How do you exorcise the demons of your past? If you were Eugene O’Neill or Tennessee Williams—two of the world’s great playwrights, both haunted by family history—you would do it through your work. And that’s just what they did: O’Neill with Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Williams with The Glass Menagerie.
Of Long Day’s Journey, created by O’Neill when he lived in Danville’s Tao House, he wrote to his wife Carlotta that her love enabled him to “write [the play] with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones.” The play’s Tyrones are based on O’Neill himself and his father, mother, and brother. A turbulent family history buried in memory, with which the playwright finally came to grips. What started as an act of self-healing went on to change American and world theatre.
This fall, the Eugene O’Neill Foundation, based in Danville, presents O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical stage masterpiece, September 14–29, as part of the Eugene O’Neill Festival’s “Haunted Poets” series. Directed by Eric Fraisher Hayes, performances take place in the Old Barn at Tao House, where the play was written. Audiences at evening performances will see the light on in O’Neill’s study.
Earlier, August 30-September 15, Williams’ Menagerie, directed by Chloe Bronzan, will take to the stage at the Village Theatre in Danville. Menagerie is a “memory play,” a term coined by Williams. In such plays, a lead character narrates the events of the play, which are drawn from the character’s memory. Like Long Day’s Journey, Menagerie is strongly autobiographical, with characters based on Williams’s melodramatic mother and mentally fragile sister.
These haunted poets were contemporaries, with Menagerie premiering on Broadway in 1944 and Journey written in 1941–42, although the play was not published until 1956, after O’Neill’s death in 1953. Through their storytelling genius, they strip the facades from their respective characters and take the audience inside the characters’ lives. But what might it be like for an observer inside these haunted, hermetic environments?
Irish-American playwright Ronan Noone decided to take a look. Like Eugene O’Neill’s father, Noone was born in Ireland and later emigrated to America. Noone has brought his “insider view” of the Tyrone family’s struggles to the stage with The Second Girl, which tells the story of struggles faced by the Tyrones’ hired help as they deal with immigration to a new land. Noone will be on hand for an opening-night reception at 6:00 pm at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley on August 24, followed by staged readings of The Second Girl on August 24 and 25 at the Museum.
This year’s Eugene O’Neill Festival, the 20th, offers theatre-goers a rare opportunity to see two soul-cleansing plays by two of America’s greatest stage poets, as well as a look at the Tyrone family from behind the proscenium arch.
20th Annual Eugene O’Neill Festival
Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill, Old Barn, Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, Sept. 14–29; Sunday matinees at 2:00; evening performances at 7:30 pm
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Village Theatre, Aug. 30–Sept. 15, Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm; evening performances at 8:00 pm
The Second Girl by Ronan Noone, Museum of the San Ramon Valley, Aug. 24, 8:00 pm, Aug. 25, 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Meet the Playwright reception: Aug. 24, 6:00 pm
Other Festival Events
Concert: Irish Soprano Clodagh Kinsella and Pianist Keith Stears, “Irish Airs and Arias” Village Theatre Sept. 5, 8:00 pm Village Theatre. Tickets: www.villagetheatreshows.com Sponsored by Chevron
S.S. Glencairn sea plays by Eugene O’Neill, performed by Irish actors aboard the S.S. Balclutha at San Francisco National Maritime Historic Park, Aug. 30–Sept. 1. Tickets and information: www.maritime.org
Free Festival Previews
Long Day’s Journey:
- Lafayette Public Library, Aug. 13, 7:00 pm
- Mechanics’ Institute, San Francisco, Aug. 15, 6:30 pm
- Danville Public Library, Aug. 19, 7:00 pm
- Hike to Tao House, Sept. 8, 9:00 am
- Secrets of O’Neill’s Danville: History Walk, Sept. 21, 2:00 pm
2nd Annual Eugene O’Neill Festival of Theatre, New Ross, Ireland, Oct. 9–13 and Extended Tour, Oct. 14–20. www.eugeneoneillfestival.com