Sunday, May 31, 2009

Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill, Ar Rude at the Off Center, May 27 - June 7

Eugene O'Neill did not want you to see this astonishing, bleak and deeply moving drama. When he died in a Boston hotel room in 1953, he had left it locked up in the vaults of his publisher Random House with instructions that it was not to be opened for 25 years after his death, and that it was never to be performed.

Instead, his third wife Carlotta Monterrey, who had fought with him and protected him and nursed him since 1928, inherited the rights. She deeded it to Yale University with the stipulation that proceeds be used to build a drama library and to award scholarships for drama.

Long Day's Journey Into Night was first produced at the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre in February, 1956. The venue was apt. O'Neill's realistic, sometimes naturalistic drama shared much with the theatrical traditions of Strindberg and Ibsen. In 1936 the Nobel Committee had awarded O'Neill the Nobel Prize for literature, the only Nobel given to an American dramatist. The Broadway premiere at the Helen Hayes Theatre in November, 1956, received Tony awards for Best Play and Best Actor in a Play, as well as the New York Drama Critics' Circle awards for Best Play.

O'Neill wrote 19 one-act plays between 1914 and 1919, drawing extensively on his experiences as a seafarer, and over his career, a total of 32 full-length plays. His work was instrumental in converting the carefree, largely brainless American stage into a medium for serious literature. These were powerful stories, usually on dark subjects. Many drew on Greek mythology.
Only one, Ah, Wilderness!, was a comedy, a fantasy version of the years of his youth in New London, Connecticut, as the bookish son of a successful actor.

Long Day's Journey into Night takes exactly that setting. The characters are his parents, his brother, himself and an indolent maid. Their last name is changed to Tyrone, but not to protect any innocents. The action of this one long day in the summer of 1911 includes the moment of confirmation that the younger brother Edmund, the surrogate for O'Neill, has tuberculosis ("consumption") and shows us his mother Mary, lonely and desperate as she gives in to her addiction to morphine.

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