- Eugene O’Neill: The Contemporary Reviews ed. by Jackson R. Bryer and Robert M. Dowling
The field of Eugene O’Neill studies has been in constant expansion since the first full biography of the Nobel Prize-winning O’Neill appeared in 1962, written by Arthur and Barbara Gelb. The collection of resources about this four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, which includes letters, work diaries, interviews, photos, critical reviews, scripts (even one recently found that was believed to have [End Page 129] been forever lost), continues to grow with exciting new discoveries. Tao House, O’Neill’s former home in Danville, CA and a recognized U.S. National Park (the only one in the country dedicated to theatre), is slowly unveiling a treasure trove that can be found in their catalogued resources at the Travis Bogard Reading Room and Archive, whose namesake was an O’Neill scholar and whose own papers share much in the way of important research. Thankfully for those who continue to study this playwright, touted by many to be America’s greatest of the twentieth century, new resources continue to illuminate his work and life.
Into this canon comes a major contribution in a new volume edited by lauded scholars Jackson R. Bryer and Robert M. Dowling: Eugene O’Neill: The Contemporary Reviews. Bryer has contributed greatly to O’Neill studies in the past with his The Theatre We Worked For: The Letters of Eugene O’Neill, Selected Letters of Eugene O’Neill, and Edna Kenton’s The Provincetown Players and the Playwright’s Theatre, 1915-1922, all three co-edited with the aforementioned Bogard. Dowling has become important to O’Neill scholarly research with his books Critical Companion to Eugene O’Neill and Eugene O’Neill and His Early Contemporaries: Bohemians, Radicals, Progressives and the Avant Garde, co-edited with Eileen J. Herrmann; and his recent O’Neill biography Eugene O’Neill: A Life in Four Acts, nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Biography in 2015. The continuing excellent work of these two scholars is on display in this new collection, which is the first of its kind to collate the largest number of critical reviews of O’Neill’s plays ever published. Beginning with Bound East for Cardiff in 1916, the reviews continue through 1967, including O’Neill’s four posthumously produced plays Long Day’s Journey into Night, A Touch of the Poet, Hughie, and More Stately Mansions. The editors have wisely streamlined their collection by deleting substantial sections of plot summaries (with the volume still being 991 pages), not including second reviews by the same critic and, with minor exceptions, including only one review per publication of any single play. However, rather than just ignore these other reviews, they are listed in an “Additional Reviews” section throughout.
The volume begins with an introductory biography of O’Neill’s life and work written by Dowling that masterfully summarizes his significant impact on American Modern Drama and gives a chronological history of his work. The reviews are then organized by play in chronological order of their opening performance, with information included as to the place of performance, date, director, set design, and a list of the cast as given in the play’s opening night playbill. The compilation allows for a previously unimaginable number of reviews to be viewed in one resource. For example, O’Neill’s first major full-length play and first Pulitzer Prize winner Beyond the Horizon is here reviewed by thirty-three different critics in as many different publications, with an added eight reviews listed in the “Additional Reviews” section. Each review is also listed by author, title, publication, date of publication, and page numbers—all important information to those citing research [End Page 130] references. As the editors mention in their introduction, O’Neill made friends with many of the major critics of the day and, unlike today, this did not disqualify these critics from reviewing his plays for publication. This collection allows the reader a chance to...