Mourning Becomes Electra

Definition

Theater

  • A trilogy of plays by Eugene O'Neill, dealing withthe tragic cycle of love and revenge within a single family. Oftenconsidered his masterpiece, the work was first performed by the TheatreGuild in 1931 in New York starring Alice Brady and the Russian actressAlla Nazimova; the first London production was in 1937. The film version(1947) starred Rosalind Russell and dame Judith Anderson, while anoperatic adaptation of the play was produced in 1967 at the MetropolitanOpera in New York.

    The sequence of three plays (Homecoming, The Hunted,and The Haunted) is based on Aeschylus's great trilogyThe Oresteia, with the action updated to New England at theend of the Civil War. Although O'Neill himself felt that the worklacked great language, it proved his most successful play. "Itis uneven," wrote one reviewer, "but so are the Himalayas."The critic Alexander Woollcott, however, described the work as "agrumbling and belated review of the remorseless and venerated trilogy(i.e. The Oresteia) by the same sacred cow who wrote StrangeInterlude". He later called it "that glum three-decker."

    Homecoming begins with Lavinia, O'Neill's Electra figure,discovering that her mother, Christine Mannon, is having an affair.Christine sends her lover away but decides to murder her husband whenhe comes back from the war. He returns with a weak heart and she confessesher affair, hoping that the shock will induce a heart attack. Whenit does and he dies, Lavinia decides to murder her mother.

    In The Hunted Lavinia's brother, Orin Mannon, returnsfrom the war to find his father dead. When Christine reestablishescontact with her lover, Orin lies in wait and murders him. As a result,Christine commits suicide and Orin suffers a breakdown. Lavinia promisesto take care of him.

    In The Haunted Lavinia attempts to arrange a marriagebetween Orin and his boyhood sweetheart, Hazel Niles, while she herselfplans to wed Hazel's brother, Peter. Orin, however, is still consumedwith guilt over his mother's death and kills himself. Lavinia admitsto Peter that she too has had an affair, and he abandons her.

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