Ideas and the Theatre; The despair and religion of Eugene O'Neill
The program will be the dispair and religion of Eugene O'Neill. The series ideas and the theatre the actual views and voices you will hear drama critics Brooks Atkinson Richard Watts JR Thyra Samter Winslow John Beauford George Friedly and Dr Joan thoughtless and nurse scholars Eric Bentley Martin Brown and Dr Robert Corrigan. Those who make this series possible. The University of Minnesota radio station KNAU O.M. In cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. And now here is the producer of ideas on the theatre. Critic at large Philip go why is there arrival of interest in Eugene O'Neill and his writings here in mid 20th century America. What might O'Neill have to convey that is so significant for us today. Let's listen to a few of our leading drama critiques and see if we can recognize a pattern to the present O'Neill appeal. First the calmness and drama critic for The New York Post
Mr. Richard Watts Jr. commenting on one of the three O'Neill plays produced on Broadway during the one thousand fifty six fifty seven season. Mr. Watts A Moon for the Misbegotten is another of Eugene O'Neill's dark and brooding contemplations of tormented souls. The last work of our great drama just it suffers from his characteristic failings of excessive length and insufficient eloquence. But whatever its incidental weaknesses may be it is a moving beautiful and shattering play. It is a remarkable tribute to a playwright when the only possible current arrivals to one of his grandmothers are a couple of his other works well hear more from the New York Post drama critic Richard Watts Jr. later in the program. Right now here are comments in the 1956 57 prize winning O'Neill drama A Long Day's Journey Into Night. These comments are recorded by the dean of America's drama critics. Brooks Atkinson as recorded at the New York Times. Mr. Atkinson.
Will the production of Long Day's Journey Into Night. The American sailor acquires size and stature of years before he died in 1953. O'Neill epitomized the life of his family and every drown in a drama that records the events of one day at their summer home in two London Connecticut in 1912. Factually it is a sordid story about a pathologically possum on his father a mother addicted to drugs a dissipated brother and a younger brother representing Eugene O'Neill who has TB and is about to be shipped off to a sanitarium roughly those are the facts. But the author has told them on the plane of an O'Neill tragedy and pushed the point of view transcends the material. This summing up of his emotional an artistic life ranks with Mourning Becomes Electra and desire under the elms which I regard as his masterpieces.
That was the New York Times drama critic Brooks Atkinson with a few of the times presses heard in the background. Not everybody feels the same about Eugene O'Neill however as Mr Watson Mr Atkinson. Here is the critique for a Gotham guide a creative artist in her own right. Tyra Samter Winslow miss Winslow's feelings about Eugene O'Neill came faster than my question Mr. O'Neill. Well I think he's completely Arabica not very interesting. Course he's one of my blind spots and I cultivate him as a blind spot because I think he writes about very saddened people and I think too many people are apt to get tragedy mixed up with. I think it's a show sodden drunken people brawling and I don't think you know and to me some of the plays are important and I like them and some of that is not why. But to me when the dullest place I've ever
seen I think I'm the only person so I hope I'm like the little boy said the King. But everyone else has been taken in by. But to me there were moments but wrong. Times are just bizarre and repetitious talk if the person next door a recording of the same and you move away or move out to get the police or something and I think it's just an important and I'm surprised that people did take it so seriously. He proved nothing while fire a Samter Winslow evaluation of Eugene O'Neill varies from the views of critics Atkinson and Watts. Miss Winslow does agree with her fellow drama critics and seeing essentially the same motif of torment and despair in O'Neill's works. She just doesn't like it. George Friedly the secretary of the New York Drama Critics Circle points out an interesting factor about the drama critics circle's choice of Long Day's Journey Into Night as the
best play of the 1956 57 Broadway season. Here now is Mr. George Friedly. I think the reason why the circle chose him and there was no vote for any of the play was absolutely back claymation was the fact that in this place only feels more of himself any of the play in his 25 years of play writing. Is the autobiographical aspect of Long Day's Journey Into Night a factor in the play's success. Are we intrigued by it as a higher level confidential type exposé Johndroe for the drama critic for The Christian Science Monitor comments on this Mr. Beaufort. The thing that has occurred to me in seeing and reading long day's journey is this. If we didn't know what happened but he did become a highly successful not only
highly successful author but an author who has represented American drama to the world in a sense whether Long Day's Journey Into Night would have the same effect on it on us as it does because O'Neill's own life even with all its tragedies did. Rise to a very high achievement. I've often wondered how much that knowledge that we take to the theatre helps us are on the other hand if we didn't know this if we just came to this play cold as a as a statement of a human situation whether we would feel this kind of release that we get on leaving it I didn't feel depressed on leaving Long Day's Journey Into Night. I felt that I'd had something of that what the Greeks used to call catharsis that one is supposed to have in tragedy because of the
very personal aspects of O'Neill's last works as cited here by critic John Ball forte. I wanted to ask a series of questions of a man who knew Eugene O'Neill personally. Once again now we'll hear from the distinguished columnist and drama critic for The New York Post Richard Watts Jr. commenting first on Long Day's Journey Into Night. Mr. Watts I think it is probably the finest tragedy has been written in this country it is so highly personal sort of biographical and I think it's a new category of myself. I'm going to meet up to a few years ago I thought to place what I thought the iceman I was an original supporter of the iceman The Iceman Cometh and I got to a salesman where the two great American workplace. But at the same thing about golf for that matter of illusion. Do you think that despite his protestations against religion that perhaps O'Neill represents almost a more religious point of view.
I think O'Neill was a deeply religious man and his instincts I certainly opposed to all revealed religion but he was always striving to find some sort of personal face. Did you know any of that. I don't yes I did I know him fairly well for a time. It became about when I started interviewing him several times and we got along very well and there was a period in which he would be only a newspaper man and he would interview and then I was when he was living in France in a chateau outside of Toure invited me to visit him our guys for a couple days with him and got to know him pretty well. But I don't think anyone know him well but I got to know something about him and we had a great sympathetic feelings for each other and he seemed to lose some of the shyness which is why I think that he did like me. Do you think you could describe the man's philosophy towards life.
Or was there first just groping. Well I think to a great extent it was it was a groping quality I think that the very fact that he does that he has trouble with with words and there's a certain lack of eloquence in his writing is because he is mine was not altogether clear he was groping for some kind of a face some kind of meaning in life that he didn't wasn't quite clear to him what he was concerned with man's relation to God but he didn't he was you know never had any idea he wasn't sure he never had discovered what that god was whether it was some kind of a Greek thing or. At times he toyed with the idea with being a Catholic God. So he was struggling with all of these things and I don't think it was ever EVER made up his mind. Inciting the religious dimension of O'Neill's writing critic Richard Watts suggests a possible reason for O'Neill's present popularity. It's a well-established fact that there is a revival of religious interest throughout our nation. I put a question on O'Neill's religiosity to the Martin Brown.
Mr Brown is the chairman of the religious drama society of Great Britain and the original producer director of several of TS Eliot's place. There is also a quality and wheel of the unanswered the mysterious almost the mystical do you think this brings him into the area of religious drama. It certainly brings him into a close periphery where one is going to draw this circle round religious drama. I did quite upset and he was at a very important influence in this food. I further questioned the Martin Brown's view of Eugene O'Neill as a kind of religious writer with Professor John Bachman of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Professor Bachmann is chairman of the seminaries faculty committee on religious drama. There is certainly a deep longing in much of O'Neill's writings which would present what I would say was the need for a religious faith.
And he doesn't very often get beyond that point. But he at least expresses this. What might be called a negative witness or what would be a preparation for what the Christian faith claims to offer in Moon for the Misbegotten for example. You certainly have a vivid presentation of the need for forgiveness in this in the personality of Jim is not the leading character of moon for the Misbegotten Yes Jim Tyrone who in his checkered career gives every appearance of caring nothing about what anybody thinks of him or caring nothing about. Any guilt or absence of responsibility in his past. And yet when the time comes and he sobs on the shoulder of Western Haitian woman yes to a large woman a name escapes me at the moment
when this time comes it's very apparent that he needs more than anything else a sense of forgiveness. He even verbalize it as I recall it and speaks of forgiveness of sin and then in the next sentence he laughs about it. But at the conclusion of the play a large woman again in the final words I think of the very play gives what would be a benediction when she speaks of forgiveness and peace and hoping that he will find forgiveness and peace perhaps that he will die at the point that he finds it. But she herself has been able to mediate it to him for one night but she doesn't know whether anybody can bring it to him beyond that point. In Athens than the actual action of the play as on was a religious experience dramatize Yes it is now. To what point this is Christian is a next question because whether it is possible for a
person to mediate genuine forgiveness and sin forgiveness of sin which will last beyond a night let us say whether that's possible without religious and from one. From my perspective a Christian orientation is a real question. The idea of forgiving the idea of accepting a person despite what he is rather than because of what he is. Yes this may be possible. Whether a person can really come to the conclusion that he is so accepted beyond the mere person next to him accepted by God whether that is possible without the Christian orientation or if you will a Jewish orientation. I don't believe it is. That was Professor John Bachman chairman of the religious drama program at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Before we classify Eugene O'Neill as a writer of a
kind of religious drama let's look at this from another point of view. Our analyst is Eric Bentley professor of dramatic literature at Columbia University and author of What is theatre the playwright is thinker on many other stimulating books on ideas and I think it are here now is Eric Bentley O'Neill wrote one play which seemed to be at least in a vague sense not necessarily in a dead accurate sense calculate. And this was his play days with and not a very well-known one but it was produced some 20 years ago. At that time he withdrew from Broadway as you know and didn't come out with another play for some years or 10 years I think. A Catholic critic if I remember rightly Richard Donna Skinner wrote a book in that period showing the life of O'Neill as a gradual progression towards Catholicism and therefore co-managing in days without end. That at the time seemed to me questionable
though tenable later when O'Neill's subsequent plays came out. It became quite understandable because O'Neill then made it quite clear that he had not progressed or more accurately returned to Catholicism at all but had remained in that pessimistic philosophy of life which shares earlier works like Mourning Becomes Electra express a fatalism of those he made quite clear when questioned about his view of life by a press conference in 1946. But even if he hadn't said so in so many words I think that in his later plays like The Iceman Cometh and the Long Day's Journey Into Night There is nothing but the black past him as I'm no hope at all. No God in the sky and no great future I have. Which had been his philosophy before his apparent conversion which was no conversion but a kind of little experiment with himself evidently one that didn't for him work.
I also asked Eric Bentley to analyze Eugene O'Neill's use of religious symbols in his plays. Mr. Bentley felt the symbols were not used in any religious sense but in relation to two areas of much greater concern to Eugene O'Neill than religion. Once again Eric Bentley. He shows people in the grip of two vices. But if there are prostitutes and there are alcoholics in his place all the time from Anna Christy right through right on through. Those are the two things the women prostitutes nymphomaniacs the sexual offense and the drinking. All the time and the only kind of remedy he indicates is some vague longing for virginity. But part of a fantasy of all nails is certainly constant. I don't think it has any theological content and even though he will occasionally use theological imagery if Eugene O'Neill has new popularity he cannot be traced to
his religious dimension. What then. It's been said often that ours is a day of despair an Age of Anxiety. Ike Eugene O'Neill will be a most effective spokesman for such a day and age for an overall analysis of this concept of O'Neill as many plays in his major themes. I turned to the editor of the Tulane drama review Dr. Robert Corrigan. O'Neill is in fashion this year. People tend to think that the autobiographical a Long Day's Journey Into Night is responsible for this revival. I think not. It was the revival of The Iceman Cometh last year that created the stir. It was a successful revival that prompted Mrs O'Neill to go against her deceased husband's wishes. The journey not be produced in this country until 25 years after his death. But let us look at the play more
closely. The scene of The Iceman Cometh is in the back room and bar of Harry Hope's hotel a cheap gin mill of the five cent whiskey last resort for ID situated in the downtown Westside of New York. When asked what kind of a joint is this anyway. Larry Slade the play's central character describes Harry Hope saloon as the down and out by the last chance saloon. There they all sit slumped in an alcoholic stupor keeping up the appearances of life with a few harmless pipe dreams about their yesterdays and tomorrows pipe dreams. The world runs through like a leitmotif throughout the play. The illusion that there is forgetfulness and alcohol the illusion of political shibboleths the illusion that tomorrow they are going to face up to themselves and regain their self-respect.
Always concerned with the illusion O'Neill has presented it in many ways in pictures of individuals pathetically or tragically frustrated because of some initial mistake they make about themselves or that others make about them. As in bounties for a cart of rope beyond the horizon and straw. Different in symbols not of individuals but of man overwhelmed by the force of unconscious primitivism latent in him as in the emperor Jones and the hairy ape in parables concerning the ethics of Western civilization as in the fountain Marco millions Lazarus laughed or in psychological probings of man's soul as in desire under the elms the great god Brown. Strange interlude and mourning becomes Electra despite great variation in focus and interest. Certain factors remain constant enough throughout the plays to make
O'Neill's work appear as a continuous philosophical in Vesta geisha of the riddle of falshood at the core of life. In the process of which several partial solutions have been reached but no definitive one until a Long Day's Journey Into Night. His plays are eerie with the ghosts of terrible dissatisfactions and of desperate guilt and their darkness is hardly relieved by a hovering conviction that there is a power in love and that an ultimate beneficence grandeur exists beyond the groping and raging consciousness of man. For it isn't tragedy itself that men are shown to have attained their desires Jone's in death preserves the magnificent isolation he had wanted yankin the brotherhood of monkeys belongs at last. If Prim Cabot's desolate farm is still Jim Dandy. Lavinia Madden who has
dedicated herself to the punishment of wrong shuts herself away from life as the final phase of her life work and so on. In an ironic way death and suffering are always the price of attainment. While back of this human scene is and I quote Mr O'Neill and infinite insane energy which creates and destroys without other purpose than to pass eternity in avoiding thought. End of quote. And it is sometimes called God. The Iceman Cometh perhaps more clearly than any of the other O'Neill plays is a morality play a variation on the ancient motif of the Dance of Death with its modern paradoxical twist of Will chance and desired catastrophe where each man kills the thing he loves because he feels guilty of his inability to love
enough. Harry Hope saloon is everywhere and the men in it are drowning in a secret guilt they cannot understand why is there renewed interest in Eugene O'Neill today. I think we got an answer in the pattern of most of the observations as stated here by Dr Robert Corrigan of the theater arts department of Tulane University. We may be more than fascinated by what Dr. Corrigan pointed out as O'Neill's all encompassing concern with death allusion isolation hatred despair and the desire to pass eternity in avoiding thought. All of these have one thing in common. The individual so involved is responsible to no one. He is committed to nothing. This drama of Neil is a man no account is the ultimate. I think in Escape literature this idea was suggested to me by the drama critic for the Catholic News Dr Joan Dulles a nurse.
I think that what you get in the O'Neill type of tragedy is the feeling that they couldn't have done very much different. It's not very clear where they went wrong where they made a deliberate choice so that you are left with the feeling that they are miserable but they are typically miserable apparently everybody else is. And that is nothing very much you can do about what you say to the person who would say yes but that's right. I just don't happen to believe it. I as a Catholic accept a a belief in the freedom of the will in moral responsibility now. We don't claim that every act is 100 percent free. That would be denying the facts of psychology and of circumstance and everything else. But we do believe that there is
at least sufficient leeway for judgment to establish a situation where there is responsibility. And it really the balance because you say up to a point. Of course it was unfortunate this happened this happened and he was weak and so forth and you have there the the angle of charity understanding compassion and at the same site you say well somewhere along the line he might to behave yourself a little better that's partly his forte or else is partly to her credit that she resisted something you can draw some conclusions not that everything is going to happen to me and that whatever I do is it's nobody's fault. But I had to share in my own destiny I at least to some extent I can say I will write I won't. And the results of my actions can be attributed to me. I didn't. That was Dr. John Thomas a nurse drama critic for the Catholic News. No doubt
much of Eugene O'Neill's appeal today is in a kind of a scape ism and other words for many present at Myers of the arts. True and False. O'Neill is safe and he sells but this is far from the whole story. Actually of course the whole story for an artist of stature probably never can be told. And Eugene O'Neill certainly is an artist of stature. I would like to read two short quotations here as they summarize elements of Eugene O'Neill above and beyond his present popularity and his recognized genius for creating intense and exciting drama. The first was written by one of our outstanding scholars of the theater Joseph Wood Krutch and the New York Times review of O'Neill's last written and generally disappointing play a touch of the poet Mr. crude States man emerges from the bludgeoning he receives in O'Neill's plays with his essential dignity intact. He is still a creative being
worthy of respect and it may be at the present generation has found O'Neill stimulating for precisely that reason. And that's the end of the quotation. And a summary of a theater ads out a call in the New York Post this item appeared and again I quote. Actress Mary Welsh recollects Eugene O'Neill with admiration bordering on ARAA as a figure tragic and ill whose intense glance penetrated sham yet she found only a warm and sympathetic even as she became aware that this man compels me to behave at my level best unquote. Is it too much to hope that this too may be a part of O'Neill's present popularity ideas and the theatre is produced by Philip go critic at large and the commentator for this series next week you will hear a discussion on the theology of Graham Greene a motion picture
writer novelist and author of the recent Broadway success the potting shed. You will hear the views and voices of drama critics Richard Watts JR Brooks Atkinson and Dr. Joan Thalassa nurse. Plus author scholars Eric Bentley Edmund fuller Martin asked Dworken and E. Martin Brown ideas and the theater is produced by the University of Minnesota radio station KUNM under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. This series is distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. Join us again next week to hear a variety of authoritative views about Graham Greene on ideas and the theater. This is the end. The radio network.
- Ideas and the Theatre
- Producing Organization
- University of Minnesota
- KUOM (Radio station : Minneapolis, Minn.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program explores the worls of Eugene O'Neill.
- Series Description
- The series presents a discussion of the current American theatre; its values, beliefs, patterns, and problems. Participants include Arthur Miller, Eric Bentley, Gore Vidal, Brooks Atkinson, Cyril Ritchard, Clinton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, and others.
- Broadcast Date
- Media type
Guest: Bentley, Eric, 1916-
Guest: Atkinson, Brooks, 1894-1984
Guest: Winslow, Thyra Samter, 1893-1961
Guest: Beaufort, John
Guest: Browne, E. Martin (Elliott Martin), 1900-1980
Guest: Corrigan, Robert W. (Robert Willoughby), 1927-1993
Host: Kerwin, Jonathan W.
Producer: Gelb, Philip
Producing Organization: University of Minnesota
Producing Organization: KUOM (Radio station : Minneapolis, Minn.)
Subject: O'Neill, Eugene, 1888-1953
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-7-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Ideas and the Theatre; The despair and religion of Eugene O'Neill,” 1958-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 30, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-3f4kqm81.
- MLA: “Ideas and the Theatre; The despair and religion of Eugene O'Neill.” 1958-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 30, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-3f4kqm81>.
- APA: Ideas and the Theatre; The despair and religion of Eugene O'Neill. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-3f4kqm81