University in Boston on Thursday, May 29, for four days of intense discussion and convivial celebration of America's greatest dramatist, Eugene O'Neill, whose "later years" were the center of attention, as his "early years" had been at a smaller but similar conference at the same site in March 1984. Few who attended would challenge the advance contention of conference director Fred Wilkins that the event promised "something for everyone and more than enough for anyone": there was general agreement that that promise had definitely been kept.
Each attender would probably have a different list of top highlights from the four days of the conference. Many would include the Thursday-night public premiere of the new PBS documentary on the playwright, Eugene O'Neill - A Glory of Ghosts, followed by a discussion with its author (Paul Shyre), its co-producer and director (Perry Miller Adato) and two of the scholars (Normand Berlin and Travis Bogard) who had served as advisors on the project. Others might cite the 3 3/4 hour tape of The Iceman Cometh starring Jason Robards--its first showing, except in two New York City museums, since its airing on Public Television in 1960. Few would omit the moving Friday night performance of Hughie by the Los Angeles-based Eugene O'Neill Theater Festival, skillfully directed by EOTF Artistic Director Tom McDermott, in which Stan Weston (as Erie Smith) and Michael McShane (as the Night Clerk) brought out all the nuances and resonances in that diminutive masterwork. (A number of spectators spoke of it as the best Hughie they had ever seen.) Gourmets would add the Thursday lobster banquet catered by the Gloucester House restaurant. Others would cite, more generally, the feeling of shared communality that the gathering aroused in O'Neillians in various disciplines and from such widely scattered countries as Belgium, Canada, China, Egypt, England, Hungary, Japan, Sweden and West Germany. And no one would be likely to omit the stars of the Saturday night "theatrical tribute to O'Neill": playwright Israel Horovitz, a Suffolk alumnus whose first play had had its first performance on the very stage from which he spoke of his deep and lasting debt to O'Neill; director Jose Quintero, whose magnetic presence held the audience in rapt attention as he defined the genius of his greatest theatrical (and personal) mentor; and actress Ruby Dee, who offered what she called "sketches" toward a portrait of O'Neill's greatest female character, Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night.
Of particular importance to the future was the all-day "preconference" on Thursday, May 29, chaired by Professors Jackson R. Bryer and Paul D. Voelker, during which the world's major O'Neill scholars and theatre practitioners made united plans for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of O'Neill's birth in October 1988. It marked one of the few times that the two groups have met to work together, and the results may constitute the conference's most lasting significance. Scholars signed up to aid theatre companies in producing O'Neill's works during the centennial year. Grant sources were discussed, along with the strategies requisite for tapping them. Theodore Mann, whose Circle in the Square Theatre (which he cofounded with director José Quintero) began the revival of interest in O'Neill just 30 years ago, promised a staged reading at the Circle of the winning script in a competition for the best play about O'Neill, his family and associates. And plans were begun for a world-wide series of public readings of the entire canon on O'Neill's 100th birthday--Sunday, October 16, 1988. The event, which Ted Mann aptly labeled an "O'Neillathon," will require the cooperation and participation of school, college, regional and commercial theatre groups, but it will be just the thing to ensure media coverage of that memorable anniversary. The Newsletter will try to serve as a clearinghouse and vehicle for the sharing of all subsequent suggestions, plans, offers and proposals.
Of course the main centerpiece and raison d'être of the conference was the series of fourteen daytime sessions--eleven of them comprising sets of thematically related scholarly papers (32 in all), and the other three less formal in content: panel discussions about teaching and performing O'Neill (Sessions L and N, respectively), and an hour (Session A) during which "Memories of O'Neill & Co." were shared. For those fourteen sessions, and the Saturday night "tribute," recorders were enlisted, to ensure that the proceedings of the conference would be more quickly available than those of its 1984 predecessor. (It is now expected that a book of the best papers from both conferences will be in print by the end of 1988.)
Not all of the recorders' reports are in as yet, but those that have arrived are printed below, with the remainder to follow in the Winter 1986 issue. As recorders were given no specific instructions as to form and style, their submissions vary considerably in both structure and substance. Some report about papers; some offer abstracts of them. Some include coverage of post-paper discussions; some do not--and the editor has simply not had the time to play all the tapes and fill in any omissions. But the totality comprises as full a report of the conference as is likely to appear, and the conference director is grateful to the recorders for their diligence. Indeed, he is extremely grateful to all who made the 1986 conference such a memorable occasion.
SESSION A: MEMORIES OF O'NEILL & CO.--an informal hour of reminiscences about the playwright and his associates.
Major participants: Paul Shyre, author of Eugene O'Neill - A Glory of Ghosts; and Charles Metten, Brigham Young University.
Moderator: Jordan Y. Miller,
University of Rhode Island.
The first session opened with 31 registrants present as moderator Jordan Y. Miller introduced writer, director and actor Paul Shyre, who recalled how he first met Carlotta Monterey O'Neill in 1957-58. Hoping to gain rights to produce an Off-Broadway revival of The Hairy Ape, he was summoned to the Carlton House where in the lobby he saw Carlotta as an image in black, sitting in a throne chair, staring straight ahead. They lunched at Quo Vadis, where Carlotta ordered a Monterey cocktail and soon made clear that she did not want Ape performed (Shyre believes that, because she had created the role of Mildred Douglas on Broadway, she was reluctant to have anyone else seen in it). Instead she suggested Diff'rent, which Shyre eventually produced. The luncheon began a lasting friendship during which they met twice weekly. "If she liked you, she would do anything; otherwise, nothing," he said, adding, "If she liked you, she would take over your life for you.... An expensive tie would arrive from Sulka the next morning if she disapproved of the one you had been wearing at lunch." Calling her "the last of the great courtesans," he described her elegance and recalled how once, while walking, she fell in the street and became deeply embarrassed, fearing that people would think she was drunk when actually she was heavily medicated with Bufferin. Grandiose and generous, she gave Shyre a passport and attaché case that had belonged to O'Neill. Always addressing her as "Mrs. O'Neill," he likened his association to "being with a member of the royalty in the 19th Century. You were never bored by her."
Charles Metten recalled his year (1951) as a graduate assistant at UCLA where "you never called Kenneth Macgowan anything but 'Mr. Macgowan.'" The theatre department was just beginning and the faculty operated in a former barracks. Over Macgowan's desk hung the famous picture of the Provincetown triumvirate, but other than this reminder he was "non-pretentious about his past." As head of the playwriting program, Macgowan and his wife Edna became famous for their once-a-month "at home" suppers at which Macgowan's "fatherly" personality fully emerged. Metten believes that O'Neill may have found in their friendship the "paternal affection" which he needed from his youth and had never received. Described as a kind yet firm teacher, Macgowan was a taskmaster about details. At a student production, audience reactions were transcribed and discussed; one month later he checked the manuscript to see that the playwright had met each suggestion. Most of all, he believed that "students must be taught to feel what it is to be a caring, feeling human being."
Travis Bogard reported that he had found it difficult to get to the heart of Macgowan. Those he interviewed called him "wonderful" but gave no precise evidence except that they liked him. Jordan Miller recalled a brief interview in California in which he praised Macgowan's "willingness" to be helpful.
Bogard also described a recent visit to Tao House by the O'Neills' chauffeur, Freeman, who spoke of his fondness for the playwright but, when asked his feelings about Carlotta, became "awfully polite," simply calling her a lady. Freeman openly hated Blemie, that "god-damned spoiled dog. I kicked it whenever I could." Bogard met Carlotta only once, at the Carlton House where she received him in a black negligee: "I forgot you were coming, dear boy." He found her not in the least austere and not at all like the usual descriptions. The Carlotta paradox may be resolved in part by the forthcoming publication of her correspondence with Saxe and Dorothy Commins which, it was reported, more than anywhere else reveals who she was in her own words.
SESSION B: PRODUCTION HISTORY.
Moderator: Sheila Hickey Garvey,
The session, attended by some fifty listeners, comprised five papers and a brief discussion period after all the papers were presented. Two of the papers focused in detail on specific American productions of The Iceman Cometh. Gary Vena described the casting and five-week rehearsal process of the original New York production in 1946, pointing out O'Neill's intimate involvement with the day to day work on the production. Of central importance was the problematic position of Eddie Dowling, who was originally to play the role of Hickey, but finally settled for directing the play. Confronted by the intimidating presence of the author, Dowling often seemed to suppress his own directorial instincts in deference to O'Neill: "the collaboration of playwright and director was marred by a conflict of artistic temperaments and styles." The resultant production probably left each of them unsatisfied, although there seemed to be no overt clashes.
Steve Vineberg analyzed the relative effectiveness of Jason Robards' performances in the 1960 TV production (based on the 1956 off-Broadway production) and the 1985 stage revival directed by José Quintero. The earlier performance was marked by Robards' great vitality and emotional range (a grandstanding "Elmer Gantry"); the latter by Robards' age, his declining energy (a "crusty schoolmaster"), and Quintero's apparent accommodation to such attritions of time. Despite occasional moments of insight and power, Robards' performance--and the 1985 production as a whole--suffered in comparison to the earlier version: "[W]hat Quintero's  Iceman puts us through is, like Robards' performance, more of a trial of our integrity as theatregoers than an emotional experience...."
Tom J. A. Olsson's paper described the groundwork and astonishing success of the 1956 production of Long Day's Journey by Sweden's Royal Dramatic Theatre (130 performances in over six years) in the context of the cordial relations between O'Neill and the Swedish theatre world. At a time when O'Neill's reputation was at its lowest, the Swedes in the late 1940s and early 1950s showed great appreciation of his works in such productions as Iceman and Moon for the Misbegotten. Coupled with his long devotion to Strindberg, these well received productions led Mrs. O'Neill to grant permission to the Royal Dramatic to produce LDJ and his other posthumous plays. Dr. Olsson also mentioned that the Swedes plan to celebrate the O'Neill centennial with a symposium and a revival of LDJ to be directed by no less than Ingmar Bergman.
The two other papers related to the more general topic of O'Neill productions in Ireland and Germany, respectively. Edward L. Shaughnessy sketched the mixed fortunes of O'Neill on the Irish stage as a prelude to his description of four productions of LDJ by the Abbey Theatre, the first three of which were directed by Frank Dermody, who responded especially to the Irishness of LDJ. The 1959 production and its 1962 revival had the same cast and played in the same theatre, with the latter production marked by greater maturity and assurance in performance. The 1967 production was more instrumental in establishing O'Neill's stature in Ireland, largely because it played to a broader public on an extended tour prior to opening in Dublin. In contrast, the 1985 production (starring Siobhan McKenna) was less well received, partly because of what was described as its understated and uncertain direction. Nevertheless, LDJ now belongs in Ireland's "pantheon of classic plays."
Ward B. Lewis presented the broadest account of O'Neill productions in their relation to a given cultural context. Having experienced mixed success in Germany in the 1920s, admired for his exotic plots but less regarded for his dated experimentation, O'Neill was banished by the Nazis for nearly twenty years because of his "decadence." The postwar surge of interest in O'Neill was most strongly evident in 1947 West German productions of Mourning Becomes Electra, which seemed to strike a chord with the postwar zeitgeist of guilt and inexorable atonement in Germany. The situation in East Germany was more problematic, for O'Neill's fatalistic motifs were seen as unacceptable to official Marxist social optimism; it was not until 1966 that the play was revived there, now as a demonstration of the degeneration of the capitalist, bourgeois class. The production of O'Neill's late plays in the 195Os enhanced his reputation in West Germany, for he was now seen as more mature, more philosophic, more complex. By the 1960s O'Neill was, second to Shakespeare, the most produced English language dramatist in Germany.
SESSION C: BIOGRAPHICAL ILLUMINATION.
Moderator: Steven F. Bloom,
1 (Bogard). O'Neill's close relationship with his editor Saxe Commins began during the Provincetown period and lasted throughout O'Neill's life, though not without severe vicissitudes. After their having been drawn together as young artists with common interests, O'Neill's letters tell us that the relationship was cemented in 1921, when Commins, who was a dentist, did extensive work on O'Neill's bad teeth. As he did with others he was close to, including his wife Carlotta, O'Neill developed a dependence on Commins which became essential to his work. Beginning with "friendly assistance" in O'Neill's work, Commins began to stand in for the playwright on social occasions and even, on one memorable occasion, served as O'Neill's father-confessor.
While the relationship continued to the end, it was severely strained following O'Neill's third marriage. Carlotta, while at first extravagantly polite, resented Commins, whom she associated with all O'Neill's friends of his Provincetown and Greenwich Village days. Carlotta wanted to be the one O'Neill chiefly depended on, in his work as well as in his life--and indeed, O'Neill did come to see her as absolutely essential to him, though he was reluctant to give up his relationship with Commins.
The result was something of a stand-off until O'Neill's final years when, plagued by his tremor and unable to write, O'Neill turned to Commins to help him try to make a break with Carlotta. One of many "bizarre jealousies" on the part of both the O'Neills at this point, that of Carlotta for Commins became particularly ugly. During this period, "the faithful Saxe Commins received blows whose motivation he did not understand, but which scarred his well-being and his trust in human relations until his death." He could never understand how tremendously important the "evil" Carlotta (as he saw her) was to what O'Neill achieved in his last years as a playwright.
2 (Black). "For one reason or another many people progress through the stages [of accepting a close one's death] very slowly, or cannot mourn or complete mourning." O'Neill was such a person and his late plays constitute a record of that condition. O'Neill was unable to complete his mourning for the deaths of his father, mother, and brother for more than two decades. Nearly all the plays he wrote in that period "carry the themes of loss and mourning," though earlier this theme is mainly represented in a character's not being able to let the process of mourning run its full course. Only in Mourning Becomes Electra does a central character actually begin the process of mourning, and that only at the close of the play. Work on the cycle, however, seems to have prepared O'Neill for the final stages of mourning, which he represents in the three great plays that end his working life.
Although the central characters in Iceman all struggle to accept the fact of death, all but one end up still denying it. Parritt alone moves past denial to acceptance, though his suicide is acceptance of the darkest kind. The writing of Long Day's Journey moved him closer to accepting death. Through Edmund, O'Neill expresses his kinship with the world of nature and finds "resignation and humility." In Moon, O'Neill expresses such resignation by speaking through the character of Josie, who can accept the inevitable death of her loved one. In this play, O'Neill finally lays to rest his brother's ghost.
3 (Floyd). O'Neill's unfinished dramatic projects suggest he was going back to the problems in "political and spiritual evolution" which played so important a part early in his career. "The Visit of Malatesta" was to be about an anarchist hero created along the lines of Larry Slade who, having fought and suffered for his beliefs in opposing Mussolini, comes to America to find his former anarchist friends no longer "mindful of their ideals." A tradition of "anarchist plays" seems to have been in O'Neill's mind, based loosely on the thoughts about man's divided nature of the philosopher Proudhon--a tradition which would culminate "in what would have been his greatest work, 'The Last Conquest,'" followed by "Blind Alley Guy." The former would carry through the "businessman/materialist versus poet/idealist dichotomy of earlier works through two opposing characters, Satan versus Christ; the latter through a single, divided hero who would function like the divided hero of Days Without End. The seeming simplicity of the opposition would be offset, however, by the dividedness of the figures representing both sides of the dichotomy. In The Last Conquest. for example, the dividedness of both Satan and Christ would be represented.
In the brief discussion period, Jean Chothia--noting that O'Neill's earlier plays with religious themes (e.g. Lazarus Laughed and Days Without End) had not succeeded while those about family had--asked Virginia Floyd whether the last projected plays would have brought the religious theme to a fulfillment similar to that which the last completed plays provided for the family theme. Floyd said she felt they definitely would have. Normand Berlin protested that since O'Neill had obviously not wanted to do any more on the projected plays, it was a mistake to try to do anything more with them. One should certainly, he said, resist the impulse to try to complete them.
SESSION D: "A TALE OF POSSESSORS SELF-DISPOSSESSED."
Judith E. Barlow, State University of New York at Albany.
It was with excitement and anticipation that O'Neill scholars, directors and actors gathered to hear Martha Bower, a scholar deeply involved in studying O'Neill's cycle plays, and Donald Gallup, who from 1947 to 1980 was curator of the Collection of American Literature at Yale University. (Professor Gallup records in great detail how the O'Neill Collection came to be donated to Yale in the Summer-Fall 1985 issue of the Newsletter.) It is from the primary source O'Neill manuscripts in the Yale Collection that both Bower and Gallup have done their extensive research for the two papers presented.
Travis Bogard reminds us about the monumental O'Neill cycle when he writes in Contour in Time:
Martha Bower's paper traced "the evolution of Mansions from the earliest notes made in 1935 to the final typescript and only extant draft of the play." She discussed the self-edited 1938 typescript, the 1939 revision notes and the 1964 Yale edition. With great detail and clarity she told of O'Neill's development of theme, character, preparation, dramatic tension developed through crisis and climax, and dialogue created to forward plot structure and character relationships. She pointed out O'Neill's extensive editing and rewriting as the play evolved from "behemoth proportions to only a gargantuan length."
As the paper was being read, one was made more aware of O'Neill's careful attention to pre-planning the structure of a dramatic work, so necessary for him before ever beginning the dialogue. O'Neill always had the grand plan, the direction of the work clearly in mind before he ever "wrote" the play. Professor Bower closed her paper with these words:
While Professor Bower talked specifically of one play in the O'Neill cycle, Professor Donald Gallup traced the development of the cycle as it grew from nine to eleven full-length dramatic works, to be entitled A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed. Quoting extensively from O'Neill's Work Diary, Gallup masterfully explained the complex genealogy comprising the eleven plays: The Poor in Spirit or Pride of the Meek, Rebellion of the Humble, Greed of the Meek, And Give Me Death, A Touch of the Poet, More Stately Mansions, The Calms of Capricorn, The Earth Is the Limit, Nothing Is Lost Save Honor, The Man on Iron Horseback, and Hair of the Dog.
Professor Gallup explained:
It was at this point, Gallup said, that O'Neill expanded the cycle to eleven plays.
After Professor Gallup's paper, the first question came from Harley Hammerman who noted, "All of this sounds just like episodes of Dallas." Did O'Neill's illness, he asked, stop him from being more imaginative? Gallup's response was, "O'Neill's greatest success came when he was focused."
The next question was from Jarka M. Burian: "How many read these cycle notes?" Gallup responded, "No one!" Carlotta said "No!" He added, "I spent a year transcribing the material; I made my material available. One or two perhaps have worked on the material."
Session D was fascinating! Our sincere gratitude goes to Professors Bower and Gallup for so sincerely sharing their research and work on O'Neill's cycle with us.
[Sessions E and F will be reported on in the next issue of the Newsletter.]
SESSION G: HUGHIE.
Vena, Manhattan College.
Preceding the Friday night performance of Hughie, a session on this one-act consisted of the two above-listed papers. In the first, Steven Bloom contrasted Beckett's Waiting for Godot with Hughie. Whereas Vladimir and Estragon spend their time communicating with each other, Erie and Charlie never do, except tenuously at the end. Although Vladimir and Estragon even know each other's thoughts and take pleasure in contradicting as well as agreeing with one another, Erie communicates mainly with the audience rather than with the night clerk, Charlie. Beckett's nihilism is thus ameliorated by the interrelationship which gets two characters through life's trials. In Hughie, which ends with a fragile communication, O'Neill may be winking at the audience with whom he has shared the proposition that only tenuous connections are possible in a world of isolation. Waiting for the "dough" which Lady Luck may bring to Erie and Charlie promises a less permanent relationship than that of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot.
In the second paper, Yasuko Ikeuchi, making such general comments about O'Neill as that he illustrated in Iceman and Hughie the lives of those in the lower depths who had not shared in America's wealth, that human isolation was a theme he had often dramatized, and that realism was the mode of many of his plays, concluded that the characters of Iceman and Hughie are blood brothers, who keep dreaming and gambling their souls away in illusions. Unlike classical tragic heroes, they do not struggle against fate, but succumb to a life-in-death existence.
During the discussion of the papers, a participant remarked that he thought he had been given Room 492 at the Parker House--an event which caused him some consternation in view of Erie's occupation of this room in a less auspicious hotel. There was brief discussion of whether, in view of Ikeuchi's emphasis on the lower-depths setting of Iceman and Hughie, a Hughie-type situation could occur in an affluent setting.
While agreeing that Vladimir and Estragon do get by, through their nonsensical dialogue, participants wondered whether the absence of fuller meaning to life did not negate any optimism, whereas at least Erie and Charlie are happy at the end with their new-found dream of communion and luck. Considerable agreement was expressed, however, with Bloom's contention that, even without God, the two characters in Godot have a sustaining relationship which is more hopeful than that of the two characters in Hughie.
SESSION H: MATTERS OF TIME AND PLACE.
Jackson R. Bryer, University of Maryland.
In the first paper, John Henry Raleigh discussed the influences of three aspects of memory on O'Neill's masterwork. Communal memory is operational in several O'Neill plays; The Emperor Jones evidences "collective racial memory," The Iceman Cometh "collective social memory," and in the "Irish plays," Long Day's Journey and A Touch of the Poet, "the history and culture of Ireland are omnipresent for many of the characters." In Journey, the presence of communal memory is underscored by "the story of James Tyrone's childhood ... which would have made the slow-paced, simple, communal life on the green soil of Ireland ... appear to be paradisal."
The familial memories of the Tyrones, a "long-standing family group ... with the two sons ... still living at home with their parents and having adolescent 'allowances' doled out to them by their begrudging father," are of the same "generic outline" yet unique in that "no two people, even man and wife or siblings ever remember all the same things; and when they do remember in common, as they often do, they do not remember those same things in the same way." Memory is, in this sense, "self-serving," its purpose being "to enhance ... one's ego and one's self-esteem."
In looking at the place of personal memories in Journey, "one is struck by the preponderance of the memory of Mary Tyrone; in fact one could say that for the first three acts this is what the play is about; not only is she the dominant figure in the play, the dominant thing about her is her ever-exfoliating memory." Act IV is "packed" with the "major memorials" of the three men in the play. Basically, O'Neill has "put at the center of his play an extended memory [Mayr's]," a memory which is "complex, on occasion contradictory, problematical, obsessive, regressive, a veritable 'echo-chamber lined with mirrors'." As a "counterpoint to this central memory," the memories of the men are "straightforward, unambiguous, nonobsessive ... and 'true,' i.e. they constitute a reasonably accurate reflection of the past."
Laurin R. Porter discussed the "relationship between ritual and time" in O'Neill's later works. Time is dualistic, dramatically representing both calendar and memory; "when both memory and the calendar impose burdens too heavy to bear, O'Neill falls back on ritual." Characters in The Iceman Cometh, A Moon for the Misbegotten, More Stately Mansions, The Calms of Capricorn, and A Touch of the Poet all seek to control time in their efforts to negate the passing of calendar (or linear) time, "to re-create the past" in the present, or to escape from their memories. "Whatever their stance, to a large extent the decisions of these personae are shaped by their response to time. When they have exhausted their resources, when both calendar and memory betray them, they turn to ritual in an effort to transcend the limitations of time and space."
According to Porter, "all rituals assume a pre-existing community with shared ideals, and "the individual participant must apprehend the meaning of the ritual and the values it embodies and fully consent to its power." The ritual itself, then, "is an action which embodies and dramatizes the shared beliefs of a community," and the community which partakes of these ideals, or rituals, "for the moment, at least ... exists outside time." O'Neill's characters, forsaken by both calendar and memory, "turn to the ritual of confession, bearing their souls to priests of their own making in an attempt to experience the dimension of the ineffable."
The confessional ritual does not always bring peace, though. In Iceman, Hickey "doesn't believe in the power of his confessors" or "the reality of [his] revelation" about his murder of Evelyn; in effect, he "remains trapped in linear time" and "unabsolved, ... goes to his death denying the truth." In Journey, the confessional ritual fails because the characters "rely ... on memory, as if to know were sufficient, as if understanding brought change." They have also chosen a character who "is not a legitimate confessor," Edmund, "whose ideal moments ... are individual, not communal in nature." In Moon, "the confessional ritual is finally efficacious." Jim confesses to Josie, "instinctively turn[ing] to the one person who can bring him peace," and since he both chose "the right confessor" and "relinquishe[d] himself to the power of the ritual ... time's virulence is for the moment diminished; he goes to his death in peace."
In the third paper, Linda Ben-Zvi began by citing an early O'Neill poem entitled "Free." In Ben-Zvi's view, the desire for freedom is "one of the constant poles in O'Neill's plays." This theme is, however, "set against an antithetical force also at work in the shaping of an O'Neill play: the tendency toward and the desire for fixity." These two opposing "ends create the tensions and provide the imagery in many O'Neill plays, both in his early and later periods."
Ben-Zvi elucidated the contradictory pulls of freedom versus fixity throughout the O'Neill canon. In the sea plays Moon of the Caribbees, Bound East for Cardiff, and In the Zone, though the "sea locales" should connote freedom, "in none of them is an expanse of sea shown." The action of these plays takes place in "closed, cramped quarters, small crowded bunks, foreshortened areas." Ile and Where the Cross Is Made are also set in "severely restricted areas." In Beyond the Horizon, Robert "dreams of distant seas and curses the hills that confine him," yet he never "leaves home, and his fixity becomes the tragedy of the play." The freedom of the sea versus "the fixity of home" is again played out in The Hairy Ape. Yank belongs not to "the sea, the horizon, or even freedom," but to "the narrow world below deck that he controls and the men who now constitute the only family he has."
In the later plays, too, this idea of freedom versus fixity is "dominant." According to Ben-Zvi, "as O'Neill himself got older his absorption with freedom became greater and his need for fixity more pervasive." A Touch of the Poet, More Stately Mansions, The Calms of Capricorn, The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey Into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten all contain "the recognition that freedom, if possible at all, comes not from flight but from return, not in a promising future but in a redeemed past." And this redeemed past leads to "a more lasting hoped-for freedom: the freedom that may come with death." O'Neill views death as the "ultimate freedom, and possibly the ultimate return: to security and home."
[Session I will be reported on in the next issue of the Newsletter.]
SESSION J: MATTERS OF GENRE.
Laurin R. Porter, University of Texas at Arlington.
In his exploration of melodrama and tragedy in The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey Into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten, Michael Manheim proved these late plays to be "truer tragedies" than the early plays. Manheim began his discussion by alluding to Robert Heilman's definition of the two genres--"that melodrama involves intrigue, a mystery wherein key information is withheld until the final moments of a work, and the other ... is the polar opposition of clear conceptions of good and evil." Melodrama can also be "a drama of disaster"--one in which evil goes unpunished and the protagonist is defeated. Manheim, reflecting on Heilman's definition, explained tragedy, on the other hand, as transcending melodrama--the intrigue diminishes in importance and the concepts of good and evil "become increasingly ambiguous." The moral and psychological ambiguity of tragedy leaves it open to "fuller interpretations."
O'Neill "goes beyond melodrama" in his last three plays by his treatment of the intrigue cited above, and his manipulation of the past. In all of these plays, O'Neill sets up false expectations of intrigue which "yield gradually ... to what is central." In Moon, O'Neill all but fools the audience into thinking they are watching a melodrama which involves the entrapment of Jim Tyrone by Phil and Josie Hogan. Two thirds of the way through, that same melodramatic intrigue turns tragic. The center of that tragedy uncovers the "depths of Jim's and Josie's psychological suffering and the means by which each is able to relieve that suffering in the other." In Iceman and Journey as well, O'Neill shifts the emphasis from intrigue and suspense to the pathetic condition of the characters; thus, he brings the audience to an acute awareness of their suffering.
Manheim also revealed evidence in the three plays of "the second and ultimately more important means by which O'Neill transcends melodrama"--his use of the past, both recent and distant. O'Neill "triumphs over melodrama" by his contradictory and thus ambiguous renditions of the past--whereas in melodrama the past is knowable and constant. Jimmy Tomorrow, Hickey, Mary Tyrone, et al., become both protagonists and antagonists in melodramas that reflect the various opposing memories of the past. The dramas become tragic when as an audience we experience the characters in the present (not based on past events), and identify with their responses to life in all its complexity.
Professor Manheim presented a thorough and convincing case for O'Neill's transcendence of melodrama in the late plays, plays that have become "monuments to a belief in life as it is being and not as it has been lived."
Joyce Flynn, the second speaker, focused on the source of melodrama in O'Neill's works, and used A Moon for the Misbegotten as a point of comparison between O'Neill and two traditions: Irish ethnic identity and popular melodrama. Flynn traced this connection back to the influence of O'Neill's father, James O'Neill, who was both melodramatic actor and Irish immigrant. She sees O'Neill's plot concepts stemming from a "specifically Irish-American tradition" and one that includes the "noble peasant." Citing Boucicault's plays, The Colleen Hawn and The Amadan, Flynn described the elements of melodrama as "stark contrasts between good and evil," an evil that poses a threat to the heroine's virtue in the form of a sexual violation.
But absent from the early melodramas is the "tendency to idealize rural life and to present positively the traits and individual behavior associated with upward mobility and financial success." Two patterns of action occur in the plays set in Ireland by American writers--"dramas of return from exile, and dramas of emigration-promoting hardship set in the last century." One character usually moves on an east-west axis in a traumatic search for self. There is a "pattern of confinement and release," and a rebirth, more actual than mythic, where "the hero and heroine embark on a new kind of life."
Flynn saw the second pattern in Irish-American melodrama--that of "emigration-promoting hardship"--as being more relevant to O'Neill's heritage and the families in Moon; and she made a connection between the O'Neill play and "melodramas of endangered rural Ireland," which have as a focus the right to land ownership. Flynn pointed to satire in O'Neill's simulation of earlier dramatists' Irish cottage life--Josie Hogan versus the frail vulnerable female--and saw a comparison to O'Neill in the tensions inherent in Irish-American society, as it attempted to merge with Anglican society. Flynn concluded that where O'Neill departs in Moon from the conventions of earlier types, he may be giving us "an amused but elegiac farewell to the fine, strong things that he had come to sense in the Irish peasantry."
Turning from melodrama to comedy, Normand Berlin offered a fresh perspective on the kind of drama found in The Iceman Cometh. Although almost all of the characters, Berlin admitted, are comic/pathetic, and there is a deep sense of tragedy in the play, O'Neill weights the action and dialogue heavily on the side of comedy. Basing his responses to Iceman on his viewing of the recent Broadway production, he "thinks" the first act is hilarious comedy. Berlin's uncertainty reflects O'Neill's own, as stage directions and dialogue confirm the generic duality of the play: "the comedy breaks up and the tragedy comes on...." In addition to raising questions about the genre of the play, Berlin questioned Hickey's role. Whereas Manheim sees Hickey as protagonist and antagonist, Berlin wonders if he is "tragic protagonist" or "comic catalyst." Hickey's dual role in Iceman conjures up for Berlin lines spoken by Edmund in King Lear: "Pat! he comes, like the catastrophe of the old comedy." Out of Hickey's clowning comes "a sobering sense of reality" and a "moralistic drive."
Comparing Hickey to Malvolio, Professor Berlin suggested that Hickey is akin to the traditional "blocking figure" in comedy. Like his Shakespearean counterpart, Hickey aims to stop the frivolous, boozing, illusory world of the gang, and he is "almost demonic" in his insistence on the derelicts' sobriety. He is banished from the world of the revelers, but unlike Malvolio, he wishes them happiness.
Berlin concluded his discussion with the notion that Harry Hope's gang belongs to the comic world by virtue of its "social unity." They are pathetic, yes, but not isolated or unique. Their survival at play's end "allows for life." Even Larry Slade, who comes closest in Berlin's opinion to being a tragic figure, has the earmarks of a Shakespearean fool, and it is his fool's objectivity that gives him tragic vision. Manheim's and Berlin's conclusions are not far apart when they see not only tragedy in Iceman, but also reality and life. In one of the more intriguing sessions of the conference, the three panelists complemented and reinforced their respective views on genre in O'Neill.
SESSION K: WOMEN IN O'NEILL'S PLAYS.
Steve Vineberg, College of the Holy Cross.
Session K was honored by a visit from Ruby Dee, who remained to hear the papers, all four of which dealt in some way with Mary Tyrone, a role that Miss Dee has played with distinction.
Judith E. Barlow's paper dealt with the maternal traits of many O'Neill women, including Essie Miller and Nora Melody, but especially Mary Tyrone and Josie Hogan. Professor Barlow asserted that "Mary Tyrone's dilemma is that she has found herself in an O'Neill play." Insofar as Mary fails in her maternal obligations, "both playwright and family condemn her." The problems that Mary confronted long ago--the physical and emotional pain of childbearing and childrearing and the guilt over the death of the baby Eugene--overcame her, and she has become unable to nurture. She is also unable to forgive the Tyrone men their transgressions. Josie Hogan, on the other hand, is the embodiment of all maternal virtues "that the male characters have been seeking throughout the O'Neill canon." Professor Barlow noted that Josie "has nurtured and protected a succession of men of all ages." She is the standard against which O'Neill's other female characters "are measured and found wanting."
James A. Robinson's paper viewed The Iceman Cometh as "O'Neill's one last attempted escape from his familial ghosts before his direct confrontation with them" in Long Day's Journey Into Night. The four absent women in Iceman, Robinson believes, are thus various aspects of O'Neill's mother--in fact, "sketches for the character of Mary Tyrone." Bessie Hope, Marjorie Cameron, and Evelyn Hickman all point toward Mary; but Rosa Parritt, Professor Robinson maintained, is the most important Iceman sketch of Mary Tyrone because in her O'Neill "explored the psychological devastation wrought by an absent mother upon a son."
Bette Mandl's paper suggested that Long Day's Journey Into Night and Mary's place in it "invite re-vision." O'Neill has wrought, Professor Mandl said, an "authentic representation of woman at odds ... with home and family as they were structured in her day." Mary's only recourse in this situation is a retreat into illness. At the beginning of the play, when she appears to be "cured," the Tyrone men all expect her to assume the woman's traditional role in the home. Her return home marks a return to the isolation and unbearable loneliness that have been her lot ever since she married James. As Mary withdraws, she becomes unavailable to her family, especially to Edmund as he faces his potentially fatal illness. Professor Mandl concluded, however, that O'Neill gave Mary lines that exonerate all the Tyrones, that he in fact has identified her "with his own psychological and artistic purpose" in the drama.
John G. Peters' paper interpreted the character of Mary Tyrone in light of Jung's and Neumann's "Great Mother," who both nurtures and destroys. Mr. Peters asserted that Mary's nurturing role is apparent in two ways: (1) "she is implicitly a nurturer by nature of our definition of motherhood," and (2) she demonstrates her desire to nurture the Tyrone men. Furthermore, her nurturing function is reinforced by a matronly physical appearance. The destructive facet of Mary as the "Great Mother" is obvious in her return to the fog of morphine addiction, with its devastating effect on the Tyrone men. The sons are especially affected when their mother ceases to be a nurturer and becomes a "kind of spiritual destroyer." Finally, Mary's family no longer exists for her.
The discussion following the papers centered on Professor Mandl's presentation, with many observations on the problem of the balance of guilt in James and Mary. Yvonne Shafer wondered if James would seem so bad if Mary did not have such high standards. Jackson Bryer suggested that one be wary of any interpretation that emphasizes the guilt of one person over another in Journey but also said that he finds it easier to blame James more than any other family member. Professor Mandl's response pointed to mutual responsibility in Mary and James: James is a poor provider, and Mary cannot give of herself. Professor Mandl also commented on a lack of social context for Mary, who does not seem to fit anywhere. Rosalie Warren said that Mary has had no outlet such as a coffee klatsch to relieve the monotony of life among males, the monotony of just sitting home. James Robinson stated that the curtain scene tips the balance against Mary. The Tyrone men are unhappy in the final moments because Mary is happy in her morphine-induced return to girlhood innocence.
SESSION L: TEACHING O'NEILL--A PANEL DISCUSSION.
Panelists: Steven F. Bloom, Emmanuel College; James R. Harris, John Jay High School, Katonah, NY; Charles Metten, Brigham Young University; Gary Vena, Manhattan College; Jean Anne Waterstradt, Brigham Young University.
Marvis Voelker, University of Wisconsin Center at Richland.
Marvis Voelker chaired a lively, informative and wide-ranging discussion about teaching O'Neill, giving each of the panelists his/her allotted time, and bringing the audience into the discussion thereafter.
Steven F. Bloom, the first discussant, compared his experiences teaching O'Neill at a Catholic college for women and at an elder hostel. The reading of Long Day's Journey Into Night was an uncomfortable experience for some of the women, especially dealing with Mary's addiction. The older students wanted biographical information which they could relate to the play and theatrical information on methods of staging. Bloom also had moderate success in having students investigate character biographies and introduce themselves to the class as the characters. James R. Harris teaches one of only two high school classes dealing with O'Neill. His honors class proved so successful that Harris has been able to offer a second semester of independent study. Harris has also arranged class visits to Monte Cristo Cottage and Gaylord Farm, and field trips to Broadway productions. Charles Metten teaches the plays through their production in class, even though his students have had little or no prior theatre experience. He begins by having students sit in a circle, reading to each other. As they gain in confidence, they begin to stage the plays. The class arranges for costumes and props, and the local television station videotapes the students' work. Several of the O'Neill one-acts have been done in this manner. Gary Vena teaches the plays and emphasizes their production values; photographs and programs of productions are brought to class. Videotapes and films are used to supplement the plays read. Students also read biographical material. In all, twenty-four plays are read, including one-acts and some of the less successful longer ones, along with the great plays. Students "compile a file" as one project for class; for this assignment, one student interviewed Armina Marshall at the Theatre Guild office and arranged for her visit to the class. Jean Anne Waterstradt arranged for a symposium to celebrate O'Neill's ninety-fifth birthday in 1983. The members included undergraduate and graduate students, literature and science students, as well as foreign students. Each student developed two papers, reacted to other students' work, and read one paper at the symposium. Following the symposium, a class journal was published reflecting the work of the seminar.
In the open discussion that followed the individual presentations, cultural differences as well as difficulties with O'Neill's language were cited as problems in teaching O'Neill in foreign countries. Representatives from China and Egypt, in particular, were anxious for specific ideas that they might incorporate into their teaching. A high school student who first encountered O'Neill by appearing in a production of Take Me Along related how he went on to read the plays on his own since he could find no course in which O'Neill was taught. Many questions were raised and ideas put forth; the need for a forum for the exchange of information on teaching O'Neill was clearly suggested. The following are some of the major concerns that were voiced.
SESSION M: PATTERNS IN THE DRAMATIC CARPET, II.
Yvonne Shafer, Florida State University.
At 9:00 on Sunday morning, June 1, thirty people gathered (the number later grew) to hear what were to be the final two scholarly papers presented at the conference. Any second thoughts about having missed an extra hour's sleep on a Sunday morning were quickly dismissed as the audience began to see the distinctly interesting, related patterns that the two speakers would weave. Both papers would consider the spiritual, or theological, implications of O'Neill's later works--one from a Western, and specifically Catholic, perspective; the other from an Eastern, and specifically Taoist, perspective.
In the first paper, Michael C. O'Neill (no relation) asserted that Eugene O'Neill "found the stage perfectly suited for confessing his life through artifice," thus attaining an "artistic absolution." Noting the recurrence of blessings and pleas for forgiveness in many of the late plays, Professor O'Neill detects in Days Without End the "seeds" of the dramatist's quest for absolution which culminates in A Moon for the Misbegotten, where Josie Hogan becomes the embodiment of "a religious vision in which peace of soul is possible."
Professor O'Neill ultimately suggested that Eugene O'Neill created his brother Jamie "in his own image" in Moon, and then had Jamie confess for him "to a god they never knew." The "final forgiveness" in Moon, and therefore in O'Neill's work, "does not come from a god within us or outside of us, but from one another." Professor O'Neill then included the audience in the dramatist's confessional: "we too might forgive and ... we too might say, as Josie can, 'I want you to remember my love for you gave you peace for a while,'" suggesting that ultimately the audience becomes the confessor to Eugene O'Neill's penitent, providing forgiveness in the acceptance of the artifice that was his confessional.
The second paper at this session then confirmed that there is room enough in O'Neill's dramatic carpet for more than one theological pattern. Haiping Liu, Fellow at the Research Institute of Foreign Literature at Nanjing University in China, attributed the existential ambiguity of the late plays to the influence of Taoism on O'Neill's thinking. After establishing O'Neill's familiarity and fascination with Oriental philosophy, Professor Liu pointed out the specific influence of Taoism, both in O'Neill's life of hermitic isolation at Tao House, and in his creation of "tragic protagonists" in the late plays who "shun the society of the outside world and look within."
Professor Liu proceeded to illustrate how several central tenets of Taoist teaching are reflected in The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey Into Night, A Moon for the Misbegotten, and Hughie. Specifically, the "interfusion of opposites," an acceptance of death, and the merging of dream and reality reflect the Taoist "ambiguity and equivalence" that characterize these late plays. Professor Liu finally contended that O'Neill attained a sense of peace and transcendence in these works that was based on his "final belief in there being no antithesis between dream and reality, truth and falsehood, good and evil, hope and despair." According to the speaker, O'Neill's "silence" as a writer after returning to New York from Tao House is explained by his Taoist awareness that "at center all things are one."
Among the few comments from the audience (limited only by the time remaining, not by lack of interest), perhaps Michael Manheim captured the impact of this session best when he noted that in the compatibility of the two papers by Professors O'Neill and Liu lies remarkable testimony to the greatness of O'Neill's artistry.
SESSION N: O'NEILL ON STAGE--A PANEL DISCUSSION.
Panelists: Jarka M. Burian, State University of New York at Albany; Ruby Dee, actress; Tom McDermott, Artistic Director, Eugene O'Neill Theater Festival; Tom J. A. Olsson, Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm; José Quintero, director and author; Stan Weston, actor and Executive Director, Eugene O'Neill Theater Festival.
Sheila Hickey Garvey, Dickinson College.
After the introduction by the moderator, Tom Olsson reminisced about the first Swedish production of All God's Chillun and the critics who praised the director for the shrinking-mask device. Olsson also noted that the same man, Swen Bartel, had done all the O'Neill translations from 1945 to 1962; in all, O'Neill's texts were followed very faithfully.
Jarka Burian showed slides of his productions of The Emperor Jones (an arena production), Hughie (in which the night clerk's thoughts were recorded), The Great God Brown, and The Iceman Cometh. Burian also commented on the style of acting necessary for O'Neill--authentic realism played in a kind of "hyper" way, with an impassioned dynamic range which goes beyond psychological realism. Responding to questions, Burian noted further that he had employed the scheme of masks in Brown as specified in the stage directions, and that the "convention" provoked no laughter. With O'Neill, he said, you have to read (and trust) the stage directions.
Ruby Dee responded to questions on her portrayal of Mary Tyrone for television. She feels a novice regarding Mary because she had such a short rehearsal period; she wants to know Mary better. To this end, she feels Mary just materializes out of the script--"I get so much out of the text." In Miss Dee's assessment, Mary is a woman without a sense of self-definition; she has no support system, no Women's Movement she can relate to. In her time, a woman's place was well defined; the stereotypes had not been shattered. Yet she loved the men in her life. Mary's situation is not dated, however, because the theme of wasted talent is ageless. Regarding the morphine, Dee used film images of drug-taking; she sees Mary taking her drugs quickly, neatly, and secretively, as if it did not happen. She also sees Mary going through three different phases with the drug--first, just a little, hardly any effect; second, euphoria; third, coming down. Commenting on translating O'Neill to the screen, Dee observed that film and videotape can deal with visual subtleties in the actor's face, can "film thought"; but O'Neill is big in gestures and feelings, almost too big for little cameras. Dee looks forward to doing Mary again and getting accustomed to her presence.
José Quintero responded to questions regarding his original production of Long Day's Journey and the current revival, his relationship with Jason Robards, his own recent revival of Iceman, the staging of More Stately Mansions, and his future goals in directing O'Neill. Recalling the first rehearsals of Long Day's Journey, Quintero noted that Fredric March had been his idol, "a myth," since he was 14. In rehearsal, March became obsessed with the idea that he would forget his lines in performance. The solution hit upon was to create an all-purpose (and usually appropriate) line that March could use to signal for a cue--"How dare you say that to me!" Regarding Mary Tyrone, Quintero said that Florence Eldridge felt that she had not achieved Mary and, as a result, never acted again. Quintero sees Mary as one of the most difficult roles to capture. In his view, Mary progresses backward during the play until she is a virginal little girl; along the way there are moments of total joy for her. Mary uses the morphine to get to the "roles" she wants to play. With regard to the play itself, Quintero remarked that Long Day's Journey is the "greatest play in the American repertory and one of the greatest plays in the English language," and that its entire structure rests on the first act.
Concerning the opening of Journey in Boston, Quintero recalled that initial reviews were bad. As a result, the "backers" wanted to make cuts; but March, who was also a backer, offered to buy out anyone who was not willing to go along with an uncut script. (Quintero had promised Carlotta O'Neill that he would do the play as written.) Quintero concluded this portion by observing that James and Mary Tyrone are larger than life and demand passion in their portrayal, and that O'Neill is one of the few writers who can help us understand ourselves.
Responding to another question, Quintero went on to discuss his relations with Jason Robards. Their relationship in rehearsals is extremely free and open--"the freest relation with any actor I've ever had." There is no need to intellectualize: Quintero shows Robards what he has in mind and Robards just "does it." Robards, Quintero says, has an instinct for O'Neill; he understands the "texture" and has a profound knowledge of guilt. His sense of O'Neill's phrasing is absolute. Quintero has never seen another actor trust the material as implicitly as Robards trusts O'Neill. When Robards first read for the role of Hickey--despite Quintero's lack of prior enthusiasm--the reading clarified the role to Quintero.
The recent revival of Iceman, Quintero feels, did not get a fair hearing from the critics; too much fuss was made about the length, after everybody was "gaga" over Nicholas Nickleby. All of his O'Neill productions, Quintero feels, have had to fight the ignorance and the pro-European-drama bias of the critics. They do not support excellence in the theatre; they still do not understand how O'Neill builds the strength of his plays through repetition. O'Neill is the only critic Quintero listens to, and O'Neill "does not mind the length!" The critics, Quintero feels, resent greatness and truth; they don't want to be moved, just entertained. He is disappointed with the enthusiasm for the brevity of the recent "shortened" version of Journey; nothing pleases him more than more productions of O'Neill, which reaffirm his contribution--as long as there is respect for the man and the text. In Iceman, the audience should long for the coming of Hickey. Quintero himself was surprised when it was pointed out to him that in his recent Iceman no one moved on stage for half an hour; it just happened that way, it was not a conscious risk-taking.
Responding briefly to final questions, Quintero observed that there was only one great translation of O'Neill to the screen--John Ford's The Long Voyage Home; that it is better to stage More Stately Mansions than not to, and that Deborah Harford is one of the great characters; and that as eventual projects, he would still like to direct The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape, The Great God Brown and Ah, Wilderness!
Also responding to questions, Tom McDermott remarked that we should all be grateful to Quintero for keeping O'Neill alive in his productions. McDermott sees Quintero as the model of the "disappearing director," one not obsessed with making a public display of his own brilliance. Unfortunately, that approach is not currently fashionable. Critics, he feels, want to see something different; they are unable to appreciate the "hidden hand" of a director. So directors feel they must be seen as imposing themselves on the text. Regarding his foundation of an O'Neill festival, McDermott observed that American culture does not adequately appreciate its dead artists; we have a great theatre tradition which is not acknowledged. We should take great pride in our artists in order to promote reading and intelligent thought and government. In later seasons, McDermott plans to stage productions of influences on O'Neill as well as the work of newer playwrights. This year's season will include a double-bill of Hughie and Before Breakfast in repertory with A Touch of the Poet (Stan Weston will play Erie Smith and Con Melody), and possibly a production of Desire Under the Elms.
In responding to further questions, Stan Weston explained that he shared McDermott's dream of an O'Neill festival, recounted how he first became an actor, and noted that he had just returned to acting after an absence of twenty years. He had been in Beyond the Horizon in college, and upon beginning to act again he performed the role of Jamie in A Moon for the Misbegotten. Weston was afraid at first of the role of Erie Smith, which he performed at the conference on Friday night, but he discovered that the language "went in" and brought out the character, even though at first the dialogue seemed corny and overblown.
O'Neill, Weston added, presents the audience and the critics with a challenge; this frightens those who want fashion rather than experience. He closed by saying that the Suffolk University conference on O'Neill's later years and the many sessions of papers that he had attended, besides teaching him a great deal about O'Neill and his plays, showed him the remarkable love for O'Neill that exists among scholars and professors even as it does among devoted performers and directors.
A THEATRE TRIBUTE TO EUGENE O'NEILL.
Participants: Israel Horovitz, playwright: José Quintero, director; Ruby Dee, actress.
Frederick C. Wilkins, Suffolk University.
On Saturday, May 31, the third evening of the conference, scholars, theatre practitioners and the curious gathered at the Suffolk University Theatre for a special event. The evening was to be a "tribute" to O'Neill and held promise of being one of the high points of the four days' events. Those assembled were not disappointed.
Professor Frederick C. Wilkins, director of the conference, echoed Shakespeare's Chorus from Henry V in wishing "for a muse of fire" to introduce the evening's speakers. The tribute was to be an examination of the living tradition of O'Neill, in terms of playwriting, directing and acting, by Israel Horovitz, José Quintero and Ruby Dee, respectively.
Israel Horovitz, speaking on Eugene O'Neill's legacy, subtitled his speech "Growing Up in the Shadow Of O'Neill." He credited O'Neill with redefining American taste. Mr. Horovitz, a prolific playwright whose works have often been structured as cycles or trilogies, cited O'Neill's legacy for him as the holiness of the playwright's endeavor and pronounced O'Neill (along with Samuel Beckett) as the guiding light of his work. Mr. Horovitz referred to O'Neill as the "ultimate loner" for whom "life was to be slowed down; controlled; looked at; written." He concluded by paying homage to O'Neill as one of the most excellent of the excellent. "To me, O'Neill speaks and says, 'Protect this holy thing, playwriting, with great dignity.'"
José Quintero, in explaining the technical impact of O'Neill's work on his directing, also revealed the emotional bearing the playwright's work has had on his life. Mr. Quintero said that in staging eleven of O'Neill's plays he had found it a cardinal necessity to become "totally vulnerable to his [O'Neill's] world." He maintained that only through a trust in the material that bordered on faith would the carefully planned complexities of the playwright's work reveal themselves. He credited O'Neill with teaching him the trust and patience that he felt to be the essence of directing. Mr. Quintero maintained that his work with the broken characters and troubled souls of O'Neill's plays had led him to a deeper humanity. It also made him reassess his relationship to his own parents and helped him to a better understanding of those "two most important people." He spoke of a vast love that he found to be present in the playwright's works, and declared that the introspective challenge in O'Neill's work was not only daunting for the artist, but for the audience as well, and that some were not ready or willing to face it. He exhorted the audience not to shrink from O'Neill's challenge, but to "surrender, stretch, dare, and not be afraid of the pain as you are not afraid of the laughter."
Ruby Dee, calling the role of Mary Tyrone "a life's work," took the stage for a dramatic reading of scenes from Long Day's Journey Into Night. Ms. Dee's transformation from her own warm and dignified person to the troubled and crumbling identity of Mary Cavan Tyrone was startling and complete. Her fine acting skills captured Mary's gradual submergence into morphine and memories. As Mary Tyrone, a role that deservedly brought her the 1983 ACE Award for "Best Performance by an Actress in a Dramatic Presentation," Ms. Dee's voice was rich with beautifully brittle rhythms and melodic variety. There was a wonderful sense of nuance and subtlety of emotion in her portrayal as she read such moments as the closing of Act Two, Scene Two ("I could no longer call my soul my own"), and Mary's memories of meeting James Tyrone for the first time (Act Three). The audience was entranced and enriched by Ms. Dee's "portrait" of Mary Tyrone.
The evening revealed more than O'Neill's deep and abiding influence on artists of the first rank. It displayed the ongoing respect for O'Neill's achievement and the acceptance of his challenges by both artists and audience.
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