The final volume of 3 in the LoA with O'Neills plays contains a diverse crop of 8 full length plays and some smaller things. His latest plays are by a long shot his best. He had his fourth and last drama Pulitzer awarded posthumously.
An observation after reading all three volumes: EON gave very specific descriptions of his people, not just style and general type, but detailed physiognomies. Does that make sense for a stage writer? Can stage productions and their casting do more than match types?
`Ah, Wilderness', of 1932.
While the play has its humorous aspects, it is certainly not mainly out for the laughs. Still, maybe the only real comedy in O'Neill's work.
A middle class family sit com type of mild fun. Maybe he wanted to try if he could do something normal. He could, but it doesn't fly very high.
`Days without End', of 1933
Maybe O'Neill's only Christian play. A man writes a novel. It starts with a youngster fighting against his Catholic upbringing. The young man moves through various shapes of radicalism to Eastern religions, then finds love as the ultimate religion ...
But there is temptation and betrayal and guilt... And the irrepressible urge for confession. And forgiveness and redemption and return to faith...
All the while he struggles with his alter ego, his own personal Mephisto. His body double is always present, and says the bad things.
Not a great play.
`A Touch of the Poet', of 1942
Not produced during his life time, later successfully staged on Broadway, most recently with Gabriel Byrne, who might be the ideal casting for the heroic villain of the piece: a drinking tavern owner in New England in 1828, who boasts of his gentleman's upbringing in Ireland (which is a bit of a three quarter lie) and his successful military career as a major under Wellington in Iberia. The man lives in a fantasy past. His wife and daughter have to run the place and suffer endless verbal, mental, and sometimes physical abuse. Strong.
'More Stately Mansions' is a sequel to the Touch of a Poet. It was not produced for the stage until 1962.
We learn more about the Melody family, the daughter and the mother. Sara married a Yankee. The young couple is sprouting sons. The play is a very long one, nearly three times the average length.
Themes are daughter/mother trouble and daughter/mother-in-law trouble. Poor husband is object of trench warfare between mother and wife. The play suffers from endlessness on a predictable subject.
`The Iceman cometh!'
First produced in NY in 1946, set in NY in 1912, in a pub/hotel, among drinkers and prostitutes, written in a mood of despair.
A milestone in O'Neill's career, a signature piece. Totally un-American in its negativity and hopelessness. Outstanding piece of American theatre.
About 15 people, mostly men and 3 women, hanging out in the bar, awake or asleep, going out or coming in. When awake, they clamor for drinks, preferably free of charge. Oscillation and hesitation are the main movements. Frustrations are based on all kinds of failures, both personal ones and the political one of a lost leftist movement. Most have unrealistic day dreams of resurrection. Are illusions good for us? Would the truth solve any problem?
`A Long Day's Journey into Night', of 1941.
EON's had tried to block the book publication and stage production for 25 years after his death, due to its personal content. The play is presumed autobiographical, about his parents and brother and himself. Wife Carlotta overruled that time restriction.
This is one of his best. A family in dissolution. Father and two sons alcoholics, mother a junkie. Plus the youngest is consumptive. Facing truths is not everybody's cup of tea. Lies, suspicions and accusations damage a day. A good memory can be a burden. Deeply pessimistic, with a fatalism that might be typical for addicts who can't break the habit.
`Hughie', of 1942.A strong posthumously published and staged one act play. It was meant to be a part of a series of 8 one-acters. None of the others got written.
Two people: a bored night clerk (bulging eyes full of vague envy for the blind) in a run-down NY hotel, and a run-down night guest, a gambler and small time gangster, who lets his big mouth run.
Pity that the writer had checked out. More of this would have been good to have.
`A Moon for the Misbegotten'.
O'Neill's last completed play, published in 1952. An alcoholic comedy, a burlesque grown out of a deeply depressed prequel. A rare genre, few writers can do it well, a bitter comedy.
A sequel of sorts to the Long Day's Journey into Night.
James Tyrone, drunkard son from the prequel,is having a weird kind of affair with a farmer's daughter, formidable Josie Hogan. The Hogans are afraid that James, in one of his stupors, might sell the farm. To prevent or contain that, big girl beflirts James actively, in her robust style. Underneath the material motive, there is something else.
The volume also includes O'Neill's only short story: `Tomorrow'. Let it rest in peace. The man was a playwright.