This three-pack of rarely seen short plays by Eugene O’Neill is about as potent an antidote to seasonal good cheer as you’re likely to find. O’Neill was a dedicated portraitist of human misery and disillusionment and these early works, though dramatically immature, are true to the spirit of pessimism of his later, full-length masterpieces.
In the Strindberg-influenced Before Breakfast (1916), a despairing wife berates her unseen husband for his philandering and general fecklessness. There’s grim wit in the sudden appearance of the man’s shaky hand and the dripping sound when he finishes shaving behind his curtain but part of O’Neill’s intention with the piece was reportedly to test the audience’s patience – the fact that here the monologue is brilliantly delivered by the Olivier-winning Ruth Wilson makes it bearable.
The Web (1913) allows a prostitute with a bad cough and a baby briefly to glimpse redemption before dashing her hopes…
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