Between O’Neill and me there will never be a final period. Not while I am on this earth, anyway, and I am not altogether sure what will happen after that. If there is anything such as the traffic of souls in the hereafter, mine will go running after his, as in life I unknowingly did.
I was born and all my formative years were spent in an entirely different world, in an entirely different time from his. I spoke and lived and laughed and cried in a different language from his. A language he didn’t speak or understand. And he did all those things too, but most important of all, he recorded it in a language totally foreign to me. Sometime when I am in the middle of directing one of his plays I’ve cried out in the empty, ghost-ridden theatre, “God damn you, O’Neill.”
I am so tired of hearing that Long Day’s Journey into Night is an autobiographical play. For Christ’s sake, what great work of art is not? So many people have made lucrative careers and have labeled themselves authorities on the work for stating and restating that obvious fact. No wonder that there are so many books about O’Neill and his works on so many shelves in so many public libraries through all of the United States. They are usually fat books, recording endlessly what they most seriously consider the intimate facts of the goings and comings of Mr. O’Neill. True, we need historical accounts of the relatively few people of genius who have visited our planet the same way we need a map when we travel through foreign lands. What really tires and irritates me is the conceit of these authorities who impose and judge the importance of these facts about one of the most mysterious and complicated men this country has ever produced. In short, once they have finished jailing the man with the chains of facts they truly feel that they own him.
O’Neill, like Houdini, could laughingly free himself in a matter of seconds, take an ironic bow and disappear into the wings, to curse a priest in Dublin, be crucified in Golgotha, and sit on gold-tassled cushions and drink aphrodisiacs with Dionysus. Long Day’s Journey into Night is a masterpiece to me. A work of art. A play. That it takes place in Waterford, Conn., where he actually spent his summers, is of no more importance to me than a photograph. What interests, fascinates me is that Edmund lived in a prudishly elegant town in a big house that had the innocent, vacant look of respectability, with a green lawn, scarred by a road which prevented it from gliding down to the beach, a short run to his sea.
O’Neill had a mother and a father, like all people. But only one person could write a masterpiece about them. O’Neill lived the life of his mother. He translated and magnified and invented every one of her feelings, her disappointments, her revenges, her loves, her fantasies. You may even say he invented her. He did the same with his father and the restless, drunken, stillborn genius of his brother. He spared himself nothing. So our research for this play has to follow his design. Not the outward one of appearances, but the inward one of feeling.
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