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 GREAT RICHMOND THEATRE FIRE–December 26, 1811
- Today in Theatre History: JEFFERSON’S RIP ON BROADWAY–December 24, 1860
- Today in Theatre History: BEFORE POOH, MILNE HIT THE DOVER ROAD–December 23, 1921
- Today in Theatre History: WHY ACTING WITH ANIMALS IS A BAD IDEA–December 22, 1907
- Today in Theatre History: THEATRE WINS THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION–October 17, 1777.
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