Today in theatre history (May 21, 1922) Eugene O’Neill wins his second Pulitzer Prize for his play Anna Christie, a four-act drama about a former prostitute attempting to turn her life around. Set largely on a barge moored off Provincetown, the play dealt with a number of tough topics for early twentieth-century audiences, including rape, prostitution, domestic violence and alcoholism. Yet, unlike earlier works by Ibsen and Strindberg which were initially rejected by American critics and audiences, O’Neill crafted a compelling story with strong but sympathetic characters that instantly elevated American theatre out of the mire of turgid nineteenth-century melodrama. Even the main characters’ background (the father and daughter were originally from Sweden) is O’Neill’s nod to the influence of the great Scandinavian Realists who preceeded him. But set on the New England coast with European immigrants as the leading characters, the play is a perfect blend of Old and New World aesthetics–a deliberate attempt to bring the great European dramatic forms to the American stage. In the course of one brilliantly written play the entire tenor of the American theatre shifted permanently. There is no doubt that Anna Christie is one of the great pivotal works in theatre history and most deserving of the Pulitzer Prize. But sadly, how many have actually read or seen this great work?
- Today in Theatre History–THE FIRST AMERICAN-BORN ACTOR? WHO KNOWS?–March 13, 1790
- Today in Theatre History: WILLIAM WELLS BROWN’S “ESCAPE” LEAPS TO FAME–January 30, 1858
- Today in Theatre History: SHERIDAN’S FIRST PLAY, THE RIVALS, GETS A DO-OVER–January 28, 1775
- Today in Theatre History: OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD WITH DOROTHY AND IMOGENE THE COW–January 21, 1903
- Today in Theatre History: GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, “A THIRD RATE IBSEN”–January 9, 1905
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