Saturday, September 26, 2020



Colleen Dewhurst, Donald Davis, Pamela Payton-Wright.

MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA [Dramatic Revival] A: Eugene O’Neill; D: Theodore Mann; S: Marsha L. Eck; C: Noel Taylor; L: Jules Fisher; P: Circle in the Square; T: Circle in the Square Joseph E. Levine Theatre; 11/15/72-12/31/72 (55)

Colleen Dewhurst, Pamela Payton-Wright.

O’Neill’s towering melodrama of the Civil War period, set in New England at the neoclassical mansion of the Mannon family, and based on the Greek tragic trilogy, The Oresteia, received its first New York revival since the original of 1931 in this production. Its presentation opened the new 650-seat, Broadway-status Circle in the Square Joseph E. Levine Theatre, a big step up from the Circle’s long history as an iconic Off-Broadway venue in Greenwich Village.

Alan Mixon, Colleen Dewhurst.

The reaction to the revival was mixed. Brendan Gill recommended “it without the slightest reservation as a grave and beautiful play,” but John Simon thought the direction “without a trace of imagination.” He also was unimpressed by the acting and play. Clive Barnes was moved by “a great play and a distinguished production,” but for Douglas Watt the production was “only passable,” while for Richard Watts it was “satisfactory though not altogether brilliant.”

Colleen Dewhurst, Stephen McHattie.

The revival was marred by the arena-style theatre’s problematic acoustics, of which many complained, and by the basic difficulty of producing this play in the round, when it requires a proscenium to provide a scenic dimension of grandeur. The play was cut to less than four hours (“skillfully cut” wrote Gill; “severely cut,” chafed Simon), but even as the critics detailed the playwright’s various technical imperfections, many stressed how steadily the drama held and developed their interest.

Colleen Dewhurst, despite her notable vocal qualities, suffered projection problems, but was a strong and straightforward Christine. She received a Tony nomination for Best Actress, Play, and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. Pamela Payton-Wright was considered a feeling, if not overwhelmingly bitter, Lavinia. Her reward was another Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. The large company included William Hickey as Seth Beckwith, Jocelyn Brando as Minnie and Emma Borden, Alan Mixon as Capt. Adam Brant, Donald Davis as Brig. Gen. Ezra Mannon, and Stephen McHattie as Orin Mannon.