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The Forgotten O'Neill Mini - Masterpiece
theowinthrop31 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Whenever one watches A LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, one sees Jason Robarts as the older son and brother in the "Tyrone" family (which is based on the real family of Eugene O'Neill, the man who wrote that play. James O'Neill Jr. ("Jamie") was a talented writer like his brother Gene, but he squandered his talent as an alcoholic, dying young. Although A LONG DAYS JOURNEY is O'Neill's last and greatest play, Jamie was always in his thoughts. His subsequent descent into ruin is mirrored in several plays. His involvement with a woman who might have given him stability is in THE MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN. His image is mingled into the tragic salesman who likes the dive known as "Harry Hope's Bar" in THE ICEMAN COMETH. And his dying is chronicled in the one-act play HUGHIE.

Jason Robarts became the premier interpreter of O'Neill roles in his lifetime, and fortunately left a film and video tape record of his performances. Here he plays Erie Smith, a salesman who has a yearly trip to New York where he meets up with "Hughie", another salesman who is an alcoholic and "fun loving". The play is really a good part for an actor like Robarts, who is describing his feelings of loss at learning that "Hughie" has died...like the end of all being to him. It is almost a total monologue lasting half an hour, except for the occasional comments and reaction of the new night clerk, one Charlie Hughes (Jack Dodson, formerly "Howard Sprague" of MAYBERRY, RFD). Every now and then Erie stops his monologue and Charlie comments on what he is listening to - and shows that this unimaginative clerk has his own dreams of vicarious thrills.

In particular, Erie mentions the times he and Hughie were out on the town and got into various card or dice games. Suddenly Charlie starts getting excited, especially as Erie mentions that once Arnold Rothstein, the notorious gangster/gambler, showed an interest in Hughie's playing. It seems that Charlie has always dreamed of playing dice against Rothstein and winning a bit pot from the gambler. So at the conclusion of the play Charlie gets enough courage to ask Erie if he knows "the big bankroll" (as Rothstein was called). Surprised, Erie does says he knows him, and rightly calls him a crooked rat! But by entering into conversation with Erie, Charlie turns his own sudden interest into a bridge to a beautiful friendship with the salesman. At the end of the play Erie has a new "Hughie" to go around town with (ironically, one with the same name of "Hughes"). And the dead man is conveniently forgotten - similarly to the dead James O'Neill Jr.

It was a good production of the rarely produced one-act play. Robarts went to town in what can be considered the biggest monologue O'Neill ever constructed on stage. Dodson (who appeared in a stage production of YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, with Robarts a short time before) was good in the complementary part, his eyes showing such excitement while imagining beating Arnold Rothstein in that high roller dice game. As a short video record of two good performances in a great little play it is hard to imagine many similar ones.
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