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Early O'Neill

 
BY Arthur Gelb
FROM The New York Times, December 5, 1961

'Long Voyage Home' Given at Mermaid

To fill out what has been a not-quite-full-length Eugene O'Neill evening at the Mermaid Theatre, Paul Shyre now has added "The Long Voyage Home" as a curtain raiser to "Diff'rent."

Since Mr. Shyre conceives of this double bill as the first step in building an O'Neill repertory, it is fitting that he has chosen this very early one-act play (written in 1917) as a companion piece for the 1920 two-act "Diffrent."

Presumably Mr. Shyre will go on to some of O'Neill's later, major plays that "The Long Voyage Home" heralded. Particularly, it is to be hoped he will produce the seldom revived "Beyond the Horizon," whose central character is foreshadowed by Ollie Olson.

Olson's tragedy in "The Long Voyage Home" is that he is destined never to break away from the sea and return, as he yearns to do, to his farm in Sweden; the hero of "Beyond the Horizon," a more refined Olson, foreswears the sea and gets his farm, with results even more tragic.

Recruiting most of his cast for "The Long Voyage Home" from the "Diff'rent" company, Mr. Shyre has been obliged to make certain concessions. Not all of the sailor men on shore leave from the S. S. Glencairn are quite as salty or elemental as O'Neill conceived them.

While Robert Gerringer (who does not do double duty in "Diff'rent") is excellent as the tough, drunken Irishman, Driscoll, and Michael Higgins is often touching as the shanghaied Olson, David Ryan, for instance, is far too meek and professorial as the tacky little Cockey; and Wayne Maxwell, as Nick, is more carnival barker than vicious waterfront crimp.

Mr. Shyre has been more successful with his tarts Freda and Kate. Jen Jones is as haggard and consumptive and Dorothy Patten as blowzy as any of the professional ladies O'Neill himself encountered in Liverpool saloons when he was a sailor, and of whom he retained fond memories.

It requires a thoroughly coarse, squalid background to make the victimizing of Olson truly tragic and the productions waterfront saloon is perhaps a trifle too genteel. Nevertheless, in many of the episodes, the flavor of O'Neill's sailing days is captured beautifully.

The mood is tense and gripping when Olson confides his hopes and plans to Freda, while she, with uneasy coquetry, collaborates in the crude scheme to feed him knock-out drops. And the buzzardlike entrance into the saloon of the two toughs commissioned to carry off the unsuspecting sailor is genuinely chilling.

Perhaps Mr. Shyre will get around to adding the three other sea plays that comprise the "S. S. Glencairn" cycle, and "The Long Voyage Home" will gain in depth. Meanwhile, this poignant sliver will serve very well as an appetizer.

 

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