Play's & Drama: 4 Plays by Eugene O'Neil ( Shakesphere, Plays, play, drama, humor, dramatic, fiction, classic) by Eugene O'Neil, Society Greats Celebrated drama, Nobel peace prize Olympics, Drama Play
Winner of four Pulitzer Prizes and the first American dramatist to receive a Nobel Prize, Eugene O'Neill filled his plays with rich characterization and innovative language, taking the outcasts and renegades of society and depicting their Olympian struggles with themselves-and with destiny.
Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953) is generally considered the greatest American playwright of the 20th Century. Today casual readers and playgoers are most likely to know his work through two plays written in the early 1940s: the celebrated The Iceman Cometh and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Long Day's Journey Into Night. But the great bulk of O'Neill's work was done between about 1914 and 1933--and although the power of his later work is undeniable, it was actually his earlier work that led to his 1936 Nobel Prize for Literature.
With an insightful introduction by A.R. Gurney, author of such playscripts as The Dining Room, this reasonably-priced volume presents four of O'Neill's earliest successes, including two Pulitzer Prize winners. Each of the four is remarkable in its own way, and taken together they offer a memorable overview of the ideas, themes, and theatrical concepts that O'Neill would continue to expand upon throughout the rest of his career.
The two "realistic" dramas of the quartet took the Pulitzer Prize: Beyond the Horizon, first staged in 1920, and Anna Christie, first staged in 1921. But although the plays are realistic in tone, it would be a mistake to consider them realistic in ultimate quality--for it is here that O'Neill begins to grapple with themes of fate, of inevitability that critics would tag as "naturalistic."
Beyond the Horizon offers the tale of two brothers who separate and experience a role reversal of sorts when one marries the love of his life--only to find bitterness, disillusionment, and disappointment. Anna Christie, a play which is still frequently revived, offers the tale of a young prostitute who attempts her past behind by returning to her father--only to find herself caught up in another but equally harsh fate. Both plays are extremely powerful and both offer O'Neill's richness of theme and concept and both had extremely positive critical and popular support when they debuted; both, however, are also deeply flawed works with final acts that do not quite manage to bring O'Neill's ideas to a completely satisfactory conclusion.
It is really in the two remaining plays that O'Neill first finds complete artistic success, plays which are not in the least realistic and which critics would describe as expressionistic. Whatever word is used, again O'Neill plays with the same sense of inevitability, the same idea that each person is his own prisoner, a prisoner who can only be released from his cage by death.
First staged slightly before Beyond the Horizon in 1920, The Emperor Jones proved extremely startling in form. The play presents the tale of "Emperor" Jones, a black man of great physical power but limited insight who escapes from racially repressive America to an island where he bullies his way to the throne. But ironically, instead of working to create a society that is less repressive, he merely repeats what he has learned and evolves into an abusive ruler. When his subjects rebel, he makes a marathon run through the jungle to escape ... only to find his past transgressions rising before him as the pursuing drums draw ever closer. Like Anna Christie, The Emperor Jones remains one of O'Neill's most frequently staged early works.
O'Neill's 1922 The Hairy Ape is only slightly less successful than The Emperor Jones, and again finds O'Neill working concepts of personal inevitability into an expressionistic form; indeed, it is easily the single most expressionistic play of O'Neill's entire output. It presents the story of Yank, a burly lowbrow stoker who works in the flaming hell of an ocean liner's boiler room. Proud of his work and of himself, Yank is outraged when he is insulted by a society woman as a "hairy ape"--and goes in search of the newly discovered society that rejects him. But the instant Yank steps outside his boiler room he falls victim to repeated rejection, and like the Emperor Jones he pays the ultimate price for rattling the bars of his personal prison. Difficult to cast and extremely hard to stage, for all its power The Hairy Ape is rarely revived today.
Although all four plays, flaws and all, are remarkably fine and extremely important in the development of 20th century theatre, I do not normally recommend any O'Neill script to the casual reader. On the page, his dialogue and constructions have an unnatural quality that makes for difficult reading, and although he is usually very specific in scenic and business description it is often very difficult to imagine how the play performs before an audience. Consequently, readers without a significant background in theatre are likely to find his works challengin