Playwright Eugene O’Neill, the only American dramatist to win the Nobel Prize, will be the subject of a March 27 edition of PBS’ documentary series “The American Experience.”
The show, entitled Eugene O’Neill: A Documentary Film, is produced by Arthur and Barbara Gelb, the authors of the famous O’Neill biography Life With Monte Cristo. The couple also wrote the script for the program. Ric Burns, the noted documentary maker (The Civil War, Baseball) directs and co-produces.
The film makes use of interviews and readings from a number of the world’s foremost O’Neill scholars, historians, writers, critics and theater artists. Al Pacino speaks about O’Neill and then acts out a monologue from The Iceman Cometh. Liam Neeson and his wife, Natasha Richardson, talk about their meeting in a Broadway production of Anna Christie and perform a scene from that drama.
Others who have been interviewed for the documentary include Lloyd Richards, who ran the O’Neill Playwrights Conference for three decades, and Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner, who recently wrote a screenplay about O’Neill.
Scenes for the two-hour documentary, the first to concentrate entirely on O’Neill’s life and plays, were shot at the Monte Cristo Cottage, in New London, Connecticut. Once the summer home of the O’Neills, the cottage was the setting for O’Neill’s greatest play, Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
The film also features the Tao House, O’Neill’s home in California, and includes exclusive interviews with O’Neill’s third wife, Carlotta Monterey.
The Gelbs and Ric Burns spent about four years working on the film, and had to grapple with the length. At any length, though, the main purpose of the documentary is to celebrate O’Neill’s creativity and originality, Arthur Gelb says. “Before O’Neill, there were no American tragedies. He set the path that was followed by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee and Tony Kushner and others. O’Neill was the great American pioneering playwright.” ♦