"Staging O`Neill" by Ronald H. Wainscott

Staging O`Neill Ronald H. Wainscott

Publication date:
10 Sep 1988
Yale University Press
384 pages: 235 x 156mm

Eugene O’Neill’s most exciting experiments with stage direction and design took place in his plays produced between 1920 and 1934.  The impact of these experiments on American theater and drama was enormous, and in this book Ronald H. Wainscott critically examines the staging of these innovative works.


Beginning with the first professional production of a new O’Neill play, Beyond the Horizon, and concluding with Days Without End, Wainscott recreates the initial performances of twenty-two works, including The Emperor Jones, Anna Christie, The Hairy Ape, and Mourning Becomes Electra.  Using a wide range of unpublished material including prompt books, ground plans, design elevations, publicity materials, letters, and manuscript notes, Wainscott provides fascinating details about the production of these plays.  He discusses their preproduction histories; how the actors, designers, directors, and theaters were selected; the design of plays, including set, costumes, lighting, music, and sound; the director’s work; the acting; and the critical response.  He analyzes how the various artists approached stage composition and use of the performance space, as well as techniques and devices such as masks, sound effects, music, simultaneous settings, internal monologues, and split characterizations.  Revealing a great deal about O’Neill’s relationships with directors—most notably Robert Edmond Jones and Philip Moeller—Wainscott demonstrates that the era was a maturation period not only for American playwriting but also for American directing and design. 


“A wonderful book, the best of the recent studies of O’Neill and a remarkable work of theater history.  What Wainscott has to tell is important not only to those generally interested in O’Neill and in theater history, but to actors, designers, and directors as well.” –Travis Bogard, University of California, Berkeley

"In this comprehensive and perceptive book, author Wainscott describes how O?Neill?s experimental plays became fully realized productions; practitioners of all the arts of the theatre will find it useful for its historical and technical value. Beyond this, it is also surprisingly entertaining, avoiding both stuffiness and excessive informality. . . . A fine piece of work."?Dave Williams, Theatre Studies

"A comprehensive understanding of O?Neill?s contribution to the American theatre must include the evidence Wainscott has compactly assembled for us. . . . Staging O?Neill: The Experimental Years, 1920-1934 satisfies our appetite in every respect."?Gary Vena, Resources for American Literary Study

"A look at the experiments and breakthroughs in design and performance that accompanied the original productions of O?Neill?s plays, from 1920 through 1934."?Chicago Sun-Times

"Essential to any library on the American theater and its production theories, and techniques, this is the first survey of the original staging of the early plays of O?Neill."?Choice

"A fine work of theater history, a necessary and welcome complement to the great amount of dramatic analysis and biographical study devoted to Eugene O?Neill in recent years. . . . Because Wainscott?s examination is careful, intelligent, and sensitive, what emerges is a plausible and interesting reconstruction of first performances. . . . A necessary addition to the library of everyone interested in O?Neill. The details of production provide fascinating reading; they offer valuable insights to O?Neill?s dramatic art and to the creativity of those practical men of the theater who had to meet O?Neill?s challenges. . . . A valuable and insight-filled book of research scholarship on an exciting time in American theater history."?Normand Berlin, Comparative Drama

"A wonderful book, the best of the recent studies of O?Neill and a remarkable work of theater history. What Wainscott has to tell is important not only to those generally interested in O?Neill and in theater history, but to actors, designers, and directors as well."?Travis Bogard, University of California, Berkeley