Literature

Anna Christie


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A Bit of An Enigma

When most people think of Eugene O'Neill plays, works like The Iceman Cometh and A Long Day's Journey into Night usually come to mind. But what about a play called Anna Christie? When a friend of mine suggested I read the play (he thought I'd make a good Anna) I had no idea what he was talking about. I have read a lot of plays, but I'd never heard of one called Anna Christie before. I love the Eugene O'Neill works I have read, so I decided to give this one a go as well.

Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie tells the story of a young prostitute who is reformed by love. Her father Chris, her lover Mat Burke, and several other bit parts fill out this cast of characters. The play takes place in early 20th century New York, lending a gritty, authentic air to the story as well.

I'm not sure what I think of this play. It seems a little too simplistic when compared to O'Neill's real masterpieces: a girl takes the journey from a man-hating prostitute to someone reformed, "clean," and deeply in love. Granted, that is a profound journey to make, and there are a couple very intense scenes in the play; but its intensity and simplicity combined might be a little bit of a problem. Earlier this week my scene partner and I were marking through lines, and there were points where we could barely stop laughing long enough to get the words out of our mouths. Granted, we were playing around with the scene and coming up with some pretty funny ideas; but it is still a very intense scene. So intense that at first it was a little hard to take what we were saying seriously -- do people actually say things like that? -- and laughter was the only way we could handle it.

Despite the simplicity, there is depth to these characters. The problems and attitudes they overcome over the course of the story are not light and frivolous. The back of my book says that Anna Christie is a play about people "at war with their conditions," I can see that element in the story as well; but I can't get past the parts that remind me almost of a soap opera. At the same time I don't want to say that about a play by one of America's most revered writers, but I can't think of any other way to describe the (potentially) negative aspects of the work.

I can't decide whether I like this play or not. Its plot is too typical. A part of me wants to fall in love with it because it's written by Eugene O'Neill and I feel like I should, but I can't. Every so often, even the great writers turn out works that are less than completely amazing. But maybe my opinion will change over time.

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Updated May 6, 2017 6:00 AM EDT | More details

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