THE ""LOST"" PLAYS by Eugene O'Neill


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The number's exact, the rest of the title's questionable: why were they found and are they plays? Poor O'Neill! His official reputation is still smothered with laurel, but it's an open secret amongst the cognoscenti that only his next-to-last works, Journey and Iceman, possess any chance of immortality. These early exercises, penned around 1912-16, which O'Neill himself wished buried, are workshop fantasias: strained midnight evocations of Strindberg, Ibsen, Pinero, Galsworthy, London, Dreiser, even Rossetti and Swinburne, weave to and fro. Nine one-actors, one three-act; realism and romanticism are thesis and antithesis, all resolved in sheer unsynthesized melodrama. The themes, like the dialogue, shout incessantly: man at the mercy of the Sea, or God-both of course being merciless. And the characters: put-upon wives, philistine husbands, poets, whores, playboys, all curse each other, or fate, or the fog (in Fog an interesting mise-en-scene; a vaporous stage out of which passengers' voices from a lifeboat drift). Bellicose and brooding, experimental and full of exaggeration, O'Neill even in youth comes on strong. In his heyday he said: ""Most modern plays are concerned with the relation of man to man...I am concerned only with the relation of man and God."" And it is such grand statements, coupled with audacious will power, which saves, in a sense, this unsalvable collection. Yet that said (and also a note an antiquarian point: there are echoes of the to-come Voyage Home, Ile and Anna), in the end one can only second Mary McCarthy: ""How is one to judge the great, logical symphony of a tone-deaf musician?"" How? And she, cruel critic, was referring to Iceman!

Publisher: Random House