Comparing Plays of Recollection by O’Neill and Friel, with Steve Reynolds
Wednesdays from 2-4 pm on 4/ 29, 5/6, 5/13, 5/20, 5/27.
Classes will be held at The Wellfleet Council on Aging (715 Old Kings Highway).
In this seminar I want to explore the connections between two plays I have directed, Ah, Wilderness! and Dancing at Lughnasa. They are the childhood recollections of two of the greatest playwrights of the American and Irish theatres: Eugene O’Neill and Brian Friel. We will look at some critical analysis, read scenes, and question the plot, character, thought, music, language and spectacle of each. I’m particularly fascinated by how each play holds a mirror up to the societal expectations of each place and time period.
The first play we will consider is by the American (of Irish descent) Eugene O’Neill. He wrote Ah, Wilderness! in 1932 and it became a star vehicle for both George M. Cohan and Will Rogers. Now considered a “problem comedy” by scholar Andrew Sofer, the play focuses on how O’Neill wished his family had behaved during the summer before he entered college.
The second play we will examine is Brian Friel’s masterpiece, Dancing at Lughnasa. It is his imaginative and poetic recreation of his family life during a few significant summer days in 1936 when he was seven years old. This play about the five Mundy sisters and their brother is brought back to life by young Michael playing the “seanchaí.”
My plan is to spend two classes on each of the plays and then use the fifth to compare them to each other and to O’Neill’s second play of recollection, his stunning tragedy about his real dysfunctional family, Long Day’s Journey Into Night. There is a terrific film of the Stratford Festival’s 1998 production of that play available on YouTube starring William Hutt. You can find the Ah, Wilderness! script online at: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302951.txt. A terrific breakdown of the play by The American Conservatory Theatre for their 2015 production is available at: https://www.actsf.org/content/dam/act/education_department/words_on_plays/Ah%2C%20Wilderness!%20Words%20on%20Plays%20(2015).pdf
You will have to find your own script for Dancing at Lughnasa. For further reading about the play I suggest this article by Cassandra Fusco: https://www.persee.fr/doc/irlan_0183-973x_1996_num_21_1_1293