Where better to launch a month-long retrospective on Eugene O'Neill than the Provincetown Playhouse, a venue where several O'Neill plays had their premieres?
After years of extensive renovations, New York's 80-year old Provincetown Playhouse is becoming a working theatre again. The latest event, presented by the Playwrights Theatre, has been a major O'Neill retrospective, including readings, stagings, commentary by modern playwrights and a recent colloquium with O'Neill director Jose Quintero.
Concluding its scheduled run, Sept. 11, is the world premiere of O'Neill's very first completed play, Bread and Butter, in what's been billed as a "workshop" production. Set in Bridgetown, Connecticut, a fictionalized version of O'Neill's boyhood home of New London, the story centers on John Brown -- a young painter forced to ask his father for financial support. His father agrees, only when convinced of the mercenary possibilities of his son's artwork. But when his son shows no interest in commercial art, Mr. Brown withdraws his support, sending his son into a downward spiral.
The piece, which began previews Aug. 28, is of special interest because, like many of O'Neill's classics, it contains autobiographical elements. O'Neill's father, actor James O'Neill, was world renowned for his role in Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo and, in later years, regretted his lack of adventure in taking other roles.
Other early O'Neill productions in this summer's inaugural season at the Playhouse have been: A Wife For A Life, Thirst, Fog and The Web. In other O'Neill event news, a teaching forum with director Quintero took place, Aug. 9-27, with the veteran of fifty Broadway and Off-Broadway productions discussing and commenting upon readings of passages from such O'Neill plays as The Iceman Cometh and A Moon For The Misbegotten.
The Provincetown Players were a group of American actors and playwrights founded in 1916 whose productions included the works of O'Neill and Susan Glaspell. The company spent their first season in Providence, RI, and then moved to the Playwrights' Theatre in NY's Greenwich Village (although they continued to do their summer plays in Providence). In 1918 they moved from the Playwrights' Theatre to another building on the same block -- a former stable that was thereafter known as the Provincetown Playhouse.
In 1929 the Provincetown Players disbanded -- but over the years the Playhouse has been home to diverse troupes and productions.
NYU owns the building, which is going to be used for the theatrical education of children and teens; in addition, NYU's Tisch School of the Arts plans to hold playwrighting workshops there. Young Eugene, a drama by NYU professor Lowell Swortzell about O'Neill's youth and early career, played at Provincetown in April. Ironically the drama, a production of the NYU Educational Theatre Program, took place on Nov. 20, 1920 -- the evening O'Neill's The Emperor Jones opened at the Playhouse.
For tickets or more information on O'Neill's Bread and Butter, playing Aug. 28 - Sept. 11, call (212) 279-4200.