There is no more riveting or poignant drama in the history of the American theater than the life and career of playwright Eugene O’Neill. In the 1920s, O’Neill almost single-handedly gave the American stage the legitimacy and gravitas it sorely needed. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, he wrote his masterpieces—The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey into Night, and Moon for the Misbegotten—after he had already won three Pulitzer Prizes and the Nobel Prize. By then, O’Neill had become a broken-down and solitary man, his reputation in decline and his personal life in tatters. Yet somehow in his physical and spiritual torment O’Neill summoned the strength to produce some of the most enduring plays ever written. Ric Burns’s new documentary portrait of O’Neill, a coproduction of American Experience, features eloquent testimonials and incisive observations by a score of distinguished directors, playwrights, actors, and scholars, including Robert Brustein, Arthur and Barbara Gelb, John Guare, Tony Kushner, Sidney Lumet, Lloyd Richards, and Jason Robards. The film also features passages from O’Neill’s plays performed by Zoe Caldwell, Robert Sean Leonard, Liam Neeson, Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer, and Vanessa Redgrave. On March 6, Burns, Plummer, Arthur and Barbara Gelb, and others will participate in a panel discussion following the film’s US premiere.
Organized by Joshua Siegel, Assistant Curator, Department of Film and Media. Special thanks to Donald Rosenfeld, executive producer of the film.