Menu Bar


Prior   Appendix I. The Staging of the Tao House Plays   Next

 

In 1944, when O誰eill completed A Touch of the Poet, he sent it along with The Iceman Cometh and A Moon for the Misbegotten to Lawrence Langner at the Theatre Guild. Plans to produce the cycle play were set in motion. Casting discussions were begun with Spencer Tracy and Laurence Olivier mentioned for the role of Cornelius Melody. Robert Edmond Jones made preliminary drawings for the setting and the Guild management worked toward an opening in 1947, following that of A Moon for the Misbegotten. The difficulties with that play痴 out-of-town tryouts and with O誰eill痴 increasingly severe illness forced cancellation of the plans. The play was forced to wait a decade before it took its place on the stage.

Had the Theatre Guild received the entire, completed cycle, the organization would have been forced to depart radically from customary procedures of Broadway production. Indeed, to stage the plays would have required an acting organization unlike any that had been recorded in theatrical history. Assuming that the cycle was to be represented in its full eleven-play length, in all probability a minimum of five years would have been required to mount and play it. A company, supported by appropriate directorial and design echelons, devoted solely to the production of the plays of a single author would have been an indispensable requirement. The problem was clear to Theresa Helburn as early as 1936. She wrote O誰eill, when only seven plays were envisioned, 的 realize . . . that the special problems and size of the task before us probably precludes any thought of a company not definitely focused on these productions, because working on your cycle will absorb all our surplus energy and more for the next two or three years. But we must continue this summer and next fall to organize our acting material so that we will have sifted through and tested out both its caliber and its spirit before our O誰eill season begins. Having been schooled in the problems of marathon plays not only by O誰eill but by Shaw痴 Back to Methuselah, which they had staged in 1922, the executives of the Guild quickly understood the true essence of the problem. O誰eill, however, called a halt to planning and refused to discuss the cycle or show any of his drafts. The project of forming a company was therefore shelved, although it was one to which O誰eill gave thought as his letter to Robert Sisk testifies. He wrote to Miss Helburn that when the cycle was finished, 典hen we really could engage a repertoire company for the whole Cycle耀how actors and actresses we (parts) parts that would make it worth their while, out of pure self-interest, to tie up for several seasons under our conditions. No stars, of course, but show the young and ambitious their chance to become stars through this Cycle. No featured names, unless we ran into some with the right spirit of cooperation. Do this Cycle very much as if we were starting a new Guild or Provincetown Players, that痴 my idea. Keep it as far away from the amusement racket theatre and all Broadway connotations as we possibly can. Treat it as it should be treated from its very nature, as a special, unique thing. That痴 the only way to do it. It痴 not only the one right way to produce it, artistically speaking, but it痴 sound practical showmanship. I知 very obdurate on this point. In fact, to be blunt, I won稚 allow it to be done any other way.

O誰eill痴 belief that the cycle痴 opportunities would attract young actors was undoubtedly correct. He recognized that the cycle would play in a long rotation with new plays being fed in as they were readied over a two- or three-year period, until at last the whole work was on view. To hold actors for so long a time meant, of course that he had to consider their reappearance in a variety of roles, assuming new ones after their initial characters had disappeared from the stage.*

There is some evidence that O誰eill, in writing the plays, concerned himself with the problem of retaining his actors over the long stretch of production the cycle would have required. He kept the casts of the plays small葉en in A Touch of the Poet, somewhat more in More Stately Mansionsand he appears to have made it possible for actors to play more than one role. In Mourning Becomes Electra, O誰eill had stressed the importance of the resemblance of characters in the various branches of the Mannon family. In a similar way, it is probable that the physical types of the major characters of the earlier plays would have been perpetuated in the generations that appear later in the cycle, and that the physical requirements預ge, general physique and cast of features熔f minor characters would be serviceable for roles in several plays. The fact that the two surviving plays are adjacent to one another in the plan, and thus provide only for a continuity of the same actor in the same role, makes final determination of this matter impossible, but it would have been uncharacteristically extravagant for O誰eill to have done anything else.


What is an obvious theatrical economy, however, may well have taken a far from obvious turn in O誰eill痴 thinking toward an end that would have staggered even the indomitable board of directors of the Guild. On the evidence only of physical type with specific points of characterization set aside, it can be suggested that O誰eill thought of the company as playing not only the cycle, but the autobiographical plays as well, including Hughie and The Iceman Cometh.

The essential features of Deborah Harford are that she is about five feet tall, slender, with masses of white hair,** a pale complexion, with large brown eyes that appear black against her skin, a dainty, aquiline nose, high forehead, a full mouth and thin tapering hands. Mary Tyrone is of medium height, has a young graceful figure, masses of white hair, a pale complexion, very large brown eyes which appear black, a long straight nose, a high forehead, a full, wide mouth and long tapering fingers. Cornelius Melody is tall, with broad shoulders and a deep chest, iron-grey hair and a finely chiseled nose, and he gives the appearance of ravaged handsomeness. James Tyrone, Sr., is 58, but seems taller by reason of his military carriage, has grey hair, a good profile and a handsome face that is beginning to break down. The only difference is in color of eyes, Tyrone痴 being light brown, Melody痴 being grey. Simon Harford is tall, loose-jointed and wiry, with thick brown hair, light brown eyes set wide in his face, a big straight nose, a 吐ine forehead, a wide 都ensitive mouth and a long, Yankee face with 的ndian characteristics. Edmund Tyrone is 511, with a thin, wiry frame, dark brown eyes which dominate his face, a handsome profile, high forehead, a sensitive mouth and a long narrow face with 的rish characteristics. Sara Melody has a strong, full-breasted body, black hair, fair skin, deep blue eyes, a thick, sensual mouth, heavy jaw and big stubby hands. Nothing is said of her height. Josie Hogan, the peasant heroine of A Moon for the Misbegotten, is 511 and broad-shouldered, and has a wide waist and strong hips, deepュchested with large firm breasts, a fair complexion, dark blue eyes, a long upper lip and heavy jaw. The chief difference, height aside,*** is the nose, Sara痴 being straight and fine, Josie痴 being 都mall. Finally, there is a marked similarity in physical type between Phil Hogan, Erie Smith and Theodore Hickman, whose ages range from the late forties to fifty-five. Phil is 56, somewhat fat, with thin sandy hair, small blue eyes, a snub nose and a round head. Erie Smith is of medium height,**** fat, with sandy hair going bald, blue eyes, a snub nose and a big round head. Hickman is of medium height, stout, balding with a fringe of hair of unspecified color, blue eyes, a 澱utton nose and a round head. Erie and Hickey are alike in having a small pursed mouth, while Phil痴 is big with a long upper lip. An actor, however, could accommodate such a difference.

There are, of course, other aspects of the appearances of all the characters here mentioned. The point is this: that where the same physical trait is described, the conformity is remarkable, and while the evidence is far from decisive, it is suggestive that O誰eill was considering not only a company to play the cycle in repertory but also the non-cycle plays. The idea of a 摘ugene O誰eill Repertory Company had arisen before, in conversation with Macgowan and Jones during the twenties, and it recurred periodically during O誰eill痴 association with the Guild. At times, perhaps even the Provincetown Players had seemed to approximate such a group. Now, however, the need was full and clear, insofar as the cycle was concerned. The other plays were perhaps to be fed into the same proposed theatrical hopper.

Whether or not the writing of the late plays were to have such unusual and potentially revolutionary theatrical consequences, the overlapping of the character-types suggests that all of the late plays were formed with an inner unity, whose significance lies as much in their composite whole as it does in the individual work. Sara and Josie are the same woman. Josie lives in a 都hebeen like that from which Sara痴 family have come, and both are deeply aware of the handicap and the strength of this peasant heritage. It is at once burden and badge of honor, but it is not easy to live with. Sara, who can speak without the brogue if she chooses, uses it as Josie does as a weapon to taunt, to score points and to degrade herself. The Irish in her comes to be her strength, the only power that enables her to live amidst the Harford痴 elegant jealousies. Although she was born in a castle in Ireland, she was not born to this Yankee mansion, and her desire to return to the old farm of the Harfords bespeaks the peasant heritage whose visible signs are her thick ankles and heavy hands. When she elects to play the peasant, her performance is part role, part reality. Josie assumes a similar part, a rough, whorish, animal creature. It is a role her strength and size permit her, but beneath it she is a woman預 sensitive, even fragile, girl, whose desires are simple and whose need is that she be seen for what she is. Both women set out to trap the men they love by forcing them to marriage after they have slept with them. Sara succeeds in A Touch of the Poet, but the marriage that ensues is founded in anything but love. To keep her man, Sara must play the whore, as Josie did. Josie, on the other hand, does not succeed in seducing Jamie Tyrone, and nothing follows from their meeting. The meeting, however, blessed by a fine-drawn tenderness, is sufficient to itself. For a moment, Josie can become what she truly is, and the moment is the sum of her happiness. In countering motion around the same orbit, the two characters move to the same immediate end, the achievement of their love.

Between Mary Tyrone and Deborah Harford, similar parallels exist. In their patrician fragility葉he quality they both possess of seeming to be even as old women very young and well-brought-up girls擁n their ambiguous attitude of love and hate for their sons, in their denial of sexuality, in their dependence and their refusal to be touched, in their need for social status and their hatred of the community and most important in their power to retreat deliberately into a swirl of dreams, they appear as identicals. There is little distance between Deborah痴 willful, self-induced madness by means of her fantasies of life at the courts of France and Mary Tyrone痴 flight into a morphine trance. Mary痴 need of morphine is an escape of the same order as Deborah痴, from a world and its conflicts that she cannot face. Her isolation in the summerhouse in New London, surrounded by a straggly hedge and a negligible garden, is of the same order as Deborah痴 escape into her summerュhouse, set in a walled garden where nature痴 forms are fantastically trimmed and distorted. Life goes by beyond the hedge and outside the walls. Deborah痴 fear of isolation and her struggle against it is not essentially different from Mary痴 attempt to overcome the morphine; nor is Mary痴 vision of her life in the convent with which Long Day痴 Journey into Night concludes a less pernicious fantasy than Deborah痴 dreams. Neither woman can walk in the world, and the fact corrupts the lives of those who love them.

Cornelius Melody and James Tyrone, Sr., are in the same way double exposures. Melody lives with the memory of a great honor, Wellington痴 praise after Talavera, just as Tyrone recalls Booth痴 praise of his acting. Both have a touch of the peasant as well as the poet in them, revealed in their deep-rooted fear of the horrifying poverty of old-country Ireland. Both make unprofitable real-estate deals. They reject modernity: Melody痴 hatred of Jacksonian democracy is of the same intensity as Tyrone痴 dislike of modern authors. Both love but are alienated by their wives and children. Both make a pretense of the grand manner, born in the one case of chivalric derring-do and in the other of an actor痴 manner acquired in a romantic melodrama, and in each instance, the period is the same the era of Napoleonic heroics. Both men are actors in their quoting, their strutting and in the use of their roles as a mask to hide their pain. Even their military bearing is the same, lending them the appearance of stature and grace when they are at their most graceless.

Such differences as exist between the pairs is more a result of the context in which they move than a matter of basic character. Both the autobiographical plays and the cycle involve a historical perspective, yet the former, despite their involvement with the past, are not in any meaningful sense 菟eriod plays. Even The Iceman Cometh, with minimal changes, could be played in any period預 low tavern by Hogarth, a Gorkian Lower Depths, or a mid-twentiethュcentury skid-row flophouse. Like Hughie, A Long Day痴 Journey into Night and A Moon for the Misbegotten, the play has its being out of time, in a world so dark and silent that only conjured illusion gives it substance. The cycle plays are predicated on the opposite. When Melody leaves his world of chivalric illusion, as when Deborah enters hers, there must be a sense of difference from the former reality. Both enter a timeless shadowy world, in spirit if not in fact. What surrounds them葉he particular places, particular times, and a panorama of romantic history that can feed their dreams洋ust have destructive reality. The two sets of plays are negative and positive prints of the same view of life, the one dark and evanescent, the other distinct and highly colored. Their difference is to be explained by understanding on which side of the 電oor in the mind O誰eill stood when he provided roles for his last cast of actors.

* According to Ronald D. Scofield, in the Santa Barbara News-Press, September 17, 1967, O誰eill approached Ingrid Bergman after her performance as Anna Christie in a 1941 West Coast production with an invitation 鍍o commit herself for six years to star in the great cycle of plays he was then engaged in creating. Mrs. O誰eill had responded favorably to Miss Bergman痴 performance when she saw her play in San Francisco. The actress was invited to Tao House where she met O誰eill. It was at about this time that Langner gave thought to forming an acting company in San Francisco so that O誰eill at Tao House could be at hand to supervise rehearsals. (Cf. The Magic Curtain, 400)

** It is red-brown in A Touch of the Poet.

*** Given a relatively tall, big-bodied actress, the height could be adjusted by shoe lifts. In neither of the cycle plays does Sara give the impression of any delicacy. Her peasant qualities are stressed by her father, and she is evidently intended to contrast strongly with the slight figure of Deborah whom she must lift and carry.

**** O誰eill calls Jamie Tyrone (59) 鍍all.

 

ゥ Copyright 1999-2007 eOneill.com