Waugh Assessment of O’Neill Play Cited

A Chicago artsblog (Chicago Reader) has cited Evelyn Waugh’s one-line assessment of Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey into Night. This is in a review of a new production of the play at Chicago’s Court Theater. Waugh saw the U.K. premiere of the play when in opened in London in 1958. He did not like it:

When British novelist Evelyn Waugh caught the first London production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, he described it as “an intolerable Irish-American play about a family being drunk and rude to one another in half-darkness.” … What Waugh’s dismissive assessment of the 20th century’s most powerful American drama gets right is that the play is unquestionably an ordeal—and not just because it lasts three and a half hours and the characters can’t stop talking.

Waugh included his assessment in a letter dated 30 December 1958 to his friend Diana Cooper (Mr Wu and Mrs Stitch, p. 259). He was accompanied to the play by his daughter Margaret who would have been about 16 at the time. They saw two plays during a 3-day  visit to London. He chose Peter Pan and her choice was Long Day’s Journey. Waugh’s letter continues: “She enjoyed both equally and drank heavily.” The Chicago production continues through 10 April.

NOTE (25 March 2016): On the same day Waugh’s negative verdict on O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey was posted. a Bristol paper carried a story that Brideshead star, Jeremy Irons, is about to open at the Bristol Old Vic in the same play. According to the article in the Bristol Post:

…the role which shot [Irons] to fame was that of English fop Charles Ryder in the television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited in 1981, alongside Anthony Andrews. Set in the 1920s and ’30s, it tells the story of how Ryder, an aspiring painter, gets mixed up with the aristocratic, beautiful, doomed Flyte family. Made on a huge budget, the filming was spread over nine months and included location work in Venice, Malta, Portmeirion, the QEII liner and Castle Howard in Yorkshire.

“It was a great period,” Jeremy tells me. “But it was very hard work because for four or five months of filming Brideshead I was also making The French Lieutenant’s Woman with Meryl Streep.” Jeremy could have easily been typecast as the quintessential Englishman, but he’s always been bold in his choice of roles. He has consistently defied type-casting, deftly darting from England to Hollywood, stage to screen, blockbuster to European art-house.

Alas, the interviewer didn’t ask Irons what he thought about Waugh’s take on the O’Neill play.


This entry was posted in Brideshead Revisited, Letters, London, Waugh Family and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.