Eugene O’Neill’s “Strange Interlude” won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1928. But it is rarely performed today, although it played on Broadway for a year and a half. For one thing, the script provides for 9 acts of theater extending over five hours. It was originally played with a dinner break, something deemed commercially difficult today, except perhaps for weekend performances.
The Shakespeare Theatre’s artistic director Michael Kahn, with the permission of the O’Neill estate, has edited the script down to three plus hours (8 p.m. start, two intermissions, you get out about 11:45). We saw a preview performance at the theater Saturday night; opening night is tonight.
O’Neill called the play an experimental play – largely, I assume, because of the “asides” which populate the drama. In addition to engaging in dialogue, the characters speak their inner thoughts, which sometimes obviously conflict with what they are saying to the others on the stage at the time. [Why am I writing this blog? How many people will read it anyway? Twenty, thirty, maybe forty on a good day? And how many of them will have any interest in the topic, whatsoever?]
The play was banned in Boston and elsewhere [Why is nothing banned in Boston any more? Maybe this blog is banned in Boston. Maybe that’s why I don’t have more readers.] because of its subject matter. Professorial father is convinced his daughter should not marry her All-American boyfriend, who is later killed in action in World War I; he would have felt the same perhaps about any suitor. His daughter is devastated, her father dies, she is convinced by a gay/bisexual/asexual [who knows? who cares?] family friend to marry a young man who needs to mature a bit, even though she does not love him. She becomes pregnant, is convinced by his mother to have an abortion because his father’s entire family seems to end their lives in insane asylums, but she takes another lover to have another baby so that her husband, whom she comes to respect if not to love, will have the child he wants most of all. And, of course, everything goes awry. She falls in love with the child’s father, the family friend falls in love with her, her husband remains faithful, her son grows up to resemble her first lover, and she disintegrates more and more with each scene. Only her husband, the scion of the insanity-filled family, seems to come out whole – well, not completely. -[He actually doesn’t come out at all, of course, but how much of this plot do I want to give away? Maybe it doesn’t matter, since it isn’t an unknown play, but perhaps there is a protocol there, too, that I just don’t understand.]
I learned the hard way a couple of years ago that you shouldn’t review plays before they officially open [as if my blog is as influential as Peter Marks’ columns – but why aren’t they? I know, because he thinks about what he writes. I bet he doesn’t just post first drafts like I do. No wonder I don’t have thousands of readers. I don’t blame them], but I will say that the play is well worth seeing, for the script, the staging and the acting. [I’d like to say more, but I don’t dare for fear that the theater’s Office Enrichment Manager would get after me. Could anything be more unpleasant than that?]