105 Greatest Living Authors Present the World's Best Stories, Humor, Drama, Biography, History, Essays, Poetry

By Whit Burnett | Go to book overview

EUGENE O'NEILL

Act Four of the trilogy Mourning Becomes Electra has been selected
as representative of the work of Eugene O'Neill, America's most
outstanding playwright. Mourning Becomes Electra is a work which
has been called "the most ambitious ever attempted by an American
playwright" (Barrett H. Clark). It was put on by the Theatre Guild
October 26, 1931, the thirty-fourth work of his produced, and such
is the vitality of the piece that sixteen years later it was transcribed
to the screen. A modern retelling of a Greek legend, played against
a background of post Civil War South and New England, the play
grew out of the dramatist's preoccupation with the problem as he
has explained it in a diary note: "Is it possible to get modern psy-
chological approximation of Greek sense of fate into such a play,
which an intelligent audience of today, possessed of no belief in "gods
or moral retribution, could accept and be moved by?" Act Four of
The Hunted, from Mourning Becomes Electra, plays in the semi-
darkness aboard a ship tied at a Boston wharf. Christine Mannon,
following the poisoning of her husband, has come to see her lover,
Captain Adam Brant, and to warn him that something has gone
wrong in the murder--that her daughter Lavinia now suspects her
and Brant. While she is in this scene, her daughter Lavinia and her
son Orin are watching and listening at a cabin skylight, awaiting
their revenge for their father's death. This scene was selected with
the aid of Mr. O'Neill's chief editor (at Random House) and
long-time personal friend, Saxe Commins, who considers this choice
an excellent one from the body of O'Neill's work, in that it is "an
entity and reads as if it were an independent one-act Play."


The Hunted: Act Four

The stern section of a clipper ship moored alongside a wharf in East
Boston, with the floor of the wharf in the foreground. The vessel lies

-3-

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