Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Eugene O’Neill

Long Day’s Journey into Night is playing at The Guthrie Theater right now and is bringing in excellent crowds. I’m going to pass on it.
by Charlie Leck

My wife went off without me to our famous repertoire theater last week – The Guthrie Theater (named after the famous Sir Tyrone Guthrie). For you out-of-towners who don’t know about the Guthrie, you simply should if you like theater (especially classic theater). People travel here from all over the world to attend the Guthrie Theater.

Well, Anne and her daughter had dinner together at the theater and then saw Eugene O’Neill’s remarkable play, Long Day’s Journey into Night. It’s been called, by a number of theater and literary experts, the finest dramatic play ever written in America. Well, to tell the truth, I was sort of glad not to have been included in the evening. I’ve seen the play a couple of times and auditioned for a part in it once (I didn’t get it!). The play is pretty tedious and I really didn’t need to sit through it again.

As a matter of fact, O’Neill himself was not even in attendance at the opening night in 1941 of Long Day’s Journey into Night. Because he thought the play was so provocative and intense, he had asked that it not be performed until 25 years after his death. It was (and is, I guess) very autobiographical in nature. His parents are portrayed in the play (and not generously) and so is a broken down brother.

Nevertheless, Eugene O’Neill was some guy – an extraordinary playwright and a real genius in so many ways. I glanced through the theater program that my wife brought home and I came up with a delightful little snippet that I felt I must share with you. It was taken from a letter that Eugene O’Neill sent to Harvard along with his application for admittance nearly 100 years ago. I chuckled at it so and found it also very compelling. I’m going to reprint it here for you…

“Less than a year ago I seriously determined to become a dramatist and since that time I have written one long play – four acts – and seven one-act plays. Although I have read all the modern plays I could lay my hands on, and many books on the subject of the Drama, I realize how inadequate such a hap-hazard, undirected mode of study must necessarily be. With my present training I might hope to become a mediocre journey-man playwright. … [It is} because I want to be an artist or nothing, that I am writing to you.
“If varied experience be a help to the prospective dramatist I may justly claim that asset for I have worked my way around the world as a seaman on merchant vessels and held various positions in different foreign countries.
“Hoping you may look favorably upon this earnest desire of mine to become your student, I remain,
“Sincerely yours,
Eugene G. O’Neill
July 16, 1914”

By the way, O’Neill was accepted at Harvard and studied there with the famous George Pierce Baker. This was, mind you, after having graduated from Princeton.

P.S. My wife’s sister is on the Board of Directors of the Guthrie Theater and she’s been extremely faithful to them for many years. We’re proud of her for that and admire her dedication to what the Guthrie does.

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