Strange interlude

   Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama opened on 30 January 1928 at the John Golden Theatre for a run of 426 performances. Produced by the Theatre Guild, it was directed by Philip Moeller with scene designs by Jo Mielziner. Among its innovations were the characters' private thoughts spoken aloud for the audience to hear, a daring focus on sexual psychology as a motivating factor, an abortion, and the extraordinary length of the nine-act play with action spread across 25 years, 1919-1944, in the lives of the characters. Starting at 5:15 p.m., the performance included a dinner break, which proved to be a boon to nearby restaurants.
   Nina Leeds, played by Lynn Fontanne, is resentful of her father's having prevented her marriage to her fiancé Gordon, a pilot, before the war. With Gordon dead, she will devote herself to nursing soldiers. A year later, Nina's father has died, she has become openly promiscuous, and the three men in her life are concerned. They are the avuncular Charles Marsden (Tom Powers), the willowy Sam Evans (Earle Larimore), and the rational-minded Edmund Darrell (Glenn Anders). All three are drawn to Nina even though they sense the presence of Gordon's ghost in her life. Nina marries Sam Evans, but before she tells him of his impending fatherhood, Sam's mother informs Nina that Sam carries a hereditary insanity, convinces Nina to get an abortion, and even suggests that Nina give Sam a child by another man. Eventually, Nina propositions Darrell and he agrees. By the time she is with child by Darrell, Nina has transferred her ardor to Darrell, though she carries on the charade with her husband, Sam, and Darrell escapes to Europe.
   Part 2 begins with conflicted emotions and culminates in a tableau scene: Nina dominates the men whom she sees as father-substitute or confessor (Marsden), husband (Sam), and lover (Darrell); her infant son Gordon is a fourth. The action jumps to Gordon's 11th birthday, and it is clear that the boy has a visceral dislike for Darrell. Alone together, Nina and Darrell discuss the possibility that Gordon intuits their continuing relationship and is jealous of Darrell for taking his mother's attention. They agree that Darrell will go away for two years. They kiss farewell, not realizing that young Gordon has returned and sees them. Gordon decides that he will grow up to emulate his namesake, the pilot, and thus win his mother's love.
   On a yacht 10 years later, Nina has her three men around her, but is jealous of her son's fiancée Madeline. Nina is tempted to reveal Gordon's paternity to her husband, but Sam Evans collapses with a stroke and she vows to protect him. In the final scene several months later, Evans has died. Darrell and Nina get Gordon's blessing to marry, but neither now wishes it. Gordon flies off with Madeline. Nina will marry faithful old Marsden, and her life has come full circle.
   The originality of Strange Interlude made it the subject of numerous articles in the popular and scholarly press as well as spawning many parodies: The Strange Inner Feud in The Grand Street Follies of 1928, a skit in George White's Scandals, a sequence in the Marx Brothers musical (on stage and in motion pictures) Animal Crackers, James Thurber's* "Cross-country Gamut" in The New Yorker (11 February 1928), a parody poem in The Bookman (August 1928), and a satire in the Garrick Gaities of 1930.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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