Last night New York Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott, 35, saw the premier of The Hairy Ape by Eugene O’Neill, 33, at the Provincetown Playhouse on McDougal Street in Greenwich Village, and his review runs in the paper today:
Provincetown Playhouse, Greenwich Village
A bitter, brutal, wildly fantastic play of nightmare hue and nightmare distortion…[The auditorium was] packed to the doors with astonishment…as scene after scene unfolded…[Although the script was] uneven, it seems rather absurd to fret overmuch about the undisciplined imagination of a young playwright towering so conspicuously above the milling mumbling crowd of playwrights who have no imagination at all…A turbulent and tremendous play, so full of blemishes that the merest fledgling among the critics could point out a dozen, yet so vital and interesting and teeming with life that those playgoers who let it escape them will be missing one of the real events of the year.”
O’Neill is already established as a playwright, with two Pulitzer Prizes under his belt—for Beyond the Horizon and Anna Christie. And his play The First Man just opened a few days ago at The Neighborhood Playhouse in Midtown. When the company, which O’Neill has been associated with for the past five years or so, did its first reading of The Hairy Ape, he proudly proclaimed,
This is one the bastards [uptown on Broadway] can’t do!”
Last night the auditorium was packed and the audience enthusiastic. The lead actor, Louis Wolheim, almost 42, got a standing ovation, and there were cries of “Author!”
But O’Neill wasn’t in the theatre.
The Hairy Ape
His mother had died while on a trip to the West Coast about a week ago, from a brain tumor at the age of 64. The opening night of The Hairy Ape coincided with the arrival of her body at Grand Central Station. A friend went looking for O’Neill to bring the good news of the play’s success. But the hit author was too depressed to be interested.
The two friends spent the night walking around Central Park.
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and also in print and e-book formats on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In June I will be talking about the Stein family salons in the Osher Lifelong Learning program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.