restricted access 6. The Wilderness and The Emperor Jones as Studies of Fear
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VI The Wilderness and The Emperor Jones as Studies of Fear FROM A technical poin t o f view , non e o f Ts'a o Yii' s fou r play s bein g considered in this study offers a better opportunity for fruitful compara tive study than The Wilderness. Though, as indicated early in the previous chapter, not a word is given by the playwright with respect to the genesi s of the play, no reader familiar wit h O'Neill's The Emperor Jones ca n fai l to notic e th e strikin g histrioni c similaritie s betwee n thes e tw o play s upon first reading . Cas t i n the backgroun d o f primordia l jungles, bot h plays dramatize the psychic terror of two escaped convicts hounded by a guilty past. Bu t unlike most of the previous works by these two writers, these two plays belong to a distinctly different categor y of drama in tha t their succes s a s theatre depend s almost exclusively upon ingeniou s skil l in technica l interpretation . Unles s imaginativel y directe d an d acted , supported b y effectiv e soun d an d ligh t effects , bot h play s ca n becom e meaningless monologues because their actions , rather tha n comin g into full vie w of the audience, take place in the memories of the heroes. How to captur e those flitting moment s of consciousness i n the mind o f thes e heroes and projec t the m meaningfully an d visibly onto the stage—thes e are challenges that O'Neill an d Ts'ao Yii had to face. To an extent, they are challenges similar to what befell Joyce and his school of fiction when he tried t o externalize the flowing stream-of-consciousness i n the mind. By his own admission, O'Neil l ha d written The Emperor Jones (1920 ) 'long before [he ] had even heard of Expressionism'.1 If that be the case, then The Emperor Jones i s certainl y on e o f th e mos t tellin g case s i n 1 Reporte d by Barrett H. Clark , Eugene O'Neill: the Man and If is Plays (Ne w York , 1947), P- 83. 52 The Wilderness and The Emperor Jones as Studies of Fear literature i n which certai n effect s characteristi c o f a given schoo l o f ar t are achieved withou t consciousl y aimin g t o d o so . No t onl y doe s The Emperor Jones manifes t certai n ideologica l feature s tha t expressionis m is generally identifie d with , such as 'pacifism, humanitarianism , Social ism ',2 it s bol d an d inventiv e us e o f grotesqu e images , disconnecte d plots, contrive d symbolism , deliberat e pause s betwee n th e alread y sparse dialogue s t o creat e tension—al l thes e ar e clearl y par t o f th e common stylisti c propertie s o f th e expressionis t theatr e whos e mos t significant contributio n t o modern dram a i s t o mak e man' s day-drea m and fantas y expressible . * Insofa r a s its technical skil l is derive d fro m The Emperor Jones, The Wilderness can be regarded as an expressionist play. But in its scope, it s intention t o mak e th e utmos t us e o f a newl y discovere d dramati c possibility, i t i s a fa r mor e ambitiou s pla y tha n it s America n model . In fact , judged from th e confidenc e an d the resourcefulness wit h whic h he combine s th e technica l propertie s o f traditional Chines e oper a wit h those o f th e expressionis t theatr e t o produc e i n The Wilderness a styl e distinctly hi s own , on e ca n sa y tha t Ts'a o Yi i ha s fo r th e first tim e discovered hi s own voice. In additio n to the sound o f the tom-tom an d the mute visions, which he borrow s freel y fro m The Emperor Jones, Ts'a o Yi i ha s...


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