NEWS, VIEWS AND REVIEWS
1. O'NEILL CENTENNIAL CONFERENCE IN BELGIUM. The Belgian Luxembourg American Studies Association will sponsor, in 1988, an international conference entitled "Eugene O'Neill and the Emergence of American Drama." This event, meant to celebrate the centenary of the playwright's birth, has been scheduled a few days before the O'Neill-Strindberg symposium at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, so international visitors will be able to attend both events. The conference will take place in Han-sur-Lesse, described by conference director Marc Maufort as "a lovely town in the Belgian Ardennes." Consisting of a series of plenary lectures by invited scholars, the conference will seek to explore the various facets of America's Nobel Prize-winning dramatist. For further information, please contact Mr. Maufort, c/o Professor Debusscher; Philologie Germanique C.P. 142; Universite Libre de Bruxelles; 50, ay. F.D. Roosevelt; 1050 Bruxelles; Belgium. Telephone: 02/642-3816.
2. CENTENNIAL PLANNING PROCEEDS. This fall has seen positive advances in the planning for the centennial of O'Neill's birth in 1988. On Saturday, September 20, the directors of twelve major West Coast theatres met at Tao House with Jose Quintero, Jason Robards and members of the Eugene O'Neill Foundation for a conference coordinated by Travis Bogard. Three weeks later, on Thursday, October 9, George C. White hosted and directed a similar gathering of New England scholars and theatre directors at the Monte Cristo Cottage--the transcontinental Mr. Robards attending half of that all-day session as well. And this month, at the 1986 Annual Meeting of the Eugene O'Neill Society (on Tuesday, December 30, from Noon to 1:15 p.m. in the Gotham Room on the 7th floor of the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City), the Society will formalize plans for its part in the year-long shebang that will commence (gasp) less than a year hence in the autumn of 1987. A report comprising the proceedings of all three aforementioned meetings will appear in the next issue of the Newsletter. The plans afoot are many, and one merits immediate announcement, though it is still in "the talking stage": a production of Ah, Wilderness!, directed by Jose Quintero and starring Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, to open at the Guthrie Theatre and tour thereafter. More, as promised, in the Spring issue.
3. O'NEILL THEATRE FESTIVAL OFF AND RUNNING. I should say on and running, and the news will delight the many who so enjoyed the Festival's production of Hughie at the Boston O'Neill conference last May. Their base of operations is the Melrose Theatre in Los Angeles; and not only did their production of A Touch of the Poet open on October 16 (O'Neill's birthday), but Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley proclaimed that date "Eugene O'Neill Day" in the city! Their first fall season (October 16 to December 7) was divided between performances of Poet and a double-bill comprising Before Breakfast and Hughie. Stan Weston repeated his admired performance as Erie Smith and played Con Melody as well. (Michael McShane, the Boston night clerk, was replaced by Charles Bouvier.) Mary Wadkins appeared as Mrs. Rowland in Before Breakfast and Sara Melody in Poet, her mother in the latter being played by Jeanne Hepple. "This could be the start of something big," Polly Warfield noted in the Hollywood, CA Drama-Logue. We sincerely hope that it will be. To Artistic Director Tom McDermott, Executive Producer Judith Johnston-Weston, and star and Executive Director Stan Weston--indeed, to all concerned--our best wishes for many more exciting seasons. For information about the Festival's future plans and touring possibilities, write Tom McDermott, 2818 1/2 Waverly Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Tel. 213-660-0406.
4. STATUE PLANNED FOR CENTENNIAL. A bronze statue of Eugene O'Neill as a boy will be erected in the harbor of New London, CT, and will be unveiled on October 16, 1988, the 10Oth anniversary of the playwright's birth. The statue, the work of Norman Legassie, was commissioned by George C. White, president of the O'Neill Theater Center in nearby Waterford, and was described in an October 13 report by Dena Kleiman in the New York Times: "Modeled after a well-known 1893 photograph of Mr. O'Neill seated on a rock near the city's lighthouse, the 250-pound bronze statue is to be about three feet tall or about 50 percent larger than life-size. Plans call for it to be mounted on a rock and to measure about six feet in height in all."
5. AMERICAN DRAMA SOCIETY MEETING IN DECEMBER. That's not exactly accurate, as there isn't as yet an American Drama Society. But those who are interested in forming one are invited by Paul D. Voelker to attend an organizational meeting at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City at 3:15 p.m. on Monday, December 29, immediately following the MLA session (#468: "What Is American About the American Drama: Three Approaches") that Professor Voelker will chair. The site for the organizational meeting has not yet been chosen. MLA members can learn the location at the aforementioned session (1:45-3:00 p.m., Hart Room, Marriott); and others can call Professor Voelker at the Marriott, where he will be staying, early on the mornings of the 28th or 29th. (Tel. 212-398-1900.)
6. "VISIONS OF THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: THE O'NEILL-MELVILLE CONNECTION" is the title of the 1986 doctoral dissertation by Marc Maufort (Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium; advisor, Professor Gilbert Debusscher). The author has kindly sent the following abstract of his work.
This dissertation proposes to shed light on aspects of Eugene
O'Neill's American sensibility, through a comparison between his
plays and the novels of Herman Melville. In the introductory
chapter, "Eugene O'Neill and the American Literary Tradition," I
explore the nature of O'Neill's admiration for the writers of
the "American Renaissance," Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David
Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Walt Whitman. The second part
of this introduction analyzes the relationship of influence and
confluence linking O'Neill and Melville. It appears from my
study that O'Neill was undoubtedly influenced by Melville during
his literary career. Agnes Boulton, the playwright's second
wife, affirmed that her husband was fascinated by Moby Dick.
Moreover, O'Neill likened the hero of Diff'rent to a latter-day
Ahab and commented on Melville's mystical vision of the sea in a
hitherto unpublished foreword to Hart Crane's White Buildings.
Finally, one finds an overt reference to Typee in Mourning
Becomes Electra. In addition, one should bear in mind that
O'Neill had befriended Carl Van Vechten, a renowned Melville
scholar, and that the dramatist's library contained a copy of
Israel Potter. The resemblances between O'Neill and Melville,
however, cannot systematically be attributed to a phenomenon of
direct influence. More frequently, these similarities testify to
the confluence, the analogy of vision uniting the two artists.
Melville's novels constitute as it were an observation post from
which to describe the "Americanness" of certain O'Neillian
motifs. Through their efforts to determine the quality of the
American experience, O'Neill and Melville clearly deserve to be
regarded as worthy representatives of the tradition of American
realism in literature.
In Chapter III, "New England Legacy," I focus on O'Neill's and Melville's critique of American Protestantism, which they regard as responsible for the rise of American materialism. In "Benito Cereno" and Marco Millions, for instance, the two artists deflate the shallow philosophy of the American merchant. In Moby Dick and Mourning Becomes Electra, they express contempt for the vengeful deity of Puritanism. Chapter IV, "An American Tragedy," investigates the innovative character of O'Neill's and Melville's vision of tragedy. Both create a tragic form celebrating the psychological woes of the American common man abandoned by God in an absurd universe. This tragic view culminates in Moby Dick and The Iceman Cometh, in which two protagonists, Ishmael and Larry Slade, find the strength to resist the horror of human existence.
In Chapter V, "Mariners and Mystics," I detail the novelist's and the dramatist's metaphysical concept of the ocean. The heroes of Redburn, White-Jacket, Anna Christie, and Long Day's Journey Into Night, in the course of their sea adventures, feel unified with the Absolute in a mystical communion. In this section, I also devote considerable space to an analysis of two undeniable instances of Melville's influence upon the works of O'Neill, i.e. the relationships between Typee and Mourning Becomes Electra and between Moby Dick and Ile. In this respect, emphasis is laid on O'Neill's ironical use of his model. Chapter VI, "O'Neill, Melville, and Poetic Realism," concentrates on the two-fold nature of the two authors' symbolism: whereas in Billy Budd and The Rope, O'Neill and Melville resort to the Abraham motif in a composition mode recalling Puritan typology, their symbolic rendering of the color white in Moby Dick and The Hairy Ape possesses marked romantic connotations.
A conclusion evaluates the extent of O'Neill's indebtedness to Melville. Certainly, O'Neill admired most European dramatists and philosophers. He nonetheless managed to reap original artistic effects in integrating in his dramas motifs borrowed from both the European and the American literary heritages. A more adequate understanding of such double confluence will undoubtedly contribute to more effective productions of O'Neill's plays.
7. "THE FOUNTAIN, MARCO MILLIONS AND LAZARUS LAUGHED: O'NEILL'S 'EXOTICS' AS HISTORY PLAYS" is the title of a dissertation (U. of Wisconsin-Madison, 1985) by Patrick E. Schmitt. The following abstract appeared in the June 1986 issue of Dissertation Abstracts International.
Three of Eugene O'Neill's plays of the Twenties--The Fountain, Marco Millions, and Lazarus Laughed--represent seeming anomalies in O'Neill's development of forms. These three, described by John [Henry] Raleigh as "historical exotics"--works removed temporally, spatially, and culturally from O'Neill's other works--are formal experiments that both convey O'Neill's vision of American history and shape the forms of his later history plays.
The "exotics" reflect O'Neill's developing view of the meaning of history for the interpretation of American experience. In each, a character drawn from the past is re-cast so as to represent the "American Adam"--the New World individual. Each undertakes a voyage, one both physical and spiritual. The Fountain chronicles both Juan Ponce de Leon's journey to the New World and his movement to a new and harmonious spiritual condition. Marco Millions describes Marco Polo's journeys East and West, as well as his unfinished spiritual voyage, ending not in harmony but in division. And Lazarus Laughed describes the spiritual voyage of the Biblical Lazarus---a voyage reflecting the vast distance between the world of the human and that of the transcendent. In each play, history is re-cast as myth--enhanced and enlarged images organized to form explanatory stories.
Each of these experimental history plays is built on principles that can be understood through consideration of their similarities to established models of form. Lazarus Laughed can be seen as an ironic comment on history plays shaped by both romantic dramatists such as Friedrich Schiller and realistic writers such as Ibsen. The Fountain is similar to the historical melodramas of the popular stage of the nineteenth century. Marco Millions has correspondences to the filmic treatments of history developed by modern film directors such as Serge' Eisenstein.
The "exotics" represent the first phase of O'Neill's extended attempt to find a theatrical form for history consistent with the complex patterns of American experience. His efforts reached maturity in the critically acclaimed dramas of the latter part of his career. In such works as Mourning Becomes Electra and The Iceman Cometh, the playwright was to create forms capable of giving expression to the historical dimensions of American experience. The manuscripts for the plays in the unfinished Cycle, "A Tale of Possessors Self--Dispossessed," give further evidence that the experiments that produced the exotics were to play an important role in O'Neill's maturation as an interpreter of American history.
8. WARP AND WOOF. O'Neill's place in the tapestry of world drama is much in the mind of Normand Berlin these days. On November 14, he spoke on "The Beckettian O'Neill" during a session on Beckett and Modern Drama at the SAMLA conference in Atlanta. And he is in the early stages of a book entitled "O'Neill's Shakespeare," which he describes as "a kind of 'influence' study, but not quite. Shakespeare always seems to be there, in O'Neill, in one way or another. I'm trying to confront that idea, which will not be easy to verbalize."
9. CALENDAR A WOW. "Eugene and Carlotta O'Neill and the Animal Kingdom," the 1987 wall calendar of the Eugene O'Neill Foundation, Tao House, is a corker--and a steal at the asking price of $7.50 plus $1.50 for postage and handling. It features photographs and excerpts from diaries and letters, some of which have never before been published. Various pets--dogs, cats and chickens--acquired during the O'Neills' years together in France, Georgia and Danville, California grace the monthly spreads, after the special January treat: a truly "precious" shot of the five-year-old O'Neill and his first puppy. Naturally Blemie, the O'Neills' beloved Dalmatian, figures prominently in the collection, which concludes with the complete text of the touching "Last Will and Testament of Silverdene Emblem O'Neill" that the playwright wrote after its death in 1940. For a copy, send payment with your name and address to The Eugene O'Neill Foundation, Tao House, P.O. Box 402, Danville, CA 94526.
10. WHITE WINS MEDAL. George C. White, founder and president of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT, was the 1986 winner of the Eugene O'Neill Birthday Medal awarded annually by the Theater Committee for Eugene O'Neill. He was presented with the award by last year's winner, Colleen Dewhurst, at an October ceremony in New York City. Readers of the Newsletter will recall Mr. White's report in a previous issue of his adventures as director of a production of Anna Christie in Beijing.
11. AN INDIANA WILDERNESS. A report by James Fisher, Wabash College, of the Purdue University Theatre production of Ah, Wilderness!, November 6-9, 1986.
"The cast and I had to find ways of relating to these events [the plot of Ah, Wilderness!] in a way that makes sense to us in our contemporary world with its apparently greatly different values and mores.... The impulses and needs that the characters have are just as true in our time as they were in theirs. What is different is only the degree of manifestation, not the impulse," writes director Jim O'Connor in a program note for his production of Eugene O'Neill's touching "comedy of recollection." But perhaps instead of seeking relevancy, O'Connor and his cast should have spent their energy developing the sensitive ensemble quality and truth of feeling required by O'Neill's rose-colored, bittersweet play. Parallels between present-day values and mores and those of O'Neill's sepia-toned past will easily be made by an audience drawn close to the touching relationships of turn-of-the-century Centerville, Connecticut. But the cast of this Ah, Wilderness! struggled with a variety of styles, half-hearted accents and an abortive production concept that failed to make the simple desires and hopes of Nat Miller's family rise above the mundane.
The production, Purdue Theatre's entry in the American College Theatre Festival, mixed professional performers with students, and this created a problem of balance, but, oddly, not the expected one. The student cast members far outshone the Equity members of the cast including Steven Gilborn as Nat Miller, Patricia O'Connell as Essie Miller, Dale E. Miller as Sid Davis, and Mary Lowry as Lily Miller. Gilborn and O'Connell made bland caricatures of the ripe personalities of Nat and Essie, while Miller lacked both the expansiveness and the comic flair necessary for the boozy Sid. Lowry nicely captured Lily's old-maidishness, but she and Miller failed to create the sense of loss and painful heartbreak that separates the aging lovers.
On the bright side, Randy McPherson gave a well-honed and multi-dimensioned performance as Richard. McPherson's exuberant and comically passionate performance elevated the proceedings, but with the exception of the sweetly naive Muriel of Rhonda Reeves, he was rarely matched in quality. Other good performances were given by Anne Sermon as a feisty Mildred, Erica Tobolski as Belle, and Keith Cavanaugh as Tommy.
O'Connor and scene designer I. Van Phillips placed the scenes normally set in the Miller family's parlor and dining room in the back yard of the Millers' house, which technically handicapped the dinner scene (the actors were forced to juggle plates on their laps), but more importantly diluted the sense of family that a warmly modest home scene would have supplied. Phillips' simple settings for the Pleasant Beach House and the waterside meeting place of Richard and Muriel were workable, but characterless. Glen Goodwin's evocative lighting effectively contrasted the tawdry brightness of the Pleasant Beach House and the romantic haziness of Richard and Mildred's secret meeting, while Colleen Muscha's costume designs adequately established the turn-of-the-century period.
But it was finally the hollow performances of the four mature characters, as well as O'Connor's search for "relevance," that crippled this production, distancing the audience from the timeless warmth of O'Neill's idealized view of life in small-town America, vintage 1906.
12. A MICHIGAN JOURNEY. Siena Heights College in Adrian, Michigan presented a production of Long Day's Journey Into Night from November 13 to 15. The Director was Trudy McSorley, the technical director Doug Miller. Cast: Doug Marquis as James, Elizabeth Klinker as Mary, Rodney Alexander Terwilliger as Edmund. Grant Neale as Jamie, and Mary Billings as Cathleen. Thanks to Michael Manheim, University of Toledo, for the following report.
"While perfomed by college students, this uncut production managed to hold audience attention throughout and to allow the essential values of the play to emerge. The direction was sensitive and intelligent, and the set design was superb. This production showed what can be achieved when the uncut play is done with confidence in the playwright's knowledge of what would work on stage."
13. ICEMAN ON THE THAMES. O'Neill is not new to the National Theatre of Great Britain. As Jean Chothia reminded us at the O'Neill conference in Boston last May, it was the smashing success, in the early 1970s, of Long Day's Journey Into Night starring Laurence Olivier and Constance Cummings that rescued the National from imminent financial collapse. So it is most appropriate that next year, when the National Theatre celebrates the tenth anniversary of its latest home on the south bank of the Thames with an international season of guest productions, one of those productions be of an O'Neill play. And the selected production is worthy of the grandeur of the occasion: the Broadway revival of The Iceman Cometh, directed by Josť Quintero, and starring Jason Robards, who will be making his first appearance on a London stage. It is scheduled to open at the National's Lyttleton Theatre on February 21. Interestingly, the same theatre will house, beginning on May 1, the Schaubuhne production of Peter Stein's version of The Hairy Ape. Both productions will be reviewed in future issues.
14. FORTHCOMING O'NEILL PRODUCTIONS.
Hughie. East West Players, Los Angeles, June 11-21, 1987.
Long Day's Journey Into Night, dir. Barbara Rosoff. Portland (ME) Stage Company, February 7 - March 1, 1987.
A Moon for the Misbegotten. Victor Jory Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville (KY), January 6-24, 1987.
A Moon for the Misbegotten. George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick, NJ, January 14 - February 8, 1987.
A Moon for the Misbegotten. Seattle (WA) Repertory Company, March 21 - April 18, 1987.
A Moon for the Misbegotten. Theatre Virginia, Richmond, VA, March 18 - April 11, 1987.
15. THAT PORTRAIT. Readers who'd like a better look at Stuart Davis's 1914 painting, "Portrait of a Man," that was discussed by Louis Sheaffer in the last issue (p. 49), can see it until January 19 at the Brooklyn Museum, where it is part of an exhibit entitled "The Advent of Modernism: Post-Impressionism and North American Art, 1900-1918." (For information about directions and viewing hours, call 718-638-5000.) After the 19th, the painting will presumably return to its permanent home, the Regis Collection in Minneapolis. Mr. Sheaffer has proven quite conclusively that the subject of the portrait is not Eugene O'Neill, but if one is in the area it's worth a look for a' that.
16. MARY TYRONE REMEMBERED. Thanks to Gary Vena for pointing out the O'Neill reference in Peter Kerr's front-page story, "Anatomy of the Drug Issue," in the November 17 New York Times: "Over the decades that followed, most people forgot the nation's earlier brush with opiates and cocaine. Almost all that remained in popular memory were such cultural artifacts as Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, set in 1912, which depicted the crushing effects on a family of a mother's drug addiction" (p. B6). "Who would have imagined," Professor Vena writes, "that Mary Tyrone's move to center stage would seem so strangely appropriate in the context of our contemporary drug crisis?" True, and a fitting tribute to the power of great art, if not to "make anything happen," at least to alert "popular memory" to facts best remembered.
17. A CROSS WORD; or, WHAT HATH EUGENE T. MALESKA WROUGHT? O'Neillians may have been diverted by item 3-down in the New York Times crossword for Tuesday, September 23 (p. C17): four spaces for Lucasta,' O'Neill play"! If Philip Yordan only knew!
18. DATES TO REMEMBER.
Tuesday, December 30: O'Neill Society triple-header at the MLA convention, Marriott Marquis Hotel, New York City.
April 2-4, 1987: Convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association, Sheraton-Boston Hotel, Boston, MA.
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