Mourning Becomes Electra Part 1 (1978)
Mourning Becomes Electra is a play cycle written by American playwright Eugene O'Neill. The play premiered on Broadway at the Guild Theatre on 26 October 1931 where it ran for 150 performances before closing in March 1932, starring Lee Baker (Ezra), Earle Larimore (Orin), Alice Brady (Lavinia) and Alla Nazimova (Christine). In May 1932, it was unsuccessfully revived at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre) with Thurston Hall (Ezra), Walter Abel (Orin), Judith Anderson (Lavinia) and Florence Reed (Christine), and, in 1972, at the Circle in the Square Theatre, with Donald Davis (Ezra), Stephen McHattie (Orin), Pamela Payton-Wright (Lavinia), and Colleen Dewhurst (Christine).
The story is a retelling of the Oresteia by Aeschylus. The characters parallel characters from the ancient Greek play. For example, Agamemnon from the Oresteia becomes General Ezra Mannon. Clytemnestra becomes Christine, Orestes becomes Orin, Electra becomes Lavinia, Aegisthus becomes Adam Brant, etc. As a Greek tragedy made modern, the play features murder, adultery, incestuous love and revenge, and even a group of townspeople who function as a kind of Greek chorus. Though fate alone guides characters' actions in Greek tragedies, O'Neill's characters have motivations grounded in 1930s-era psychological theory as well. The play can easily be read from a Freudian perspective, paying attention to various characters' Oedipus complexes and Electra complexes.
Mourning Becomes Electra is divided into three plays with themes that correspond to the Oresteia trilogy. Much like Aeschylus' plays Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides, these three plays by O'Neill are titled Homecoming, The Hunted, and The Haunted. However, these plays are normally not produced individually, but only as part of the larger trilogy. Each of these plays contains four to five acts, with only the first act of The Haunted being divided into actual scenes. Thus, Mourning Becomes Electra is extraordinarily lengthy. In many productions, the length is cut for the sake of practicality, and the chorus of townsfolk cut from productions due to the expense, leaving only the eight main players.
Act I It is late spring in front of the Mannon house. The master of the house, Brigadier-General Ezra Mannon, is soon to return from the Civil War. Lavinia, Ezra's severe daughter, like her mother Christine, has just returned from a trip to New York. Seth, the gardener, takes Lavinia aside. He warns her against her would-be beau, Captain Brant. Before Seth can continue, however, Lavinia's friend Peter Niles and his sister, Hazel, arrive. Lavinia stiffens. If Peter is proposing marriage to her again, he must realize she cannot marry anyone because her father needs her. Lavinia asks Seth to resume his story. Seth asks Lavinia if she has noticed that Brant resembles members of the Mannon family. Seth believes Brant is the child of David Mannon (Ezra's brother, who later shot himself) and Marie Brantôme (a French Canadian nurse), a couple expelled from the house due to fear of scandal and public disgrace.
Suddenly Brant himself enters from the drive. Calculatingly, Lavinia derides the memory of Brant's mother, who died of starvation in her son's absence as Ezra never replied to a message she sent for help. Brant explodes and reveals his heritage. He tells Lavinia that her own grandfather (Ezra's father) also craved his mother and thus cast David out of the family. Brant has sworn vengeance.
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