Tuesday, 27 July 2010


20/7/10, National (Cottesloe)

Eugene O'Neill's first play. Two brothers love the same woman. One is a farmer, the other a dreamer, about to embark on a three-year voyage round the world with Uncle Dick, the sea captain. The night of his departure he and the girl declare their unacknowledged love for one another and he decides not to go. The older brother (one of nature's farmers, not one of its rovers) elects to go in his stead. Three years later the marriage has turned sour, the farm has gone to rack and ruin and the elder brother is expected home imminently to restore some sort of order. Interval. We left.

It was 'prentice work, overly schematic, over-written, given a perfectly decent but only workmanlike production by Northampton's Royal and Derngate, playing on alternate nights in a double bill with Tennessee Williams's first play for which we had tickets two nights later (and to which we decided not to go: it was a frantically busy week, we were both exhausted and in the event I had to work anyway).

Being tired can't have helped my appreciation, but seeing this confirmed my prejudice about many plays in the American canon. Quite simply I find them boring. It's something to do with their often self-consciously literary language and the fact that it's hard to identify with characters who've got themselves into some predicament or other largely as a result of their own stupidity or short-sightedness or some other failing. (I know, I know. What about King Lear? you ask. But the young O'Neill wasn't Shakespeare.)

D said of the whining heroine, as we left for the interval, "She needs a slap". To which the only reply was, "They all need a slap."

The others stayed. And said it wasn't bad. Though when I asked them to recall the plot they couldn't. They also said the Tennessee Williams two nights later was brilliant, but I'm not sure I believe them.

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