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O'NEILL SINCE WORLD WAR II: CRITICAL RECEPTION IN NEW YORK. SINCE THE END OF WORLD WAR II, O'Neill thoroughly consolidated his position as America's foremost dramatist. The long hiatus which followed the production of Days Without End (1934) ended with the opening of The Iceman Cometh in 1946. Since that year not only have most of the works of his later period been presented, but also most of the significant works of his middle and early periods. Furthermore, some of his plays have been transferred to the musical and operatic stage, as well as to the media of the motion pictures and television. In the order of their initial New York openings, the products of O'Neill's maturity are The Iceman Cometh (1946), Long Day's Journey Into Night (1956), A Moon for the Misbegotten (1957), A Touch of the Poet (1958), and Hughie (1964). Scheduled for New York production is More Stately Mansions. Even though it has received a fine critical reception for its production in Los Angeles (September , 1967), the play will probably rank below his major efforts. More Stately Mansions should be the final play of O'Neill's available for presentation. Unless, of course, one wonders, as did Joseph Wood Krutch on the release of Hughie, whether the Yale University Press is not "simply playing its cards very close to the chest?"l Marking the return of O'Neill to the theater, The Icema.n Cometh was naturally a stellar event. The production was surrounded by secrecy . Further speculation was stimulated by an announcement that the opening "night" curtain would be at 4:30 p.m., with a seventyfive minute break for supper, and that the play would run for four and a quarter hours. To further cap the moment, the publication and the production of The Iceman Cometh would be simultaneous. As Phelan noted, only Shaw and O'Neill warranted such a distinction among living dramatists.2 Indeed, at its opening on October 9, 1946, interest was so high that tickets were being purchased as far ahead as February.3 O'Neill did not disappoint his audiences. A sampling of twentyseven opening night reviews, later magazine criticism, and even later 1 Joseph Wood Krutch, "And Now-Hughie," Theatre Arts, XLIII (August, 1959), 15· 2 Kappo Phelan, "The Iceman Cometh," The Commonweal, XLV (October 25, 1946), 44· 3 "The Ordeal of Eugene O'Neill," Time, XLVIII (October 21, 1946), 71. 289 290 MODERN DRAMA December criticism in scholarly journals showed an overwhelming acceptance of the play with seventeen distinctly in favor, seven somewhat mixed, and only three negative opinions. Ironically, critics for the New York Journal American went to opposite ends of the spectrum. Robert Garland's opening night review excoriated the entire proceedings. Seldom in these theatre-going times has so much been written about so little . . . By the time the fourth act and hour have come around, you feel like echoing Harry Hope's "Get it over, you long-winded ." ... I can't imagine why Eugene O'Neill felt called upon to write it.4 Writing in the same newspaper on October 14, George Jean Nathan was in total disagreement. In an article entitled "The Iceman Cometh, Seeth, Conquereth," he extolled the work. Hallelujah, hosanna, hail, heil, hurrah, huzza, banzai, and gesundheit! With the appearance of Eugene O'Neill's long awaited "The Iceman Cometh," our theatre becomes dramatically alive again. It makes most of the plays of his fellow American playwrights produced during the twelve year period of his absence look like so much wet tissue paper.... It is ... one of the best of its author's works and one that again firmly secures his position not only as the first of American dramatists, but with Shaw and O'Casey, one of the three really distinguished among the world's living. Although favorable cntIclsm was generally less fervent than Nathan's, it echoed the conviction of Brooks Atkinson that "Mr. O'Neill has written one of his best plays."5 Joseph Wood Krutch indicated effectively the peculiar quality of O'Neill's impact. The uniqueness of O'Neill's position testifies to the uniqueness of his quality. His somber...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 289-299
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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