Posts Tagged ‘Eugene O’Neill’

‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ by Eugene O’Neill – A Doomed Romance

 

‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ by Eugene O’Neill, a play  (1943) – 115 pages

 

Anyone who has a real interest in literature must finally confront the soul-searching dramas of Eugene O’Neill. Eugene O’Neill was the first United States playwright to take drama seriously, and performances of his plays hold up well even today.

O’Neill’s plays are often about people not facing or finally facing the hard truths about themselves, how people lie to themselves about who they really are in order to make it through the day.

Eugene O’Neill had already won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936, years before he wrote his two most famous plays, ‘A Long Day’s Journey into Night’ and ‘The Iceman Cometh’. It was a movie production of ‘The Iceman Cometh’ in 1973 that really spurred my interest in literature. That production of the play caused me to conclude that literature had some things important to say to me.

‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’, like ‘A Long Day’s Journey into Night’, is closely related to O’Neill’s own family, and O’Neill did not allow stage production of either play until after O’Neill died. One of the main characters in both plays is Jamie Tyrone who is based closely on Eugene O’Neill’s actual older brother Jamie O’Neill.

The year is 1923. Since his actor father James has already died, Jamie is now known as James Tyrone. He is 33 and also a stage actor and a hopeless alcoholic. He has come home from New York to recover and manage his father’s holdings which includes a farm rented to Phil Hogan. Hogan lives with his daughter Josie after all six of her brothers have run off from the farm. When James comes to visit Hogan, the two joke around and kid each other while Josie listens. Then James and old man Hogan head off to the bar for the day. Hogan comes back by himself at late afternoon angry because James has said that he will sell the farm to this obnoxious rich guy Harder. So Hogan hatches this scheme for Josie to seduce James, then Hogan can catch them in bed and force them to get married.

Josie goes along with her dad’s scheme despite being strongly attracted to James anyhow. James harbors tremendous guilt because when his mother died, he was so drunk he couldn’t attend her funeral.

I won’t give away any more of the plot of this deeply affecting emotional drama.

As a dramatist, Eugene O’Neill had something of the Irish poet in him. And no one came up with better titles for his works than O’Neill.

 

Grade:   A

 

 

 

‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ by Eugene O’Neill – The Tyrone Family

‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ by Eugene O’Neill (1941) – 179 pages

Many claim that ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ is the greatest play written by a writer from the United States. Personally I think that distinction belongs to another play written by Eugene O’Neill, ‘The Iceman Cometh’. If you ever get the chance to see Lee Marvin in John Frankenheimer’s movie ‘The Iceman Cometh’ from 1973, don’t miss it. Lee Marvin plays gregarious salesman Harry Hickey who comes to his old bar to destroy the pipe dreams of everyone who is at the bar. Pipe dreams are those lies we tell ourselves to get us through each day. That play profoundly moves me to this day.

But on to ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ which is O’Neill’s most autobiographical play. O’Neill wrote the play in 1941 about his wretched early family situation involving his father, mother, and older brother. O’Neill would not publish the play while he was alive, and he made arrangements not to publish it until 25 years after his death. However his widow Carlotta recognized what a great play it was, and had it published in 1956. The play was first performed in November, 1956.

As its title suggests, the play of four acts takes place during one day in 1912. The Tyrone family is living in their summer seaside home in Connecticut. The father James is a famous actor who could have been a great Shakespearean actor if he hadn’t settled for more money. The sons Jamie and Edmund are fully grown. Older brother Jamie works as an actor in jobs that his father gets for him but mainly Jamie is a rake about town spending most of his time in bars and whorehouses. Edmund, the younger son, has worked as a journalist, written poetry, and has traveled widely but is sickly and may have consumption (tuberculosis) probably somewhat due to excessive alcohol consumption. Edmund is O’Neill’s stand-in for himself. All three men are alcoholics, but it is the mother Mary who has the worse problem; she is a morphine addict and has been confined to a sanatorium before.

One can comprehend how difficult it was for Eugene O’Neill to confront his real family situation. This is family realism at its most honest and most brutal. Each character must confront his or her own reality and shortcomings or else another member of the family will point them out for him or her.

None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.”

I do think ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ is a very strong honest family drama. However it is somewhat of a sad and depressing play with no redemption for its characters. I prefer ‘The Iceman Cometh’ because while it is still brutally honest with the people on stage, it still offers a way out for these people at the end.

Under any conditions, Eugene O’Neill is still the greatest playwright from the United States.

Grade : A

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