It took a long day of travel to get there, but after 60 years, Baylor University’s theater department presents Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” a drama whose canceled broadcast at Baylor in 1963 created considerable drama. .
A Baylor production of O’Neill’s play, his last and published posthumously by his widow Carlotta O’Neill in 1956, had several performances under the direction of famed Baylor Theater director Paul Baker when the president of the At the time, Abner McCall, ordered his arrest, apparently due to his strong religious crudeness.
Baker had obtained from Carlotta the rights to perform the drama, a scathing look at a dysfunctional family, with a provision requiring the university to perform without cuts, whether for language or time. He protested vigorously, but obeyed, and then he and much of the theater faculty left before the end of the school year to join the faculty at Trinity University.
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It took years for the theater department to rebuild after Baker’s departure, and the controversy became part of the tradition of Baylor and Baylor Theater, although specific details were lost in the narrative and narrative Of the history.
Was it a Sunday school teacher taking his class and complaining about the language? A regent of Baylor? Was there a middle ground, such as public notice on the content, suggested by McCall and which Baker refused? Did Baker take the opportunity to leave Baylor to expand his work with the Dallas Theater Center?
It took more than 30 years before a Waco celebration of Baker’s legacy took place, which, as some supporters pointed out at the time, was held at McLennan Community College and not Baylor. In 2001, Baker returned to Baylor’s campus and theater department in recognition of his work and career at Baylor. He died at his home in Waelder in 2009 at the age of 98.
The idea to bring back the O’Neill drama came last year, as current drama teachers were planning the 2023-2024 season. Professor John-Michael Marrs, who is leading this weekend’s reading, said DeAnna Toten Beard, then chair of the department, had marked the 60th anniversary and thought a return to the play could close the loop on the controversy and bring healing and closure to the process. .
A reading also draws attention to the writing and the actors, Marrs noted. “We’re willing to do it and showcase the work, not the show,” he said.
The result is a staged reading of O’Neill’s play – original language and all – rather than a full production with sets and costumes, and only two performances in the smaller Mabee Theater, partly because of the work in progress over the season. The opening musical, “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,” opens later this month.
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” which many scholars believe is drawn from the playwright’s life, focuses on the Tyrone family during a confrontational day at the family’s beach house in 1912. James Tyrone (Greg Holt) , the father, is a successful actor. at the end of his career who wonders if he wasted his talent by choosing to follow the money of a successful, but limiting game. His wife Mary (Emily Scott Banks), suffering from a morphine addiction.
His son Jamie (Dawson Boudreaux) drinks too much and pursues women; his son Edmund (Basti Allman) may have a fatal case of tuberculosis. Both sons are resentful of their parents and divided over how best to help them. Summer housekeeper Cathleen (Stella Pozzuoli) is also present at the house.
Although the play’s profanity may have sparked the Baylor controversy, the play’s theme of drug addiction, alcoholism, parental resentment, bitterness, and family failure may also have contributed.
Times have changed over the past 60 years, Marrs noted, and language and themes that some considered too strong for a Christian university are found in a different context today. “We now have a different culture and it hits a contemporary ear,” he said. “It’s remarkably true, in a horrible way. There is something sacred about telling the truth… Context matters.”
To add maturity and experience to the reading, Marrs, himself a stage actor, and the department cast Texas actors Holt and Banks, both members of the Actors’ Equity Association, for the older parental roles.
The director acknowledged that contemporary audiences may find watching the pain of a family fall apart to be a marked change of pace from what frequently happens on stage, film or television.
“These people are in trouble and it’s not easy to watch,” he said. Modern audiences, too, may find a performance length of about three hours more difficult than the language, he added.