Thursday, October 24, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 184: Eugene O’Neill, The Long Voyage Home (#197)

Eugene O’Neill, "The Long Voyage Home" (1917) from Eugene O’Neill: Complete Plays 1913–1920:

Another O'Neill play about seamen sailing merchant vessels, a lot like the first one I read, "In the Zone." As in that play, this play has some hilarious descriptions that I would not want to see in a casting call: Fat Joe is a "gross bulk" with piggy eyes, a "slovenly barmaid" with a "stupid face" mechanically wipes down the bar, etc.

The action of the play is set up pretty quickly in dialogue between the bar owner and an ex-sailor whose job it is to lure people here. This is probably usually about drinking, but they are also prepared to shanghai sailors for a price.

Into this spider's web comes four sailors, each with their own heavy accent: three of them are drunk and not all that interesting--one seems to remember that this bar is crooked, one wants to find some women, etc.; but the fourth is a teetotaler who is going to save his money and move home to Sweden, to see his mother and brother and live on a farm.

Guess which one gets shanghaied?

The play is pretty simple and has some sense of dread: we know there's a bad end coming for this one guy who has a way out of this terrible life. And yet, for all that we like the Swede Olson, there's not really enough on the page to make us care about his end. Because he's a nice guy, something bad happens to him, which is a shame, but doesn't really call much more out of me. Again, this would probably be a very interesting play to stage and see, but reading it is a cool experience.

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