Eugene O’Neill’s most exciting experiments with stage direction and design took place in his plays produced between 1920 and 1934. The impact of these experiments on American theater and drama was enormous, and in this book Ronald H. Wainscott critically examines the staging of these innovative works.
Beginning with the first professional production of a new O’Neill play, Beyond the Horizon, and concluding with Days Without End, Wainscott recreates the initial performances of twenty-two works, including The Emperor Jones, Anna Christie, The Hairy Ape, and Mourning Becomes Electra. Using a wide range of unpublished material including prompt books, ground plans, design elevations, publicity materials, letters, and manuscript notes, Wainscott provides fascinating details about the production of these plays. He discusses their preproduction histories; how the actors, designers, directors, and theaters were selected; the design of plays, including set, costumes, lighting, music, and sound; the director’s work; the acting; and the critical response. He analyzes how the various artists approached stage composition and use of the performance space, as well as techniques and devices such as masks, sound effects, music, simultaneous settings, internal monologues, and split characterizations. Revealing a great deal about O’Neill’s relationships with directors—most notably Robert Edmond Jones and Philip Moeller—Wainscott demonstrates that the era was a maturation period not only for American playwriting but also for American directing and design.
“A wonderful book, the best of the recent studies of O’Neill and a remarkable work of theater history. What Wainscott has to tell is important not only to those generally interested in O’Neill and in theater history, but to actors, designers, and directors as well.” –Travis Bogard, University of California, Berkeley