Iain Cameron's Diary
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2006-11-12 - 12:04 p.m.
We went to see Kevin Spacey acting in Eugene O’Neill at the Old Vic last night. It’s a late work and was first performed in 1947 – to no great acclaim. EON had won a Nobel prize for literature in the 1930s and apparently brought Ibsen and Strindberg into the US theatre world. KS gave a bravura performance and it seems he is likely to be crowned in some way as an acting king when this production goes to Broadway.
EON’s life was strange and getting stranger at the time he wrote the play – his daughter at 18 married Charlie Chaplin, then 54, and EON never spoke to her again. His two sons were variously addicted and didn’t live long.
So the characters bare sorrow and have strategies for dealing with their burden which they are half aware of – and in the long two person scene which dominates the play they engage with each others’ strategy and almost break through but not quite. The ending is bathetic and would be best edited out in my view. Half the audience gave KS a standing ovation.
In my world I would like to connect the work with high expressionism – say with Bluebeard’s Castle or Erwartung or Pierrot Lunaire – with Lady Macbeth of Msensk and with Lulu. One of the governing metaphors in EON is the Moon for the Misbegotten – and like PL the main action stretches through the course of a single night. Like LMM the two central characters are in desperate straights trying to connect and failing. Unlike Lulu the female character while seeking to define herself through sexual non-conformity turms back from the precipice.
Unlike a lot of this expressionist stuff EON provides a residual psychological safety net as far the audience is concerned and it irritated me when the audience was bounced gently into it in the final scene. I suppose this may have been a commercial necessity at the time it was conceived.
Another strand is the alcoholic dislocation and the connection with, say, Jackson Pollock. The play is set in rural Connecticut which may not have been so different from rural Long Island. The impression which emerges is that great rafts of US society in the first half of the 20th century used heroic drinking is a coping mechanism for the dislocation inherent in their social circumstances. Conneticut now has the highest GDP per capita of any US state – I don’t know how it rates on the alcoholism front.
The KS character seems to be drinking so heavily because of his experience at the death of his mother conjoined with access to cheap commercial sex plus a taste for it. In his existential extremity he reminded me a bit of some Tennessee Williams characters. There’s one who becomes deranged because he witnesses the Darwinian struggle for existence on the Galapagos Islands.
As far as heavy drinking is concerned I am reminded of the story of Johnny Smith the guitarist being called in to play in a Schoenberg chamber work in 1950 and blagging his way through a hangover.
A step beyond the situation of these characters trying to anchor their personalities in destabilising environments is the Deleuzean idea that the personality project is abandoned altogether.
Some photos have appeared from the visit to Budapest – which has reignited the idea of a weekend there for an opera. Interesting to hear that D Bowie is playing Tesla in the Prestige.