Friday, September 30, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 7.2 (Eugene O'Neill)

O'Neill, Eugene
Long Day's Journey Into Night


Purchased at the Fordham University bookstore for a course on American theater.

I don't remember it too clearly, but I am pretty sure I saw this with my father, too. Probably when I was a teenager, probably at the Arena Stage in DC. Our theater-going continued when I went off to college.

My father would come to New York to visit once or twice a year. He ran a high school basketball tournament in DC that tried to bring in all the best high school teams from around the country to play each December. Many of the teams he invited came from New York, so he often combined trips to visit me with trips to visit high school basketball coaches in the New York Area.

Whenever he visited, he tried to take me to see a play on Broadway. We saw "Six Degrees of Separation" during its original run. "Les Miserables," also. We went to see "Dancing at Lughnasa" (he loved Irish plays). I remember seeing Ethan Hawke standing in the lobby, smoking and looking very hipsterish.

Once we went to see Oscar Wilde's "Salome," starring Al Pacino as Herod and Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks) as Salome. I remember her Dance of the Seven Veils ended with her stark naked and spread eagled on the stage. It was theater in the round, so part of the audience got the money shot. I think she had her back to us.

I am sure we went to others, but that's the last one I remember off the top of my head. Oddly, we never saw an O'Neill play in New York.

from Long Day's Journey Into Night

EDMUND (with alcoholic talkativeness): You've just told me some high spots in your memories. Want to hear mine? They're all connected with the sea. Here's one. When I was on the Squarehead square rigger, bound for Buenos Aires. Full moon in the Trades. The old hooker driving fourteen knots. I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself -- actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself! To God, if you want to put it that way. Then another time, on the American Line, when I was lookout on the crow's nest in the dawn watch. A calm sea, that time. Only a lazy ground swell and a slow drowsy roll of the ship. The passengers asleep and none of the crew in sight. No sound of man. Black smoke pouring from the funnels behind and beneath me. Dreaming, not keeping lookout, feeling alone, and above, and apart, watching the dawn creep like a painted dream over the sky and sea which slept together. Then the moment of ecstatic freedom came. The peace, the end of the quest, the last harbor, the joy of belonging to a fulfillment beyond men's lousy, pitiful, greedy fears and hopes and dreams! And several other times in my life, when I was swimming far out, or lying alone on a beach, I have had the same experience. Became the sun, the hot sand, green seaweed anchored to a rock, swaying in the tide. Like a saint's vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see -- and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning! Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, and you stumble on toward nowhere, for no good reason!

(He grins wryly.)

It was a great mistake, my being born a man, I would have been much more successful as a sea gull or a fish. As it is, I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death!

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