He’s one of the greatest American playwrights, having won the Pulitzer Prize three times and the Nobel Prize once by the time he was 48. He introduced realism to American drama and is sometimes referred to as the father of the modern American theater.
But by the time Eugene O’Neill wrote “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” in 1941, the critics had disillusioned him and he had not staged a new play in five years.
It would be another 15 years before “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” would be staged, winning him his fourth Pulitzer posthumously.
It was supposed to be even longer. The play is one day in the life of a family in which the father and two sons are alcoholics, and the mother is addicted to morphine. The younger son is based on O’Neill himself, and the others on his brother and parents.
It was so painfully autobiographical and truthful that O’Neill forbid his publisher to print it until 25 years after his 1953 death, or ever to allow it to be staged.
His widow, Carlotta, ignored his wishes, and the play was an instant sensation in 1956. It’s widely considered his masterwork.
“You have to remember we didn’t have any realistic drama in the United States, to speak of, before O’Neill,” said Brigit St. Brigit Theatre director Cathy Kurz. Her take on the play opens tonight at the Brigit.
Kurz said O’Neill’s groundbreaking work made possible the emergence of other playwrights who favored realism, such as Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.
Kurz chose “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” not only because of the play’s universal theme of family dynamics, but also to mark the theater’s 20th season. “Long Day’s Journey” was part of the Brigit’s first season.
“We have lots of self-confessional plays now, often one-man shows,” Kurz said. “Writing that is not as much of a challenge as a family story, making it beautiful while also being searingly honest.”
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