Freud on Broadway: A History of Psychoanalysis and the American Drama

By W. David Sievers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
O'Neill's Allies in Analysis

OWEN DAVIS

If one had to name the three playwrights who most consistently reflected psychoanalytic insights in a number of plays, the trio would consist of O'Neill, Philip Barry and S. N. Behrman. But the big three were not alone. Virtually all the serious American playwrights of the twenties reflected Freudian thinking to some extent, expressing playgoers' preferences, if not their own, for clinical case histories in complex human relationships. Some, like William Hurlbut, John Howard Lawson, George Kelly, Sidney Howard and Maxwell Anderson felt the need to unburden themselves of only one or two conspicuously Freudian plays, while others like Elmer Rice, Robert Sherwood and Martin Flavin reveal psychoanalytic attitudes as the very core of their approach to human motivation in the drama.

The prolific playcraftsman, Owen Davis, dabbled in psychoanalytic themes during his comprehensive career as he had in most of the other topics current in the twenties and thirties. His various treatments of Freudian subjects are in fact almost a miniature history of psychoanalysis in American drama. He began with a naive and theatrically inept attempt to dramatize the "new psychology" of the unconscious in Any House ( 1916); he went on to real maturity and insight in Icebound; took time out to poke satiric fun at psychology in The Nervous Wreck ( 1923) and The Haunted House

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