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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. IX, No. 3
Winter, 1985


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IN THIS ISSUE)

REVIEWS OF O'NEILL PLAYS IN PERFORMANCE

1. STRANGE INTERLUDE. Bretania Theatre, Athens, Greece, Spring 1985.

The ability to find one's way through the Greek New Testament hardly qualifies anyone to act as a critic of drama produced on the modern Athenian stage. But when opportunity presents itself to a student of America's foremost playwright to experience a production of O'Neill anywhere, whatever the language, the attraction is too great to ignore. So it was that the present reviewer, while on sabbatical leave during the spring of 1985, witnessed a performance of O'Neill's Strange Interlude at Athens' Bretania Theatre. However, this was not quite the same treat (or labor of love, as some would have it) that New Yorkers were experiencing at about the same time. Instead of the lengthy lifetime the text of Strange Interlude depicts. this production was so condensed a version of O'Neill's "woman play" that two performances were held of an evening.

It should be said that the Athenians appear to have a special fondness for O'Neill. In addition to the production of Strange Interlude. theatergoers also had the opportunity (weekends only, to this reviewer's dismay) to see A Moon for the Misbegotten. In response to an inquiry--in English--at that box office, the ticket agent said emphatically, "This is Greek play!" (O'Neill would certainly have loved that.) Because Strange Interlude was also a "Greek play," and the reviewer's ability in modern Greek limited, a full assessment would be presumptuous. But the temptation to write some reactions persists: hence these more modest "reflections."

The most obvious response would naturally concern the condensation of such a lengthy play into a much shorter version that still told the same story. The two parts, with the nine scenes, were retained. What obviously was missing were most of the lengthy monologues, the stream-of-consciousness speeches that comprise a considerable portion of the original and give the play much of its unique flavor. This dramatic device was not altogether absent, but survived mostly as soliloquies during the opening and closing moments of scenes. Elsewhere, lengthy monologues seemed to have become brief asides. The result was a much faster-paced play which still managed to tell the whole story. It did, of course, entail rather brief scenes, and in the process the play took on a decidedly episodic character. It was not Reader's Digest at its worst, but the comparison is inescapable.

The seriousness with which the Greek stage takes O'Neill can perhaps be judged from the quality of the cast, which included some of Greece's finest actors (and the most popular too, judging from audience reaction). As Nina Leeds, Nonika Galanea seemed all that O'Neill might have wanted in this, his strongest female character. An older actress, she exuded a sense of power and command throughout the play. Among the menfolk, Giorgos Tzortzas appeared particularly strong among a cast which exhibited few noticeable weaknesses. The set design was quite ordinary, considering the cast that was gathered and the play that was mounted. While functional. it was scant decoration for an otherwise impressive production.

The problem that plagued this Strange Interlude is essentially one of the basic problems of the original text: the scope is hardly manageable. As if flying in the face of any idea of unity of time, O'Neill wrote a play that covered twenty-six years, actually moving his story nearly two decades beyond the year in which he wrote it. For the viewer to suspend disbelief to that extent is to extend to the limits the capacity to encompass that much of a lifetime in one evening of theatre. The longer the stretch of time, the greater the stretch of credulity. What plagues the original afflicted this production even more: there is just too much for one evening. Life cannot be absorbed at so quick a pace.

--Eugene K. Hanson

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