- Eugene O'Neill's Place in Irish Theater Today:Interviews with Irish Theater Scholars
Dan McGovern, president of the board of the Eugene O'Neill Foundation, Tao House, interviewed four distinguished Irish theater scholars regarding Eugene O'Neill's place in Irish theater today.1 The scholars are, in the alphabetical order in which their remarks will be presented, David Clare, Christopher Morash, Christopher Murray, and Anthony Roche.2 They received a list of fourteen questions in advance.3 The interviews with professors Clare, Morash, and Murray were conducted in person, recorded, and transcribed.4 Professor Roche submitted written responses as he was indisposed at the time the interview was scheduled. Each of them took advantage of the opportunity to amend their remarks when reviewing drafts of this article and have given it their approval.
1. In The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Theatre, John P. Harrington notes that O'Neill "has been presented on the Irish National Theatre stage more than any other American playwright."5 And yet the last O'Neill production at the Abbey appears to have been The Iceman Cometh in 1992.6 Is O'Neill still a significant presence in Irish theater?
I would actually say much less than he was. He was quite regularly produced at the Abbey and the Gate over a number of decades, but since the '90s it's mainly been focused on the late masterpieces often with celebrity casting. … In terms of early to mid-twentieth century American drama there actually have been fewer productions of that generally and the focus has been mainly on Miller and Williams, I think for their perceived exoticism. When people go to the theater they want to see a different [End Page 140] world, whereas I think when they go to see the Eugene O'Neill plays, especially when they contain Irish and Irish American characters, their buttons are going to be pushed much more. It's going to be less exotic for them, less interesting in that sense. Even though it's extremely relevant to their lives, I would argue.
I think in order to answer that, you have to look at what was happening in Irish theater more generally, not just so much in the last twenty-five years, but in the last ten. And that is that up until ten years ago, perhaps more recently, Irish theater was unusual in the European context in being a writer-driven theater. The main artist in the Irish theater was the playwright. That was largely because there was a generation of writers—Brian Friel, Tom Murphy, Tom Kilroy, and a younger Frank McGuinness; then in the 1990s you had a generation—Conor McPherson, Martin McDonagh, Marina Carr—who continued that tradition that the main artist in the theater was the writer. So, the highlight of the Dublin Theatre Festival each year would be the premiere of a new major Irish work. That has changed. You know, Brian Friel passed away a couple of years ago, Tom Murphy has effectively stopped writing, and Tom Kilroy is not writing as much as he used to. And we are starting to see something that is more common in, for instance, the German theater and in a lot of continental European theaters, which is a director-led theater. So with some of the really interesting artists in Irish theater now—like Wayne Jordan, the director, or Selina Cartmell, who has taken over the Gate Theatre—Irish theater has become much more a director's theater. So, you are starting to get more in the way of devised works, works that are not necessarily script-based, and the primacy of the writer has become far less the defining feature of the Irish theater culture than certainly was the case twenty-five years ago. I think that a lot of the energy in the Irish theater has moved to that wider field of performance.
Well, there is the Gate Theatre. It was there that "Anna Christie," Mourning Becomes Electra, and A Moon for the Misbegotten received their Irish premieres over the years. In more recent times Long Day's Journey Into...