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Swede Aglow Over Last
Unpublished O'Neill Play

 
BY Arthur Gelb
FROM The New York Times, May 14, 1962

Dr. Gierow Here for His Royal Dramatic Theatre's Debut
Discusses Autumn Production of 'More Stately Mansions'

Dr. Karl Ragnar Gierow, managing director of Sweden's Royal Dramatic Theatre, arrived in New York yesterday, quietly aglow over two major enterprises.

An unhistrionic man, Dr. Gierow was modestly hopeful about Broadway's reception of his troupe's first visit here and mutedly enthusiastic over the company's impending world premire of an Eugene O'Neill play in Stockholm.

The supreme arbiter of one of Europe's most distinguished, state-subsidized theatres, Dr. Gierow fled into town to prepare for tonight's opening at the Cort of a week's repertory performances of Strindberg and O'Neill.  The troupe has just completed a two-week engagement at the Seattle World Fair.

Dr. Gierow, a poet, a playwright and a Nobel Prize judge, spoke in somewhat halting but cultivated English about his theatre's role as "a guardian of the cultural tradition" in Sweden.  He made a graceful reference to the fact that the United States had, in O'Neill, provided his country with some of its most stimulating stage productions.  And he explained that his troupe now hoped to repay this debt by performing both "your O'Neill and our Strindberg" before American audiences in Swedish.

The company will open its engagement here with Strindberg's "The Father," follow with O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night," and give Strindberg's "Miss Julie" on Wednesday, after which all three plays will be repeated.

Premiere in November

Dr. Gierow is a slender, hollow-cheeked man of 57 with unruly eyebrows, dark hair tinged with gray and a tracery of wrinkles under pale, blue eyes.  He chain-smoked several pungent small cigars and gestured with restrained eloquence as he described his recent labors, both anguished and exultant, over the final, unpublished O'Neill manuscript, "More Stately Mansions."

He said that the play was now ready for production in Stockholm, that Stig Torsslow, a prominent Swedish director, had been chosen to stage it and that Inga Tidblad had just been cast for one of the leading roles.  The play will open in November after ten weeks of rehearsal.

Having come across the long, unedited script in Yale University's O'Neill Collection five years ago, Dr. Gierow was granted permission by the dramatist's widow, Carlotta Monterey O'Neill, to try to cut it down according to O'Neill's own detailed notes to himself.  If produced as O'Neill left it, it would have taken ten hours to perform.

The four-act tragedy, one in a series of O'Neill's unfinished eleven-play cycle entitled "A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed," follows chronologically "A Touch of the Poet," the only cycle play O'Neill completed to his satisfaction.  He destroyed drafts or scenarios of the other nine before his death in 1953.

In Dr. Gierow's opinion, "More Stately Mansions," set near Boston between 1837 and 1846, was recognizably one of O'Neill's masterpieces "even in its unedited state."

"I have managed, after working on it for more than three years, to cut it down to about four and a half hours of playing time," Dr. Gierow said.

Dr. Gierow said he had approached his job with apprehensiveness and was many times on the point of abandoning it.

"I did not want to add or change a single word of O'Neill's, and I have not done so," he said.  "When a scene was obviously in need or rewriting, I had the terrible decision to make of whether to keep it in the play in its rough state or cut it altogether.

"But even with its unevenness, it is a play of tremendous power -- even better than 'A Touch of the Poet.' "  (Dr. Gierow feels that "A Touch of the Poet" was, in a way, a digression from the cycle's central theme of the soul-corrupting pursuit of materialism.)

The three central characters of "More Stately Mansions" are Deborah Harford, her son, Simon, and Sara Melody, whom Simon marries.  "The three of them destroy each other," Dr. Gierow said, "in a characteristically O'Neillian love-hate struggle."

Dr. Gierow expressed his hope that this country might one day have a state-subsidized theatre.  "Such a theatre," he said, "can experiment with plays we know will not succeed commercially.  Without such theatres we probably would not have Chekhov, Ibsen or Strindberg."

Smilingly, he went on: "Another function of such a theatre is to take care of O'Neill when he is in danger of being forgotten."

It was the Royal Dramatic Theatre that presented the world premire of O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night" in 1956, when the dramatist's reputation was at a low ebb in his own country.  O'Neill has long been a staple of the Swedish theatre's repertory.

 

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