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Eugene Glastone O’Neill American Drama Hao Guilian, Ph.D. Yunnan Normal University Fall, 2009 Drama Drama is a type of literature usually written to be performed. People often make a distinction between drama, which concerns the written text, or script, for the performance, and theater, which concerns the performance of this script. Many of the most honored and influential works of literature around the world have been dramas. Older plays, such as those written by the Greeks or Shakespeare, consist almost entirely of the words spoken by these characters (the dialogue). More recent plays usually contain non-spoken material (the stage directions) that tells the actors when to enter or leave the performance space, gives suggestions about how to speak their dialogue (their lines), and describes their costumes or their physical surroundings on stage (the setting). The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle divided the elements of drama into plot, character, thought, language, and spectacle, and considered plot—the basic story and how it is told—the most important of these. Almost all dramas use all of these elements to some extent, telling a story by means of the interactions of characters, who express their thoughts through language within a particular visual setting. Western theater also has a long tradition of plays emphasizing thought. Such plays are sometimes said to treat a particular theme and have been called philosophical plays or thesis plays. Language is almost always an important element in drama, and it is occasionally the dominant element. American Drama Most American plays of the 18th and 19th centuries strongly reflected British influence. By the end of the 19th century American drama was moving steadily toward realism, illuminating the rough side of life and creating more believable characters. Realism remained the dominant trend of the 20th century in both comedies and tragedies. Major Issues As the century progressed, the most powerful drama spoke to broad social issues, such as civil rights and the AIDS crisis, and the individual’s position in relation to those issues. Individual perspectives in mainstream theater became far more diverse and more closely reflected the increasingly complex description of American society. Major Playwrights Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller reached profound new levels of psychological realism, commenting through individual characters and their situations on the state of American society in general. In 1936 O’Neill became the first American playwright to win a Nobel Prize for literature. Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953) Critical Assessment Literary critics and theatre historians generally place O’Neill at the forefront of American dramatists. O’Neill experimented with realism, naturalism, expressionism, comedy, tragedy, and myth. Brings psychological realism to the stage, highly influenced by Freud and Jung. O’Neill sought to deal with man’s inner strengths and his subconscious and quickly found, like the naturalists, that realism failed to probe deeply enough. Thus, Expressionism became a major technique, seeking to portray the subject in such a way as to express the inner state of the artist, complementing his earlier naturalistic bent. O'Neill was the first American dramatist to regard the stage as a literary medium and the only American playwright ever to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Through his efforts, the American theatre grew up during the 1920s, developing into a cultural medium that could take its place with the best in American fiction, painting, and music. Early life O'Neill was born into the theatre. His father, James O'Neill, was a successful touring actor in the last quarter of the 19th century. His mother, Ella, accompanied her husband back and forth across the country, settling down only briefly for the birth of her children. Eugene, who was born in a hotel, spent his early childhood in hotel rooms, on trains, and backstage. Although he later deplored the nightmare insecurity of his early years and blamed his father for the difficult, rough-and-tumble life the family led—a life that resulted in his mother's drug addiction—Eugene had the theatre in his blood. Adult life O'Neill's capacity for and commitment to work were staggering. Between 1920 and 1943 he completed 20 long plays—several of them double and triple length— and a number of shorter ones. He received the Pulitzer Prize four times and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936 for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy, making him the first US dramatist to do so. He was married three times. His daughter Oona married Charlie Chaplin on June 16, 1943. Oona was 17; Chaplin was 54. Despite the tremendous gap in their ages, the marriage was a happy one, producing eight children. Major works: Desire Under the Elms (1924) Mourning Becomes Electra (1931) The Iceman Cometh (1946) 1920’s Pulitzer Prize for Beyond the Horizon 1921’s Pulitzer Prize for Anna Christie 1928’s Pulitzer Prize for Strange Interlude 1956’s fourth Pulitzer Prize posthumously for his autobiographical, and to an extent, darkest play and his apex, Long Day's Journey into Night Desire Under the Elms The first full-length play in which O'Neill successfully evoked the starkness and inevitability of Greek tragedy that he felt in his own life was Desire Under the Elms. Drawing on Greek themes of incest, infanticide, and fateful retribution, he framed his story in the context of his own family's conflicts. This story of a lustful father, a weak son, and an adulterous wife who murders her infant son was told with a fine disregard for the conventions of the contemporary Broadway theatre. Because of the sparseness of its style, its avoidance of melodrama(传奇剧), and its total honesty of emotion, the play was acclaimed immediately as a powerful tragedy and has continued to rank among the great American plays of the 20th century. “排美国戏剧没排过奥尼 尔的戏，就像外国人排中 国话剧不排曹禺一样。” 北京人艺著名导演任鸣这 样评价奥尼尔剧作在戏剧 界的地位。 2007年9月，人艺导演任 鸣将其排成一部小剧场话 剧搬上了首都剧场的舞台。 《榆树下的欲望》从舞台 到表演都没有花哨的处理。 舞台是一个普通的农院， 几张桌子、几块石头。全 剧长达两个半小时，动用 了六名演员，据报道表演 精彩，十分吸引观众。 Major themes One of O'Neill's most admired works, Desire Under the Elms invokes the playwright's own family conflicts and Freudian treatment of sexual themes. According to O'Neill's stage directions, the elms of the title are supposed to dominate the set with "a sinister maternity." The land in the play is the central theme, it holds all of the elements of the play together. It was the object of greed as well. The farm was the source of greed for three of the characters in the play, Ephraim Cabot, his son Eben, and his new wife Abbie. Peter and Simon focused their greed on the fields of gold in the West, primarily in California. 在该剧中，主演翁红、白永成、娄际成的表演精彩连 连，其他演员的演绎更是吸引观众绝佳的眼球。除了 年轻的独唱演员在剧中深情演唱外吸引观众性感 的耳 朵外，更吸引观众的是，在最后一场戏中，警局警长 逮捕艾比和埃本临走时面对观众席所说的那句结束语： “我希望这个农场是我的，你们也这么想的吧！”更 是让这部大型情欲悲剧达到一种黑色幽默的效果。而 这句“我希望这个农场是我的，你们也这么想的吧” 瞬间让人从剧情中走出来，回归到生活当中。毫无疑 问，也 正是白永成导演力图达到的悲剧之外的幽默化 的戏剧效果。 Despite his illness, O'Neill lived his life to the fullest. As a young man of 35, he wrote in a letter to a friend, "I am far from being a pessimist ... On the contrary, in spite of my scars, I am tickled to death at life! I wouldn't 'go out' and miss the rest of the play for anything!"