Menu Bar

O'Neill Tragedy

 
BY Arthur Gelb
FROM The New York Times, May 16, 1962

Swedish Actors Give Play Its Full Value

It is a strange exhilarating and almost mystical experience for a non-Swedish-speaking American to see Eugene O'Neill's epic play, "Long Day's Journey Into Night," performed in Swedish.

Five superb actors of Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theatre gave the tragedy full value at the Cort Theatre last night.  They took all the time they needed -- four and a half hours to be precise -- to explore every emotional nuance and she every last drop of blood contained in the members of the haunted Tyrone family.

To anyone familiar with the illuminating American production, which earned its author, posthumously, his fourth Pulitzer Prize, the language barrier presented by the Swedish production is no deterrent.

The devastating interaction of character -- husband embattled with wife, mother and father in bitter conflict with their two sons, brother challenging brother -- is conveyed by a power that transcends the spoken word.

Of all great contemporary dramatists, O'Neill by his very weaknesses, is perhaps assured the leading place in universal theatre literature.  His often-exploited lack of poetic language, a deficiency he himself acknowledged through his autobiographical hero of "Long Day's Journey Into Night," clears the way for facile translation into any foreign tongue.

O'Neill's power lies in the tragic, soul-wringing vision of life that was his legacy from his family.  However colloquial the words in which he expressed this vision, the impact of artistic and poetic truth is never denied.

The Swedes are particularly adept and persuasive interpreters of O'Neill because they have been nourished on Strindberg, who, of course, was O'Neill's chief theatrical influence.

To the Royal Dramatic Theatre ensemble, the violent writhings of O'Neill's self-doomed characters are more native than they are to O'Neill's own countrymen.

Inga Tidblad, in particular, brings to the role of Mary Tyrone a species of virtuoso acting seldom seen on the American stage.  From her initial appearance, all delicacy and piteous gaiety, through her quicksilver eruptions into drug-craving agony and her gradual withdrawal into a dream world, she is in supreme command of the stage.

Georg Rydeberg, as her husband, by turns bombastic, tender, violent and harsh, is splendid, too.  So are Jarl Kulle as the younger brother, Edmund, who stands for O'Neill; Ulf Palme, as the older brother, Jamie, and Catrin Westerlund, as the unconventional maidservant.  But it is to Miss Tidblad that the highest honors of the evening are due.

The measured, deliberately repetitive cadences of this native American dance of death, set in 1912 in a small Connecticut town, never give Miss Tidblad or other members of the cast pause.  The fluidity of their acting, under Bengt Ekerot's direction, makes you forget that "Long Day's Journey Into Night," in Swedish, is a good 20 per cent longer than it was as O'Neill wrote it.

The Swedes have few monosyllabic words in their vocabulary and they often require two words to convey the exact meaning of a single English one.  (Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," which is also a part of the Royal Dramatic Theatre repertory at home, is rendered by the Swedes as "Our Little Town."

But conventional standards of length cannot be applied to O'Neill.  The Royal Dramatic Theatre recognizes this better than Broadway.  It has given us a glimpse of what great theatre can be.

 

Copyright 1999-2007 eOneill.com