For those of you unfamiliar with the O'Neill Center, it sits on a lovely spot in New London, Conn. overlooking the ocean, on the site of the actual O'Neill homestead, the spot where Eugene O'Neill and his family spent many of their summers. Of course, if you're at all familiar with Long Day's Journey Into Night, you doubtless know that these family summers were anything but homey and tranquil. The house is now a museum, dubbed Monte Cristo Cottage (see photo below) in honor of the role and the play that made O'Neill's father, James O'Neill, rich and famous.
As part of my preparation for the event, I've been re-reading Long Day's Journey, as well as watching two of the filmed versions of the play: the 1962 version with Katherine Hepburn and Jason Robards, and the 1987 version with Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey. Each take is stellar in its own way, but, I mean, c'mon Kate Hepburn as Mary Tyrone? To die.
I also watched a filmed version of Ah, Wilderness!, which likewise takes place in New London, but is only autobiographical insomuch as it represented an idealized version of O'Neill's family background, what he in fact would have preferred his family to be like.
As for the O'Neill Center, it was established in 1964, and has since become the home to numerous theater-development programs, including the National Playwrights Conference. Among the plays developed at the O'Neill are Agnes of God, Uncommon Women and Others, and a number of August Wilson's plays, including Fences, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and Joe Turner's Come and Gone. Under the auspices of the National Musical Theater Conference, many significant tuners received workshops at the O'Neill Center, including Avenue Q, Nine, In the Heights, Take Flight, The Wild Party (Lippa), Violet, Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, and the upcoming Tales of the City. (The Story of My Life and title of show also had readings at the O'Neill, but as part of the Cabaret and Performance Conference.) In recognition of all the work the Center has done, it was awarded the 2010 Regional Theater Tony Award.
Expect a full report when I get back. I'm not allowed to write about any of the workshops that I'll be seeing at the O'Neill, but I'll be sure to report back to you about the experience, as well as on any non-O'Neill shows I may see as part of the bargain. (The critics "boot camp" includes field trips to local theaters, including the Ivoryton Playhouse and the Goodspeed Opera House.) Will I return with my analytical faculties sharpened to a finely honed edge? Or will the entire experience produce a sense of existential angst and ennui, prompting me to throw up my critical hands at the sheer pointlessness of it all? Tune in late July to find out.