Desire under the elms


Desire under the elms
   Eugene O'Neill's three-part drama opened on 11 November 1924 at the Greenwich Village Theatre. In it, O'Neill revisited themes from his Pulitzer PRizE-winning play Beyond the Horizon. Commercial success (208 performances) resulted from the authorities' attempt to close it after moral crusaders objected to its steamy subject matter. The play is set on a rocky New England farm, a stark environment powerfully evoked in the scene design by Robert Edmond Jones.
   The elderly, morally rigid Ephraim Cabot weds a much younger widow, Abbie Putnam. Ephraim's oppressive manner drives Abbie toward his grown son Eben. When she becomes pregnant by Eben, Ephraim believes the child to be his own. Eben learns that Abbie wanted the child so that she could inherit the farm, which had belonged to his mother, and so Eben rejects Abbie. She then kills the baby in a misguided attempt to demonstrate her love for Eben. Only then does Eben realize his love for Abbie, and he insists on sharing responsibility for the child's murder. Walter Huston scored a personal success playing Ephraim. This unsparing study of family strife, greed, and untamed sexuality is now regarded as one of O'Neill's finest early plays. Karl Malden* appeared in a 1952 Broadway revival. Anthony Perkins,* Sophia Loren, and Burl Ives* starred in a 1958 motion picture version.
   See also censorship.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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