EASTERN THEMES AND MODERNIST THEATER

Eastern themes and influences were intrinsic to the rise of the modernist theater in America. The Washington Square Players' 1916 hit, Bushido, a "modern" play of 1746, swept across the country through little theater productions.  In New York, the program included information on classical Japanese dramatic literature and theater techniques, serving notice of the "authenticity" of the staging. In 1919, Michio Itow directed the Provincetown Players' String of the Samisen, a new play inspired by Bushido and starring Edna St. Vincent Millay.  The Faithful appeared in the Theatre Guild's first season; although a melodrama, the play documents the popular John Masefield's use of a contemporary subject, Oriental authenticity.


Theatre Guild. Publicity photograph of the original production of The Faithful (1915) by John Masefield. Garrick Theatre, New York, 1919.

Publicity photograph of the original production of The Faithful


EUGENE O'NEILL

By the mid-1910s, the aspiring playwright Eugene O'Neill had already begun to read in Eastern philosophy, becoming especially interested in Taoism. His 1927 Marco Millions was his first play produced by the Theatre Guild. He developed, but never completed, a play about China's Chih Huang Ti and the burden of the past. He named his California home "Tao House."


Theatre Guild. Publicity photograph of the original production of Marco Millions. Guild Theatre, New York, 1927.

Publicity photograph of the original production of Marco Millions

In Marco Millions, O'Neill contrasted western "absolute materialism" with eastern "abstract thought."


Figurine of a "God of the Theatre." Wood. Given to O'Neill by a Chinese student of theater, Shanghai, 1928.

Figurine of a "God of the Theatre."


Two Noh Masks. From the collection of Eugene O'Neill.

Two Noa Masks


The Twentieth Century: American Modernists:
Thornton Wilder
William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore
E.E. Cummings and Gertrude Stein

Exhibition Introduction

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