(John Freedman’s article appeared in Theatre (Plus)/Moscow Times, 10/28.)
Eugene O'Neill. The name has a ring like Chekhov. It sounds like a rock on which you could found something. Like a national tradition of drama.
Modern American drama began with O'Neill in the early decades of the 20th century and his influence spread fast and wide. His plays were already making waves in Moscow by the mid-1920s, even before such important plays as "Lazarus Laughs" and the trilogy "Mourning Becomes Electra," "A Moon for the Misbegotten" and "Long Day's Journey Into Night" had been written.
O'Neill's earliest champion in Russia was Alexander Tairov. He staged hugely influential productions of "Desire Under the Elms" (1926), "The Hairy Ape" (1926) and "All God's Chillun Got Wings" (1929) at the Kamerny Theater — the venue we now know as the Pushkin.
Recently O'Neill has slipped into that dubious category of great playwrights who are so great that you don't have to stage them to know they are great.
I'm exaggerating a tad. The Et Cetera Theater mounted "Beyond the Horizon" in the mid-1990s. Pavel Safonov staged "Long Day's Journey Into Night" a few years back at the Mossoviet Theater. But until Alexei Borodin unveiled "Mourning Becomes Electra" at the National Youth Theater on Friday, one could say that O'Neill's plays virtually have been ignored here in recent decades.
I will not review this production, titled "Electra's Fate," because I had a very small hand in a project running parallel to it. Among other things, I interviewed the director for an oversized souvenir booklet supported with a grant from the U.S. Embassy's American Seasons cultural program. I can only hope that my more-than-modest involvement in no way detracts from the importance of Borodin's production.