THE O'NEILL SUMMER:
[EDITOR'S FOREWORD.] Eugene O'Neill could never have experienced a summer as grand as this, which would have been his 99th. Inspired by the imminence of his centennial, four international symposia were devoted, in whole or in part, to his life, his work, and his indelible influence on American and world drama. Thanks to the diligence of a crack team of dedicated correspondents, we are able to offer, in this issue, reports on the first three of those conferences; and we hope, in the Winter issue, to provide a comparable summary of the fourth--the June 11-12 symposium directed by Yoshiteru Kurokawa in Tokyo. In the interests of brevity and uniformity, the professional affiliations of participants have been omitted; but I will be happy to seek the address of any mentioned individual to whom a reader wishes to write for fuller information or for a copy of a specific paper. Our deepest thanks to Marc Maufort, Michael and Martha Manheim, and Gary Vena for the detailed and evocative reports that follow. --F.C.W.]
The conference opened on the afternoon of Friday, May 20, with remarks of welcome by Armand Michaux, BLASA Vice-President, to the participants, who came from the United States, Japan, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary and Belgium. I then introduced John Henry Raleigh, whose keynote address was entitled "Strindberg and O'Neill as Historical Dramatists." Both playwrights, Raleigh noted, had a strong sense of the contradictions and ironies of human life, and the historical background of their works reinforced this dark vision. In their respective histories of Sweden and America, they were interested in man's struggle for power and in the development of the nation. Whereas Strindberg was a historical optimist concentrating on the Reformation era in Sweden, O'Neill was essentially a historical pessimist focusing on the American nineteenth century. However, both also exhibited a world historical impulse. Strindberg believed that propulsion 'in history was concurrently materialistic, ideological and spiritual. To him, historical rhythms relied on repetitions, the dialectic of integration and disintegration, the rapidity of historical events, and the idea of relativity. O'Neill, on the contrary, had no such complex theory about history. The origins of his notion of history could be traced in Fechter's The Count of Monte Cristo, in which historical events took the shape of a romantic pageant. Further, O'Neill thought of history as an ongoing continuum, as his use of Greek myths indicates. In particular, he saw American history as propelled by greed. From The Fountain to More Stately Mansions, O'Neill's concept of history developed towards the depiction of actual historical circumstances and an increasing sense of determinism. Raleigh concluded that both Strindberg and O'Neill underscored a parallel between history and the individual, an idea reminiscent of the works of Wilhelm Dilthey and of Goethe's Dictung and Wahrheit. To describe the historical works of Strindberg and O'Neill, an apt metaphor would be that of Joyce in Finnegans Wake, where existence is compared to a gigantic human body. In short, history is but the "lengthened shadow of a man."
The first paper session, "O'Neill: Patterns of Influence and Confluence," moderated by Gilbert Debusscher, began with Michael Manheim's talk on "Eugene O'Neill and the Founders of Modern Drama." Manheim stressed that modern drama, essentially a reaction against nineteenth century melodrama, should be called "post-modern" inasmuch as it presents life from various contradictory perspectives. He then cited scenes from plays by Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov and O'Neill in which such modern vision is best expressed. To all four, the plot, so prominent in melodrama, is secondary. Indeed; in The Wild Duck, Miss Julie, and The Three Sisters, opposing and shifting emotions constitute the most important ingredient of the drama, disrupting our settled impressions of characters. These "rhythms of kinship" culminate in O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, in which Jamie reveals a chaotic mixture of self-recrimination and true fellow feeling, and polar emotions condition the nature of the dialogue. Manheim concluded that in all four authors' dramas, these conflicting feelings do not find, as in conventional melodrama, a neat resolution; and that such "open" form determines the measure of the writers' modernity.
In the same session, I talked on "Typee Revisited: O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra and Melville," arguing that a full appreciation of the craftsmanship of O'Neill's Civil War trilogy lies in the identification of its affinities with Melville's first romance. Indeed, in The Hunted, Orin Mannon refers specifically to Typee in declaring his incestuous passion to Christine, opposing the idyllic peace of Melville's islands to the rigors of New England Puritanism. O'Neill contrasts these "Blessed" isles to the bleakness of the North Seas, traceable in the brooding song "Shenandoah" and in the depiction of Boston Harbor, where a murder is performed. While Melville adopts a monolithic viewpoint in Typee, O'Neill describes the novelists's islands from a multiple perspective, enabling him to stress their illusory nature. Such cubist-like composition technique, combined with his existentialist viewpoint, testifies to O'Neill's innovative stance. On the other hand, that Mourning becomes Electra should bear resemblances to Melville's work places the dramatist in the mainstream of the American literary tradition.
Saturday, May 21. began with a panel on "The Early O'Neill," chaired by Joris Duytschaever. Frederick Wilkins talked about O'Neill's literary growth in a paper entitled "'Arriving with a Bang': O'Neill's Literary Debut." These beginnings, Wilkins showed, were marked by the 1914 publication of Thirst and Other One-Act Plays. Two factors suggest the importance of this volume: O'Neill's obsessive love for books, and his disdain for the commercial theatre of his father. Wilkins subsequently described the various qualities and blemishes of these short dramas. Thirst offers evidence of O'Neill's powerful scenic vision in the depiction of a setting dominated by the "angry eye of God." Fog, while a lesser sea play, nonetheless presents a similarly fascinating decor, as O'Neill's "dawn iceberg" indicates. Thematically, Wilkins submitted, these two one-act plays reveal other nascent qualities: Thirst suggests O'Neill's incipient metaphysical preoccupations, while Fog includes a complex portrait of a poet. Warnings and Recklessness, which are land plays, do not possess a comparable degree of thematic substance: in the former, the hero's fate remains rather tawdry; and in the latter, the plot is a mere "grisly anecdote." The Web, however, shows real pathos as Rose, granted a moment of tragic vision, understands the futility of human life before going to prison. Wilkins concluded that in these one-act plays the motifs that would recur in O'Neill's later career were already announced. They can be summarized in the composite words of two characters in The Web: "It's a bum game all around.... Us guys has got to stand together." The analysis of his first book reveals that, by 1914, O'Neill had indeed "arrived with a bang."
Paul Voelker followed with a paper entitled "Success and Frustration at Harvard: Eugene O'Neill's Relationship with George Pierce Baker (1914-1915)," in which he argued that Baker's influence on O'Neill was not as negative as has been generally assumed. Voelker reviewed the various plays that O'Neill wrote while enrolled in Baker's course at Harvard. "The Dear Doctor," a short story adaptation, apparently exhibited O'Neill's talents as a writer of comedy, since it appealed to Baker, who also liked O'Neill's Belgian play, "The Sniper," in which details of gesture and pantomime can be attributed to the teacher's positive influence. A third play written at Harvard, "The Personal Equation," was first conceived of as a story of abortion; but O'Neill rejected that theme since Baker thought that such a play could never be produced. O'Neill responded to this advice because his greatest fear at that time was of remaining an unproduced playwright. The fourth work, Belshazzar, written in collaboration with Colin Ford, had a religious theme and was probably influenced by the motion picture Cabiria, about Hannibal's crossing of the Alps. Belshazzar was not entirely successful, a sign that O'Neill had not yet acquired mastery of the full-length play genre. But after having attended Baker's course, O'Neill was definitely able to write for the theatre. The best proof of the positive influence of Baker on O'Neill, Voelker concluded, lies in the fact that the playwright revised Bound East For Cardiff out of respect for the teacher's evaluation of it.
In the session's third paper, "Theatre Language: Word and Image in The Hairy Ape," Jean Chothia commented on the success of Peter Stein's recent production of The Hairy Ape for the Schaubühne Theatre Company of Berlin. In The Hairy Ape, the stage directions and images lead us to anticipate Yank's fall into consciousness, and Stein's staging gave correct attention to these scenic images. In the first half of the play, taking place at sea, one could see the massive side of a steamship, marked in three horizontal strips across the full width of the stage, which were removable to expose playing areas at different levels. Stein added a personal touch to the stokehole scene when Mildred, before recoiling from Yank in horror, reached toward him. And, by following O'Neill's indications scrupulously, Stein successfully staged the last scene of the play. This last moment sounded convincing as Yank uttered a final cry of self-mockery. Chothia concluded her speech by alluding to the translation problems of O'Neill's dramas. She submitted that the polyphony of O'Neill's speeches survived in translation and that the energy of despair embedded in each line could be conveyed by skilled actors. In other words, the general orchestration continues to reach audiences even in another language.
I chaired the next session, "Studies of the O'Neill Archives," which began with Judith E. Barlow's "Mother, Wife, Mistress, Friend, and Collaborator: Carlotta Monterey and Long Day's Journey Into Night." Barlow examined Carlotta Monterey's contributions--direct or indirect--to O'Neill's great autobiographical work, which Carlotta typed herself, also providing the details for the description of Mary's wedding gown. Her allowing the play to be produced just three years after her husband's death was not solely an attempt to revive interest in O'Neill's work. From the study of her diaries, preserved in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale, it appears that Carlotta firmly believed that she was the first person who had provided O'Neill with a real home. To her, Long Day's Journey was welcome proof that O'Neill's first family had failed to do so. Clearly, she did not see, or did not wish to see, that O'Neill sought to forgive his parents in this late play. The irony, as Carlotta's diaries suggest, is that Mary resembled Carlotta to some degree. Both had a passion for expensive clothes, a tendency to romanticize their past, an uncomfortable attitude towards motherhood, a hatred for the stage, and a penchant for accusing their husbands of insensitivity. Ostensibly, although she collaborated in the creation of Long Day's Journey Into Night, Carlotta did not want to see herself in Mary Tyrone. But, as Barlow concluded, the character of Mary is not solely Carlotta or Ella Quinlan O'Neill; the playwright has subtly transformed real life into dramatic art.
Jackson R. Bryer delivered the second paper of this session: "O'Neill's Letters to Donald Pace: A Newly Discovered Correspondence." Bryer first commented on the nature and scope of his forthcoming edition, with Travis Bogard, of selected letters of Eugene O'Neill to be released in January 1989 by Yale University Press. The volume, containing 600 of the 3000 extant O'Neill letters, will present in full many letters that have previously appeared in abridged form in the standard biographies. New discoveries in the process of putting together the volume were a previously unknown letter to Marion Welch; a letter to Sister Mary Leo, showing the complexities of O'Neill's attitude towards the Catholic faith; and letters to the editor of an American-Norwegian newspaper, bespeaking O'Neill's admiration for Ibsen. In the second part of his talk, Bryer focused on O'Neill's letters to Donald Pace, who worked for various marine firms and built detailed ship models for the playwright. The letters, dating from 1934 to 1935, show O'Neill's impressive knowledge of nautical nomenclature. He was inflexible on questions of scale and authenticity, on which grounds he once rejected one of Pace's models. The letters to Pace reveal that, some twenty years after his sea travels, O'Neill was still fascinated by the clipper ships evoked so poetically in Paddy's reveries in The Hairy Ape.
On the afternoon of May 21, Kristiaan Versluys conducted a session entitled "Studies in O'Neill's Literary and Theatrical Craftsmanship I." The first paper, by Egil Törnqvist, entitled "From A Wife for a Life to A Moon for the Misbegotten: On O'Neill's Play Titles," showed how O'Neill often struggled to obtain the most precise, evocative titles for his dramas. To this end, Törnqvist reviewed the meanings of O'Neill's titles throughout his entire canon. In his conclusion, Törnqvist considered his findings in the light of the French "titrologie." According to this method of literary study, there are two types of titles: "thématique" and "rhématique." In the first category are titles that are theme-oriented; in the second, titles that are form-oriented. In O'Neill's works, one comes across umbrella titles, such as Mourning Becomes Electra; mono-titles; subtitles with rhematic aspects ("A Comedy of Ancient and Modern Life in Eight Scenes"); titles referring to the hero (Anna Christie); and titles evoking the main situation of the drama (The Long Voyage Home). The titles in the last category are often ironical in intent. Törnqvist's paper clearly demonstrated that, through a skillful choice of titles, O'Neill achieved the artistic qualities described by Edmund Tyrone as the "makings of a poet."
The second talk of this session--"'With Clenched Fist...': Observations on a Recurrent Motif in Dramas by Eugene O'Neill"--was read by Professor Ulrich Halfmann, who first indicated certain similarities between O'Neill's plays and Fechter's The Count of Monte Cristo. He then argued that little attention had been paid to the fact that, in several of his plays, O'Neill "pursues a critical-creative reworking of the means of representation characteristic of melodrama," restyling them to harmonize with his own tragic world view, one markedly different from the affirmative vision of melodrama. As an illustration of this technique, Halfmann focused on the motif of the clenched fist, derived from the end of Act II of The Count of Monte Cristo. Examining the evolution of this motif in several of O'Neill's works, Halfmann argued that there exists a specifically O'Neillian semiotics of the fist: the fist often strikes out at things, and turns back against the one who waves it. In other words, it expresses both rage and impotence. Further, the clenched fist is most often connected with the main character of the play and is used as a leitmotif at crucial moments of the action. O'Neill's fist is a symbol of man's reaction against fate in a world, unlike that of melodrama, deprived of a governing deity. Halfmann concluded his presentation by indicating that in The Iceman Cometh O'Neill found a way, through a sheer delicate balance of dreams, to preserve hope in the hopelessness of such a godless universe.
The last paper of' this session, delivered by Gary Vena, was entitled "O'Neill's Pentimento: The Iceman's Journey from Sketchbook to Stage." Vena's slide-illustrated presentation examined the process by which O'Neill's sketches for The Iceman Cometh were first translated into stage language. This analysis emphasized the various transformations of O'Neill's work, a feature which Lillian Hellman defined as "pentimento," alluding to a painter's modification of his intentions. Vena showed how, in each act of the play, Robert Edmond Jones and Karl Nielsen succeeded in translating the playwright's intentions in mounting the 1946 Guild production, capturing O'Neill's sense of symmetry and creating designs evocative of his claustrophobic early drawings. A measure of O'Neill's craftsmanship, Vena concluded, lies in the richness of detail those sketches provide.
A final session, "Studies in O'Neill's Literary and Theatrical Craftsmanship II," moderated by Armand Michaux, took place on May 22. Susan Harris Smith presented a paper entitled "Actors Constructing an Audience: Hughie's Post-Modern Aura." She submitted that the play's last moments are much less positive than has often been understood. Hughie belongs, Smith explained, to what Charles Newman calls the "heroic phase" of modernism, consisting of "a retrospective revolt against a retrograde mechanical industrialism." Hughie encompasses the shift between modernism and post-modernism. Of the former, it retains a certitude of despair, self-absorption, and self-confidence mixed with self-loathing. Of the latter, it offers the following symptoms: self-assertion of the private mind, a self-reflexive theatricality, an artificial construction of an identity, silence as a source of alienation, and a tendency for consciousness to turn on itself. The characters of Hughie achieve authenticity in role-playing only, as each of the two plays the part of an audience to the other. Thus, they share a mutually constructive truth that makes life bearable but hardly idyllic. Smith concluded by recommending that the post-modern nature of Hughie might best be stressed in performance through a taped presentation of the clerk's unspoken thoughts.
In the following talk, "Buried Children: Fathers and Sons in O'Neill and Shepard," James A. Robinson examined the imprinting of a father's destructive behavior in the sons of Desire Under the Elms and Buried Child. Both plays show a son's attempted succession to a father's authority, and use pagan myths in order to lend universal significance to such conflict. While O'Neill adopts a reverent attitude towards myth and authority (a typically modernist stance), Shepard subverts those myths through irony (a markedly post-modern perspective). Such a viewpoint reflects what Ihab Hassan terms the "vast will to unmaking" of our era. In Desire Under the Elms, the authority of the father triumphs, as the last moments of the drama indicate; whereas, in Buried Child, the very idea of a son's revolt against a powerless father is seen as impossible. At the end of Buried Child, Vince inherits the masculinity of his forefathers. Shepard, however, subtly reveals that this occurs in an empty vision. Robinson summarized his observations by suggesting that O'Neill's influence on Shepard, and on Buried Child in particular, resides in a creative use of myth.
In the session's last presentation, "O'Neill's Endgame," Christopher W. E. Bigsby also viewed O'Neill from a post-modernist perspective. In the last plays of O'Neill as in those of Beckett, he argued, a hopeless hope energizes the lives of the characters. Hughie, in this respect, resembles some of Susan Glaspell's plays or some of Edward Hopper's paintings, as it is named after a character who never appears. It is in some sense an obituary in which the titular portrait is a construction that reveals the sensitivity that creates it. Hughie stresses the importance of narrative, a feature evocative of Beckett and Pinter. O'Neill's characters are storytellers victimized by their own stories. (Erie, for instance, aspires to what Foucault termed the "labyrinth of repetition": he remains trapped in his own story, in his own performance.) Bigsby noted that Hughie, concerned as it is with the radical incompleteness of language, still owes something to Emerson, one of whose poems O'Neill was reading at the time of the play's composition. Like Emerson's poem, Hughie demonstrates a fundamental anxiety with the problem of personal identity, thus exploring the tragic nature of the discovery of our existence.
The scholarly conclusion of the conference was a roundtable discussion on "The Future of O'Neill Studies," led by Gilbert Debusscher and myself. Special guests were John Henry Raleigh, Judith Barlow, Frederick Wilkins, Jean Chothia, Betty Jean Jones, Alain Piette, Johan Callens, and actor-playwright Mel Cobb. Among the topics considered were O'Neill's early plays, his unpublished private papers at Yale University, and especially his potential for the stage. All participants vowed that, after O'Neill's centennial year, major efforts would continue to be made to seek better coordination between literary and theatrical spheres, to ensure that stylistically adequate productions of his works are offered in the years ahead.
Three different forms of theatrical activity were featured during the conference. On Friday evening, Mel Cobb gave a reading of his play, O'Neill; or, Sunny Days and Starry Nights. Cobb read the part of O'Neill while actor Larry Corwin delivered the stage directions. The action is situated in O'Neill's study as he is composing Long Day's Journey Into Night and confronts, successively, the ghosts of his father, mother and elder brother. In his reading, Cobb succeeded in giving theatrical life to these different voices. On Saturday, two parts of Long Day's Journey Into Night were offered. The first, in Dutch, featured Flemish actor Julien Schoenaerts as James Tyrone in the Act IV confrontation with Edmund, played by Carl Ridders. The second, in French, starred veteran Belgian actress Yvonne Garden, who appeared as Mary Tyrone, with Emile Souvoy and Pierre Pivin as James and Edmund, in the last scenes of Acts III and IV. The variety of languages employed--English, Dutch, and French--made abundantly clear that the works of O'Neill survive in translation and can even move audiences unfamiliar with the language of the performance.
As conference director, I would wish to thank all those who helped me in the organization of this conference: Mrs. Francine Lercangée and the staff of the Brussels Center for American Studies, who carefully oversaw the administrative details; Mr. Jan van Kerkhove, of the Brussels American Cultural Center; and the members of the organizing committee: Professors Gilbert Debusscher, Joris Duytschaever, Kristiaan Versluys, and Herman van de Wee. I hope that this conference will have contributed to the reputation of O'Neill and to the development of American studies in Belgium.
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The 1988 Nobel Symposium, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, consisted of scholarly papers on the theatre of Strindberg and O'Neill; interviews and discussions with and by leading playwrights, directors, and actors of Europe and America on the state of the theatre today and its prospects for the future; and productions by the Royal Dramatic of well-known plays by the authors under discussion (Strindberg's Master Olof and Miss Julie, and O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, the last two under the direction of Ingmar Bergman). Conference participants were welcomed on the first day in the foyer of the Theatre's main stage by Lars Gyllensten, Chairman of the Nobel Foundation, who discussed the tremendous impact the rebellious Strindberg has had on 20th century Sweden, and the appropriateness of including the American playwright O'Neill, who owed so much to Strindberg, and the performance of whose plays, early and late, was pioneered by Karl Ragnar Gierow and the Royal Dramatic Theatre. The emphasis of Gyllensten's remarks, however, focused on Strindberg, who struck such a nerve in the Swedish character.
The first day's papers were, then, on Strindberg. In the morning, Professor Göran Stockenström dealt with the strong streak of mysticism underlying Strindberg's plays. He illustrated his views through discussion of such seemingly dissimilar works as A Dream Play, the historical Vasa trilogy, and To Damascus. He distinguished this tendency in Strindberg from the "naturalism" which characterizes much of the drama of the period by use of the term "supernaturalism" to characterize Strindberg's work.
Dr. Gunnar Ollén, speaking in Swedish, dealt with the international reputation of Strindberg, whose plays--along with those of Ibsen, Chekhov, and Brecht--are today's "new classics" of theatrical production. Ollén reviewed 20th century Strindberg productions which have taken place throughout Europe and America, though not in Nazi Germany and, even to this day, rarely in the Iron Curtain countries. Strindberg's success has been especially notable, however, in postwar Germany, which has become a sort of "second homeland" for his work, Ollén observed. The playwright's reputation in France was enhanced with productions of his work by Antonin Artaud (in his Theatre of Cruelty) and in England with the "coming of John Osborne and the generation of angry young men." In the United States, Ollén continued, Strindberg became a "role model" for such playwrights as Eugene O'Neill and Edward Albee.
On a different note, Dr. Richard Bark concluded the morning session with a lament, supported by statistics, that Strindberg is so little performed in Sweden today. This is regrettable, Bark said, because the characteristics of Strindberg's plays which have accounted for their compelling fascination are most compatible with key aspects of the post-naturalist movement in literature--for example, the element of chance which provokes characters to throw one mask upon another, achieving contradictions which make playing Strindberg such a challenge to actors. Everything in Strindberg, Bark suggested, ultimately comes to be a kind of "dream play," in which we can move from reality to unreality without warning and in which the unresolvably contradictory aspects of human existence abound. Such characteristics of Strindberg's plays suggest for Bark a "sort of meta-theatricality" which would "satisfy the post-structuralists."
Bark's conclusions about the infrequency of performance of Strindberg's plays were strongly challenged in the ensuing discussion by Dr. Freddie Rokem, a director at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, whose own statistics suggested there are many productions of Strindberg in Sweden today, especially if one includes those on radio and television.
Professor Maurice Gravier, speaking in French, led off the afternoon session with a discussion of Strindberg and the "theatre of the absurd," which he defined as theatre in which "we see characters moving around feeling like strangers in a world they perceive to be out of order and not following the laws of logic." The Strindberg plays that Gravier found fit this definition best were A Dream Play, To Damascus, and the chamber plays, especially The Ghost Sonata, which he considers the "culmination of Strindberg's achievement." The playwrights Gravier then focused on as taking the lead from Strindberg as writers of the absurd were Adamov, Artaud, Genet, Ionesco, Vauthier and Witkiewicz. The absurdism of Beckett and Pinter, Gravier suggested, seemingly owed little to Strindberg. "But Strindberg," he concluded, "is like the most red-hot nucleus in the center of a glowing nebulus, 'the anti-theatre of yesterday and today.'"
Dr. Freddie Rokem talked about "the modernity of Strindberg's language consisting of a combination of the strong inner tensions of the dialogue on the one hand and its relations to the scenic image as it is presented on the stage on the other." In recent performances, he continued, "there is a clear tendency towards an emphasis on the tensions between word and image" as well as on "the growing importance of images of light and darkness...." Such emphases, Rokem concluded, tend to focus more attention on existential and metaphysical questions. Rokem explored his ideas through discussion of A Dream Play, To Damascus, Easter, and others. He suggested in the course of his remarks that The Ghost Sonata may be seen as a sort of parody of A Dream Play.
Professor Harry G. Carlson followed with a discussion of the rather sorry history of Strindberg productions in America. While his influence on leading American playwrights is unquestionable, Carlson said, that influence has carried over little into the area of production, most Americans still being uneasy about other cultures, and most American actors ignorant of Strindberg. Carlson then reviewed some notable productions since the 1940's, including those of Miss Julie, The Father (with Laurence Olivier), and The Dance of Death (with Olivier and Alan Bates), which offered strong performances by notable actors. But most productions today, he concluded, are off-off Broadway or on college and university campuses. While many of them lose the dark humor of the playwright and the proper balance of the real and the supernatural, that "the amateurs" keep Strindberg alive in America is something Carlson feels we should be grateful for.
Professor John Henry Raleigh next focused on both Strindberg and O'Neill. Comparing their mutual interest in historical drama, Raleigh emphasized their similar "fascination with the paradoxes and ambiguities of history," the perception that family love-hate relationships were important in history as well as in private life, and their "sense of sin in history and the need for its expiation." Raleigh also noted their common desire to "construct great cycles of interrelated historical dramas." On the other hand, Raleigh observed, Strindberg plays are far more "ideological" (and implicitly hopefuls. O'Neill's, especially in plays like The Fountain and Marco Millions, while more involved in pageant or spectacle, are at the same time more pessimistic regarding man's innate greed and materialism. Finally, Raleigh observed that what mainly links the historical dramas of both playwrights is that in them "character was history and history was character and ... thus history was the lengthened shadow of a man."
The first day concluded with a discussion by Professor Egil Törnqvist of the impact of both Strindberg and O'Neill on later dramatists. This impact, as Törnqvist described it, is less evident in the post-Hiroshima world. Rather, we now see the plays of Strindberg and O'Neill through the lens of contemporary perception and theories of dramatic structure. Strindberg clearly influenced O'Neill, he feels, as a psychological dramatist; but while Strindberg obviously also influenced a number of later dramatists, it is difficult to identify O'Neill's influence on them as distinct from Strindberg's. The most notable influence of O'Neill on a dramatist of the 1970's, he added, has been that of Long day's Journey on the Swedish dramatist Lars Norén, but that influence is for Törnqvist more the exception than the rule.
On the second day--O'Neill day--Professor Virginia Floyd led off with a new look at the influence of O'Neill's Catholic background on his drama. She began by reminding us that O'Neill was led by Strindberg in being primarily an autobiographical dramatist, whose spiritual as well as emotional history constituted the chief subject matter of his drama. O'Neill's ambivalence toward his Roman Catholic heritage and his mother, she suggested, is never far below the surface in his plays, whether seen through the disguises of New England Puritanism (as in Desire Under the Elms or Mourning Becomes Electra), or through the good-evil conflicts of a play like The Great God Brown. While that ambivalence seems to have reached tentative resolution in the religious affirmation at the end of Days Without End, it continued to be a problem in the struggles with confession in Iceman and Moon for the Misbegotten, in the latter of which forgiveness comes after confession. Only the uncompleted plays he was working on at the close of his career, especially The Last Conquest with its planned juxtapositions of Christ and the Devil, appear to approach a genuine understanding of that ambivalence. The one thing all O'Neill's plays reveal, she concluded, is that he was never afraid to "look into his own dark."
Dr. Donald Gallup next described the development of the O'Neill collection at Yale University. The following is his own summary of his remarks:
Dr. Tom J. A. Olsson next summarized in considerable detail the unique history of O'Neill productions at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. Fourteen O'Neill plays have been produced there, he noted, from Anna Christie, the SS Glencairn plays, and Strange Interlude in the 1920s to More Stately Mansions in the 1960s. This unusual popularity of a foreign dramatist in Sweden was fostered, he observed, first by a visit by Kenneth Macgowan and Robert Edmond Jones to the Theatre in 1922, then by the good reception of some (though not all) of the plays by audiences and critics, and finally by Carlotta O'Neill's assenting to the production of Long Day's Journey Into Night by the theatre in 1956--its first performance anywhere. Olsson suggested that the Swedish productions helped to create the boom in O'Neill productions in the rest of the world.
The morning session next heard from Professor Edward L. Shaughnessy, who discussed O'Neill's reception by Irish theatres and audiences. Irish actors apparently like" todo O'Neill,,Shaughnessy observed, while Irish audiences have been ambivalent. In general, with the notable exception of Yeats and O'Casey, Irish intellectuals have been critical of his plays, while students and audiences have reacted more favorably--responses which parallel, Shaughnessy pointed out, the playwright's reception in America.
Professor Paul Voelker concluded the morning session with a discussion of O'Neill's early debt to Strindberg. He said that O'Neill probably read Strindberg before 1913, but pinpointed a six-month period before publication of the early plays (1914) when the influence of Strindberg took deeper hold of O'Neill, a shift registered in the autobiographical interest of the one-act Fog.
Professor Frederick Wilkins, the afternoon's second speaker, took a close look at these early O'Neill plays, with particular attention to that first published collection, "Thirst" and Other One-Act Plays, a volume little noted in its time. Its five plays, Wilkins observed, reflect many of the themes associated with the playwright's youth--social injustice, his obsession with books, his disdain for the commercial theatre, his fascination with the sea, and the destructive potential of human greed. He concluded with the thought that what links O'Neill's earliest plays, and anticipates his later ones, is the idea expressed in Fog that while life is a "bum game all around," "us guys has got to stand together"--not so much in social action, Wilkins added, as in compassion.
The remaining papers, talks, and one dramatic reading on Wednesday dealt in specific terms with the performance of O'Neill's plays. Professor Gary Vena, who opened the Wednesday afternoon meeting, reviewed in detail the 1946 New York première of The Iceman Cometh, a production for which O'Neill chose the director (Eddie Dowling) and helped choose the actors. Vena pointed out that Eugene and often Carlotta O'Neill were present at rehearsals for this production (only O'Neill himself had attended rehearsals of earlier plays), O'Neill insisting on approving what he saw and demanding that nothing be cut. There was some complaint by O'Neill that Dowling was "inflexible," and concern from the actors about the uncertainty of Dowling's direction, which may have resulted from the playwright's presence. Nevertheless, said Vena, the production achieved "alcoholic realism," and reinforced Larry's relation to Hickey, Parritt's isolation, and the rhythm of return in Hickey's position in the last act.
Actress Geraldine Fitzgerald and director Arvin Brown closed the afternoon session with a discussion of problems related to staging O'Neill. Virginia Floyd as chair interviewed them about their experiences in O'Neill production, and Fitzgerald performed Mary Tyrone's monologue at the end of Long Day's Journey, giving participants a rare opportunity to see (for many anew) the role she had performed under Brown's direction in 1971. Brown described his emphases in this summer's New York production of Ah, Wilderness!, a play which, he said, sees love as healing, while it is often destructive in Long Day's Journey. Fitzgerald focused her remarks on the character of Mary, a complex woman who "speaks to all women of all backgrounds." In preparing for the role, she said, she consulted a doctor about physical reactions to drugs, since she felt that the stage directions for Mary "didn't line up with what she said." Fitzgerald also said that as she played the role, Mary had not taken the drug the night before but only after she saw that James wasn't going to help her with her sons." Brown added later that he was not sure O'Neill fully resolved the conflicts between the members of the Tyrone family or fully understood all his feelings about Mary. Both Fitzgerald and Brown commented on the humor always inherent in even the darkest of the plays. Lines in family dialogue should not always be taken at face value, Brown observed.
Thursday morning was devoted to the stage direction of Ingmar Bergman. Professor Lise-Lone Marker led off with a discussion of his productions of Strindberg plays, beginning with his early work in Malmö, and coming down to his current productions at the Royal Dramatic Theatre. He has always been primarily interested, she said, in "the intensification of the internal drama" of the characters, determined to get rid of "theatrical tinsel," and dedicated to "theatre that interests itself in human beings and hardly at all in things around." Her remarks were followed by Frederick Marker's interview of actors Bibi Andersson, Max Von Sydow, and Erland Josephson--all of whose international reputations grew out of their early work in both the stage productions and films of Ingmar Bergman.
Thursday afternoon and Friday were devoted to explorations by international directors, playwrights, and theatre professionals of the current state of the theatre and what the future may hold. The following are a few of the many highlights in the wide-ranging discussion.
Soviet director Victor Slavkin described the difficulty of theatre artists in a society where decisions they alone could make have instead been made by political representatives. With greater freedom under glasnost, theatre must turn away from political problems for subject matter, he said, perhaps toward aestheticism. Slavkin then read a letter from Anatoly Vasilyev, another Soviet director, who did not obtain permission to attend. Vasilyev's letter attested to the fact that a new age has emerged in Russia, but he said it is too early to determine whether that would be for the good. "Not the word and not the fight," he wrote, "but the whole world around you is the ideology, that is, the dominant factor of artistic expression." Theatre is "looking around, because the world is doing the same."
Social anthropologist Lorentz Lyukens offered the idea that, as contemporary life is not definable because it is always in the action of "becoming," so theatre must mirror the process of becoming. Lyukens suggested several characteristics of modern society to which the theatre needs to respond: the rising lack of patience, competition for attentiveness, increasing expectations, the multiplication of observable phenomena, and the growth of the rhetorical mode.
Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek investigated the question of why people still need theatre, since as entertainment it is so clearly being surpassed by other forms. Theatre, he suggested, like play, lets us act without consequences, safely. "The stage," he went on, "gives us metaphysical reassurance." We "dream of some consistent order in human history," and so we compose plays. Each "play on the stage is a proof," he continued, "that order is possible." Finally, he said, in order to keep "peace of mind when watching the theatre, the only way is to do it without asking too many questions about the relations of theatre to reality," since reality is, presumably, endlessly and inevitably without order.
Robert Wilson, American author of the recently performed Einstein on the Beach, was joined by East German playwright Heiner Muller in a discussion of the nature of Wilson's work. Wilson described how he creates a performance, beginning with title and length of the work, and then, varying the order of presentation of three or four visual "themes," establishing what he called the "visual book" of his play. Music for the themes comes next; "then we decide on action." What we see, Wilson noted, is as important as what we hear in the theatre. Muller suggested that Wilson is a member of the new culture of the future--the culture of images. "I'm from the stone age," he said. "I'm working from the inside, the dark side of the light," whereas Wilson begins with the surface, the light, and then always finds the "dark spot." Of a play, Wilson agreed, "It's a lie if you can understand it." In the course of the discussion, theatre historian and biographer Michael Meyer made an appeal from the audience for more traditional ways of approaching theatre.
American director Peter Sellars defended O'Neill against his American denigrators, saying that O'Neill "defies packaging," that he always struggles to say what he wants to say, and always seems to try to achieve something he can't. Such a struggle is human, Sellars said; any important playwright gives actors challenges which can't be met. O'Neill stands up, and "standing up is the most courageous thing a human being can do." In his remarks, Sellars vigorously attacked America's obsession with labels and with selling, saying that we must restore a spiritual life which we inevitably cannot understand.
Chinese playwright Gao Zingjian observed that the last century was the century of the actor, this century at first that of the playwright (Ibsen, O'Neill, Strindberg, Shaw--down to the playwrights of the absurd), then that of the director (beginning in the 1970s). The drama to come, he said, should be theatrical--not the reproduction of everyday life, but a theatre which gives rise to "pleasure in the visual"--and that fresh ways of writing, corresponding to this theatricality, must be found. "Reality," he said, exists outside both the rational and the irrational: the absurd is existence--not a theatrical idea. Wherever rationality shines, art disappears. An audience wants wisdom but not necessarily ideas, and theatricality is a way to reach intuition and so to reach wisdom. Finally, he concluded, theatre needs language conveyed through sound and feeling, the kind of language one finds in folk songs and stories.
Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol, two of whose plays have been performed in Sweden, compared himself as dramatist to the Old Testament prophets, who performed in the street trying to make themselves understood. His message, like theirs, he said, is that the "human being is dangerous, motivated by the urge for destruction of self, state, the world." Is it the aim of theatre, he asked, "to end in silence--to hide? No, it is to speak and to expose!" No one should "keep silent after Auschwitz.... When humanity can be destroyed with a button--this is not the moment to keep silent."
Niklas Brunius concluded the symposium with a brief summary statement. There are no syntheses, much as we may want them, he said. He observed that we had learned many things: among them, that reality is only on stage, but we need not be realistic in the ways we've been trapped in; and we do not want Strindberg and O'Neill to become "classics" in the old sense. We want them to continue to affect us with their immediacy.
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I can happily report that the ambitious array of scholarly papers and theatrical performances in Nanjing and Shanghai was presented with clockwork precision and consummate professionalism. Above all, the quality, scope and sheer audacity of this spectacular undertaking, coordinated under the superb hospitality and direction of one man--Professor Liu Haiping of Nanjing University, and incorporating the participation of several hundred personalities--transformed the occasion into a memorable celebration of Eugene O'Neill's 100th birthday. And what grand irony that this historical salute to America's foremost "international" playwright should have surfaced in China.
As I carefully collected the many pieces of correspondence and program announcements prior to my arrival in the People's Republic, I often wondered if the more than forty scheduled panel presentations, combined with the nearly dozen Nanjing/Shanghai folk operas and theatrical performances of O'Neill's plays--some of which I might never expect to see produced in America during my own lifetime, much less for his centenary--could possibly be realized. Despite my own anxieties, I trusted the advance publicity and the good intentions of my Chinese hosts, and was fortunate to be able to adjust my itinerary--at the last minute--to accommodate the additional Shanghai play festival which was announced fairly late in the proceedings as a follow-up to the Nanjing conference. While performances in Chinese of Beyond the Horizon and The Emperor Jones (Jiangsu Art Theatre), Long Day's Journey Into Night (Qian Xian Drama Theatre), and Hughie (an American production offered by the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Festival) were scheduled on the evenings of our heavily scheduled conference days, those of us who also planned to attend the Shanghai festival could look forward to The Great God Brown and yet another Hughie (both presented by the Shanghai Youth Modern Drama Troupe); Mourning Becomes Electra (Shanghai Drama Institute), including a Shaoxing opera version of Mourning entitled White Tomb; and Ile (Beatrice Laufer's American opera version presented by the Shanghai Opera Theatre). In addition there would be a visit to Fudan University for scenes from Beyond the Horizon and Ah, Wilderness!, and two performances of traditional Chinese folk operas.
With wide, bright welcoming banners adorning the marquees of selected hotels, and sharply etched red and black posters of O'Neill's austere grimace plastered against billboards and lampposts, I knew I'd landed in the right place. Furthermore, set in the spacious and attractive surroundings of the Jinling hotel, this international conference devoted to "Eugene O'Neill--World Playwright" was determined to live up to its name. The program of literary events scheduled nine consecutive panels during the first two days alone, and boasted a strong opening that was supported by international panelists who would center their remarks on the philosophic and religious motifs, dramatic patterns, comparative studies, and performance values of O'Neill's plays. I would come to discover, by the end of the fourth and final day in Nanjing, that the conference had left no stone, or play, unturned; that the life, work, and influence of this century-old playwright had left indelible impressions on world drama; and that sixty years after his 1928 visit to Shanghai, O'Neill was still the talk of the town.
Monday, June 6th--at nine o'clock in the morning. As one hundred spectators gathered for the first session, the conference seemed more like a movie set than a literary colloquy: glaring spotlights cut through the air-conditioned atmosphere, movie cameras zoomed toward the stunned panelists, and flashbulbs popped from every direction. But once Oscar Brockett had introduced the first round of panelists (Virginia Floyd, Marcus Konick and James Robinson) to offer their assessment of O'Neill's religious and philosophical explorations, the din magically subsided and the event was clearly underway. Highlights of this first day included (1) studies of specific plays: Dynamo as a "transformation of [expressionist] elements into a unique American form" (William Elwood); the theme of "fulfillment vs. obliteration of real and ideal selves" in Horizon, Iceman and Journey (Qian Jiaoru); the coincidence of dramatic intention in A Moon for the Misbegotten and Ibsen's Peer Gynt (Rolf Fjelde); and the political ramifications of both American and German premières of The Hairy Ape (Ward Lewis); (2) analyses of O'Neill's literary style: his lifetime search for "the cause of human tragedy" (Yuan Henian); his preoccupation with themes and characters of the black (Caribbean) world (Thomas Pawley); Strindberg's influence on his circular dramatic structures (Albert Kalson); and O'Neill's uses of pessimism with ""musical themes" and "mathematical parallels" (Ren Zhiji); and (3) a report of his infamous "beginnings" as world playwright (Paul Voelker). An indisposed Liao Kedui invited his doctoral student, Li Hong Mel, to read the paper he had prepared on Realism in O'Neill's plays.
As if this panoply of scholarly research were not enough to fill our heads on the first day, the afternoon ended with a visit to the Nanjing University campus, just minutes away, where an international exhibit of theatre books, including some excellent and rare photos--many of which focused on O'Neill productions--could be viewed. The visit was followed by an opulent banquet back at the Jinling, and a short stroll up the avenue to the Yanan Theatre where a production of Beyond the Horizon awaited us.
While I am eager to share more of the conference details, I cannot resist relating some of my impressions of this production and others, because they provided me with moments I shall long cherish. Horizon's director, Xiong Guodong, had reset O'Neill's American farm in the southern region of a Yangtze River province to strengthen its appeal to the Chinese audience. In an indoor scene, for example, my attention was captured by the crudely realistic kitchen, a living-room hearth with a real fire burning, a "practical" weaving loom set into motion at one point of the dramatic action, and a portable commode that provoked hearty laughter in the audience--all of these set on a conventional proscenium stage in a movie-like theatre that seated approximately twelve hundred spectators. The director introduced some small actions not in O'Neill's script, feeling that such chances needed to be taken in order to be consistent with its Chinese setting. Before rehearsals started, for example, he and his actors had visited the countryside to observe the strongly physicalized actions of the people, many of which were incorporated into the performance. He admitted, in a discussion several days later, that aspects of the mise-en-scène were inspired by a famous Chinese painting, which he then showed to us. In discussing the play's appeal, he believed that it contained universal elements common to both Americans and Chinese, and that its message was fit for every age level in the East: "In life, what you can get is quite ordinary; but what you cannot get is what you want." He further admitted that, throughout rehearsals, he kept reminding his actors, "The hopeless hope finally is hope."
Two moments in his production stand out most strongly in my memory. The first was the overtly optimistic ending in which an orangey-red spotlight--representing the sunrise--was projected on the upstage scrim, then elevated slowly to a prominent position as Robert Mayo delivered his final speech before dying. (The pronounced visualization of this sunrise somehow disturbed me. But when I turned to my copy of the play weeks later. I discovered that, according to O'Neill, "the edge of the sun's disc is rising from the rim of the hills," at which point Robert points to "the sun!" It was wonderful to rediscover a detail I'd long forgotten in an O'Neill play I had never seen in production.) Sensing my response, a young Chinese scholar who accompanied me to the performance assured me that the director's overtly optimistic ending was something that held great meaning for the Chinese, which was why they responded so enthusiastically when the final curtain fell. The second moment was an inserted coda to the play's action, a fairly innocuous directorial gesture in which the character of Doctor Fawcett, who attends the ailing Robert, was transformed into a character resembling Eugene O'Neill himself, ambling leisurely through the countryside--a token of the director's admiration for the playwright, I was told!
Tuesday, June 7th. Our long first day--and evening at the theatre--did not prevent an even earlier return to the Jinling, where Nancy Swortzell, our opening moderator, introduced the first panel discussion of the morning: "O'Neill On-Stage." Betty Jean Jones emphasized the uses of "style, substance, and synthesis" in directing O'Neill's plays, and focused on her recent production of A Touch of the Poet; Yoshiteru Kurokawa dealt with the obstacles he faced while directing Mourning Becomes Electra in Japan; Felicia Londré employed slides to reconstruct The Emperor Jones in its American, continental, film and operatic versions; and Daniel Watermeier evaluated, through comparison, the 1946 and 1956 American productions of Iceman. Highlights of the heavily scheduled morning session included O'Neill's affiliation with the Provincetown Players (Robert Sarl6s); an informative and entertaining view of Carlotta Monterey's theatrical career (Margaret Loftus Ranald); and the "surprises and confirmations" encountered in editing and selecting Pion the more than three thousand extant O'Neill letters (Jackson Bryer). A final morning panel focused on O'Neill as playwright: his compositional process in the portraits of Hickey and Larry from Iceman--including their origin and development as stage characters (Judith Barlow); an analysis of the smaller linguistic components and tonal registers that allow characters "to surface, function, and merge" in Iceman and Journey (Jean Chothia); the uses of memory, free association, and Hickey's "oscillating consciousness" in relation to the "symphony of monologue structures" of Iceman (Marc Maufort); and O'Neill's skillful handling of language, specifically his "use of presupposition as a major means of exposition" in Journey (Cheng Mei).
The lengthy but rewarding morning session was followed by our return to the Nanjing campus where, after lunch, two afternoon sessions were held. The first of these returned us to the philosophic and religious motifs of the previous morning with a presentation on O'Neill and Tao (Ouyang Ji); and two views of Marco Millions, one offered by James Moy, the other by Li Gang. The afternoon's second session, on O'Neill abroad, included Egil Törnqvist's slide presentation on Ingmar Bergman's current production of Journey; O'Neill's reputation in China (Long Wenpei's study was read by his student); the reception of Anna Christie in China (Wang Yiqun); the staging of Desire Under the Elms and Ah, Wilderness! in Japan (Yasuko Ikeuchi); and the reception of O'Neill's "Greek" tragedies in China (Zhao Yu). Despite the day's somewhat record-breaking sequence of five lengthy. sessions, accompanied by some record-breaking temperatures--up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside our air-conditioned surroundings--many of us enjoyed leisurely dinners before venturing off to the Rennin Theatre where a production of Long Day's Journey provided powerful "theatrical" closure to a most rewarding day.
Having seen Bergman's bold interpretation at the Dramaten in Stockholm just twelve days earlier, and anticipating Quintero's production which had recently opened in New York City, I found this Chinese première of Journey, directed by Zhang Fucheng and featuring Wang Ping--one of China's leading actresses--oddly timed, but curiously irresistible. In the presence of these expert actors, I was consistently gripped throughout this Journey's two and a half intermissionless hours. This time, the Chinese actors, dressed in western clothes, negotiated in a fairly contemporary American household setting. Its skeletal frame, airy and bright with sunshine coming through a left-stage window, seemed mildly expressionistic with its fragmented, mask-like, anonymous profiles peering down on the play's inhabitants. The familiar shelves of books were boldly evident, as was the prominent portrait of Shakespeare in a central position. Once again, two impressions would remain with me: the subdued emotionality of the characters' interactions--a marked contrast to Bergman's consciously explosive confrontations; and the haunting, almost piping musicality of Mary Tyrone's voice against the chorus of her more naturalistic male partners.
Not understanding a word of Chinese, I discovered only later that practically all of the play's Shakespearean and other literary quotations had been deleted to facilitate the audience's appreciation of the action, much to the chagrin of the script's two translators. Regarding the play's more realistic content, however, I was informed by my dependable Chinese colleagues that, in spite of the drug- and alcohol-related motifs which were difficult social issues for the Chinese to handle, the playwright's concern for the welfare of the Tyrones was the play's strongest appeal. Comparing the event with the previous night's, I was greatly disappointed that there was no curtain call and virtually little applause when the action ended. When I asked if the audience disliked the play--their attention had seemed as riveted as mine--I was simply informed that the theatres in the city must be emptied well before eleven o'clock at night, as buses stopped running by then, and patrons needed to return to their homes. This, I also learned, was why performances began earlier than usual and intermissions were often eliminated for lengthier plays.
Wednesday, June 8th--the third day of our conference--began more exotically than the previous two, with extensive touring of the Ming Tomb and a visit to a Confucian temple. By 2:30, however, we were back at the Jinling where Marcus Konick introduced the three speakers of the first afternoon session: Lowell Swortzell, who discussed Emperor Jones as a source of theatrical experimentation; Ralph Ranald, who viewed the aspects of class struggle in All God's Chillun and Hairy Ape, with special emphasis on the Dantean levels of meaning in the latter; Maya Koreneva, who analyzed selected parallels between O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms and Tolstoy's Power of Darkness; and Marcelline Krafchick, who explored the "games" motifs--marbles, masking, and boxing, among others--that underscore the "psychological tactics" of All God's Chillun.
It was my pleasure to moderate the third day's final session, which, despite the exhausting morning tour, attracted enthusiastic listeners as determined as ever to lend their support to the marathon proceedings. Continuing the theme of patterns in O'Neill's dramatic "carpet," Jean Anne Waterstradt focused on three O'Neill women and the emerging pattern they demonstrated in their respective plays; Mariko Hori assessed the fascinating metatheatrical elements in O'Neill's late plays; while Anthony Boyle closed the panel with a film-illustrated discussion of Garbo and Robeson in their legendary roles as Anna Christie and Brutus Jones--an excellent bit of timing here, as members of the conference had been invited to the Xiju Theatre that same evening to view a double-bill of The Emperor Jones and Hughie.
Was it possible that the remnant cinematic images of Robeson's portrayal mirrored the same character on view at the Xiju? Director Feng Changnian, brilliantly assisted by Su Shijin's choreography and Cai Wei's athletically versatile central performance, later admitted that he wanted to find a new way to produce this popular and representative O'Neill play. Thus his attempt to visualize its "inner worlds" deliberately avoided conventional approaches and sought newer styles of "performance art"--focusing on choreographic action, this time to limn the tragic fall of Brutus Jones. Catering to the tastes of his Chinese audience, he incorporated a variety of native and folk styles; and while most of the play's dialogue was banished, none of its evocative imagery was sacrificed. On the contrary, this striking dance piece--already invited to Beijing's celebration of O'Neill this coming fall--embellished the monodrama through its heightened lighting and sound effects, as well as its exaggerated costumes and make-up. From start to finish, it served us O'Neill's phantasmagorical world to perfection: a striking spider web/backdrop which palpitated with menacing rhythms; the woman-as-witchdoctor, allowing the director to explore some of the unexpressed sexuality of O'Neill's script; the continual integration of Jones and his hallucinatory figures; and the overt crucifix symbolism surrounding Jones's death. Changnian's admittedly "free interpretation" responded instinctively to O'Neill's demands, driving the audience into wild approval.
Equally effective, but for very different reasons, was the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Festival's production of Hughie--O'Neill's later portrait of an equally misbegotten soul--skillfully directed by Tom McDermott. The audience's reverentially hushed involvement in the proceedings assured Stan Weston's unforgettable Erie Smith that they were cautiously captured by every action and word. This perfectly integrated double-bill was an eloquent expression of East meeting West, offering us two memorable characters--one an exotic, the other an eccentric--who shared the same stage but never met.
Thursday, June 9th--our last morning of the conference. A sense of renewal seemed to fill the air, as dozens of us poured into the Jinling for a final panel discussion that gathered together many of the artistic directors and actors whose work we had witnessed during the week. The topic was the Nanjing/Shanghai O'Neill Theatre Festival itself, and once again spotlights flooded the room as cameras moved into place. Chol-lei Stephen Chen of the Hong Kong Federation of Drama moderated the discussion, with panelists Ton McDermott and Judith Johnston-Weston of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Festival; Feng Changnian and Xong Goudong of the Jiangsu Art Theatre; Zhanbg Fucheng of the Central Academy of Drama; and Huang Zhongjiang of the PLA Film Studio.
It turned out to be a compelling three-hour session in which each of the panelists shared his ideas and ,feelings with the group, after which Stephen Chen opened the discussion to all participants. What became most evident was that this tremendous undertaking by the People's Republic to honor Eugene O'Neill as world playwright had generated powerful moments of communication, intellectual understanding, professional exchange and personal good will--as if the green tea we had been sipping continually during the long days' events had transported us to some very special emotional and professional place. We felt glad to be where we were, and our heartfelt expressions- of gratitude to Liu Haiping, in particular, were vociferously voiced.
As mentioned earlier, my China adventure did not end in Nanjing, since I was fortunate to attend the O'Neill Play festival in Shanghai, accompanied by many fellow Chinese and American O'Neillians. It was there that a round of equally memorable events whetted our appetites as tourists and theatre-goers: the quiet tour through the hospital in downtown Shanghai where O'Neill had spent many days recuperating from a sudden illness; the warm reception and sumptuous buffet served to us at the famous Peace Hotel where O'Neill found accommodations; Hu Weiming's razor-sharp direction of The Great God Brown, with its fluid maneuvering of masks, which easily rivaled my earlier, still vivid recollection of a production at New York City's Phoenix Theatre in the late 1950s; a marathon Mourning Becomes Electra, performed in sweepingly histrionic style with western designs, costumes and make-up, and culminating in a final mise-en-scène in which the skeletal porticoes of the Mannon estate were magically replaced by seven towering white crucifixes from behind which Lavinia's masked dead lurked and peered at her; the vivid staging and powerful singing of Ile, based on O'Neill's one-act play, and sharing a triple bill with a Chinese version of Hughie, in tandem with the American version first presented in Nanjing; the warm hospitality shown us by the faculty at Fudan University, and, most especially, the drama students there who performed O'Neill scenes for us in both Chinese and English; our visit to the Shanghai Red Chamber Opera and the company's exciting performance of The Carp Goddess, after which we gathered onstage to meet the actors and pose for press pictures in the presence of a large cheering audience. As I stood on the stage and stared out at this receptive ,.roved, I couldn't help but feel that O'Neill was out there "somewhere," perhaps grinning proudly on this unique occasion and taking full credit for having instigated this centennial celebration some sixty years earlier when his instincts first led him to Shanghai. Was this moment, like so many others we had experienced, all part of his design? My reverie was interrupted when we were escorted backstage to chat with the actors and be playfully adorned in their spectacular stage costumes. This very special evening would be my last in Shanghai.
For me, it was the conclusion of a sojourn that had started on May 18th, when I flew from Kennedy Airport to Brussels to begin this summer of centennial homage to Eugene O'Neill. And except for one very rainy interlude in Shanghai, the sun managed to shine every day. While I was flying out of Shanghai on the morning of June 13, however, I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to exchange my People's Republic currency--some forty dollars worth--that it would be impossible to convert elsewhere. Instead of conjuring up new anxieties, I simply settled back in my seat, smiled knowingly, and took it as an omen that I'd return there one day to spend it.
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