first plays


At the start of his dramatic career, Eugene O’Neill wrote seven one-act plays (atti unici): The Long Voyage Home, The Moon of the Caribees, Bound East for Cardiff, In the Zone, The Rope, Ile and Where the Cross is Made. All these plays form a cycle and are a striking illustration of O’Neill’s remarkable ability to create dramatic tension and atmosphere. The American-Irish playwright wrote these plays in 1916-17 after spending a year at sea (1910-11), during which he suffered from depression and alcoholism. Moreover O’Neill’s parents and older brother died within three years (entro tre anni) of one another, and O’Neill turned to (si diede) writing as a form of escape (fuga). But despite his depression, he had a deep love (profondo amore) for the sea, and it became a major theme in most of his plays. The plays were performed (furono recitate) first in Provincetown Players theatre then in Greenwich Village Playhouse. The real only hero of all these plays is the sea. The first four plays share (condividono) the same setting, the ship S.S. Glencairn, and some characters, the mariners Driscoll, Cocky, Ivan, Smitty and Olson. The plots are simple: a man is dying and recalls his past life; a young mariner would like to stop and settle down in a farm but is drugged and delivered (drogato e trasportato) on a boat with no return; a crew (ciurma) is obsessed by the war time(tempo di Guerra) paranoia and is frightened (spaventata9 by an unreal U-boat (sottomarino); a mariner is never involved (coinvolto) in the usual past times of his fellows but is always alone hiding a secret; a man – and his son – is haunted (perseguitato) by the idea of a treasure; an old man is waiting for the arrival of a son who only wants his money and a captain does not want to sail back without the proper load of whale oil (giusto carico di olio di balena) and drives his wife mad (fa diventare pazza la moglie). The real novelty is the language which follows these characters and depicts their personalities and their changes. O’Neill reproduces the language heard on ships by uneducated, illiterate people, who cannot express their hidden feelings and anguish. The setting is simple, bare (spoglio), stylized.
In Bound East for Cardiff (1914), O’Neill depicts the last thoughts of a man, Yank, fatally injured after falling into the hold assisted by his companion Driscoll. Yank recalls their adventures, the hardships of the sailor’s life, and their dream: leaving the sea and setting themselves up together on a farm in South America. The play is set on the ship sailing toward the Welsh port city through a thick fog. Upon Yank’s death, the fog lifts (alla morte di Yank, la nebbia si alza). In The Zone shows a man victim to the wartime paranoia of his fellows who persuade themselves that he’s a German spy trying to betray their ship, crossing the Atlantic with ammunition, to the prowling U-boats. The Long Voyage Home, is set in a squalid Docklands bar where a Swedish sailor, Olson, has decided to leave his sailor’s life, but he is drugged and delivered on a ship which is going to set its sail for on a hazardous voyage Cape Horn. Moon of the Carribbees (1917) focuses on the Englishman Smitty, a very quiet sailor, who seems to conceal (celare) a mystery in his past – perhaps romantic disappointment (delusion amorosa). In a port the sailors relax drinking rum with some local prostitutes. Smitty resists the advances of one of them and finds his relief (sollievo) in conversation and in a bottle of rum amidst the confusion and the dances and the fights around him.
All these plays share the same setting, the ship S.S. Glencairn, and some characters, the mariners Driscoll, Cocky, Ivan, Smitty and Olson.
The other three plays are different, they only share the real hero: the sea. The Rope deals with an ungenerous father, Abraham Bentley, waiting for the return of his prodigal son, Luke. Old Bentley has hidden his fortune at one end of a rope in the barn (stalla) –the noose (il cappio) at the other end is in plain sight (dall’altro capo è ben visibile). The old man shows his joy for Luke’s return but also urges (lo sprona) him to hang himself (impiccarsi). Luke does not understand: he nearly kills (quasi uccide) the old man before being taken by a furious attack of rage (attacco di nervi). It is the small granddaughter (nipotina) , Mary, who finds the gold at the end of the rope and throws it into the ocean. Ile is about a crew who is going to mutiny if the Captain won’t turn back and head for home after two years. The Captain’s wife is also on the verge of madness but the Captain does not want to return without a full load of whale oil (un carico complete di olio di balena). After a further rebellion he almost relents, when the crew sight whales ahead. The Captain gives the command to move northward, while his wife begins to play wildly the organ, in an almost hypnotic state.
In Where the Cross is made an old man is going to be taken to an asylum because thought totally mad. He is always talking about a treasure : Nat, his son, is almost convinced while his sister insists saying he is not dangerous. After the old man’s death, Nat’s real nature is revealed: he is insane and maniacally concerned for finding the Captain’s treasure: Nat’s disintegration is shown both in thoughts and language. The plots are linear and predictable, but the writing crackles with tension and atmosphere; O’Neill’s use of popular speech sounds a bit hackneyed to us, but was revolutionary in its day.

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