S.S. GLENCAIRN [Dramatic Revival*] A: Eugene O'Neill; D: José Ferrer; S/L: Herbert Brodkin; C: Emeline Roche; P: New York City Center Theatre Company; T: City Center of Music and Drama; 5/20/48 (14) "The Moon of the Caribbees"; "In the Zone"; "Bound East for Cardiff'; "The Long Voyage Home"
O'Neill's four one-acts, grouped under the title of S. S. Glencairn, the name of the British tramp steamer on which each of the first three plays takes place, had last been seen locally in an all-black revival given in 1937. There also had been revivals in 1924 and 1929. The present version, offered by a company organized under José Ferrer's direction at the City Center, where it did a series of limited-run revivals, was well liked for its excellent staging, set and lighting design, and acting. Several seamens' roles recur in three or all four of the plays, including Yank ( Richard Coogan), Driscoll ( George Mathews), Olson ( Ralph Roberts), Smitty ( Robert Carroll), Cocky ( Kenneth Treseder), Ivan ( Harold J. Stone), Davis ( Ray Walston), and Scotty ( Winston Ross), many of them ethnic dialect characters of one sort or another. Among the women who appear (but none in more than a single play) are Pearl ( Mildred Joanne Smith), Violet ( Rena Mitchell), Bella ( Juanita Hall), Mag ( Phyllis Hill), Kate ( Philippa Bevans), and Freda ( Nan McFarland). Ferret's only role was as Fat Joe, the wicked proprietor of a waterfront dive in the fourth playlet. George Coulouris played Donkey Man in the first piece. Most came in for their share of commendation, although some critics were not amused.
In "The Moon of the Caribbees," native women rumrunners bring themselves and their brew to the ship's crew. "In the Zone," taking place as the ship passes through a submarine zone, concerns the mistaken assumption that Smitty is a German spy, only for it to be discovered that his "bomb" is really a packet of tragedy-laden love letters. "Bound East for Cardiff' is centered around the death of Yank and the recollections of his friendship with Driscoll. "The Long Voyage Home" is set in a low London waterfront saloon, where the young Swede, Olson, who plans to save his earnings and return to his farm, is shanghaied by crimps. The critics differed on which was the best produced of the quartet.
The plays retained the power to grip some reviewers, largely because of the excellence of O'Neill's sharply delineated personages. "These are some of Mr. O'Neill's most memorable characters," reported Brooks Atkinson ( NYT), "and he has recorded their fumbling careers with comradely affection and the compassion of an artist." Howard Barnes ( NYHT) said that "the four vignettes of sea-faring life are still filled with eloquence and dramatic excitement." But William Hawkins ( NYWT) thought that the plays lost their special atmosphere and intimacy on the huge City Center stage and found the overall tone too solemn for so large a theatre. Rowland Field ( NEN) concluded, "It was at best an extremely dull passage, unevenly acted, poorly directed, and hardly worth the effort."