The Dramaturge

The functions of the dramaturge that I researched for my project are the historical and literary property of the play (completed in the Dramaturg’s Note) and the complicated language of the script (completed in the glossary).  I also made many notes in the scripts, but unfortunately, I cannot upload all 80 pages of marked-up text.

Dramaturge’s Note:

The plays that form SS Glencairn are among the many that come rather directly from Eugene O’Neill’s life experiences.  After leaving home and flunking out of Princeton because of a drinking problem, the playwright-to-be spent several years at sea on a merchant marine vessel similar to the Glencairn.  His experience is very much captured in the character Smitty, who is forced to leave home and his fiancée because of his alcoholism.  Smitty, from a much higher class than the rest of the seamen, is often isolated and mocked but eventually does find his place among this mean crowd.  But that is not to say the other characters are neglected or shrouded in foul language.  O’Neill’s care for the others aboard the ship is evident in their deep characterizations; the portrayal of their darkest fears and deepest desires becomes much more important than their role as sailors. 

The dialects that O’Neill writes into these plays, which certainly come from his years aboard tramp steamers, help to create the pungent, gritty atmosphere that these characters are trapped in.  This desolate, low-brow sense places these works in their larger context of naturalism and place O’Neill as the next in the line to bear the crown of realism.  But the poetry of O’Neill’s work is what really sets it apart, and those beginnings can be seen in the Glencairn cycle.  The most pertinent example of this is in The Moon of the Caribbees when Cocky denounces Paddy as a “’airy ape.”  This phrase would later become the centerpiece of O’Neill’s existential look at sailors aptly titled, “The Hairy Ape,” and a Yank very similar to the one seen here becomes its main character.

The plays that later became part of this cycle truly did begin O’Neill’s career.  If not for a chance performance of Bound East for Cardiff with Jig Cook, Susan Glaspell, and a couple amateur actors on vacation in Provincetown in 1914, O’Neill might have stayed in his alcohol-induced downward spiral and the Provincetown Players might never have come into existence.  The other three plays of the cycle were also performed with the players in their first seasons, building an astounding repertoire of O’Neill one-acts.  But it was not until a tribute was needed for the death of founder Jig Cook in 1924 that the plays were put together and the characters evolved from split-second cameos to full-fledged personalities.

Since that first performance at the Provincetown and the subsequent Provincetown revival in 1929, there have only been a handful of important adaptations, the first coming in 1940 with John Ford’s movie adaptation starring John Wayne as Olson.  Ford combines the four plays under the title of the The Long Voyage Home and treats them as a sentimental look at wartime merchant marines, a pertinent perspective for the time period.  However, the movie borders on nautical melodrama and avoids much of the harsh realities of life aboard the ship for idealized ones.  Following this film, the next important adaptation does not come until the early 21st century with the Brazilian Companhia Triptal’s gritty adaptations of The Long Voyage Home (Longa Viagem de Volta pra Casa), Bound East for Cardiff (Rumo a Cardiff), and In the Zone (Zona de Guerra).  Triptal’s productions are heavily based in movement and symbolism, with sailors being thrown across the stage with the movements of the ship.

Glossary:

The Moon of the Caribbee:

  • Lamptrimmer: responsible for care of the lamps on board…later referred to electricians
  • Donkeyman: responsible for the donkey engine, a small steam engine used in port
  • Derrick booms: long poles coming off the mast used to move cargo
  • Bulwark: plating around the forecastle to protect men on board from the rough seas
  • Forecastle: raised portion at the forward end of the deck used for storage, etc…
  • Mile End: a section of London’s East End
  • Bumboat: a boat used to carry supplies out to ships
  • Bosun: slang for ‘boatswain,’ the position on the boat in charge of the deck crew
  • Liverpool Irish: a unit of the British Territorial Army from Liverpool that claimed Irish heritage
  • Three bells: correspond to different times of within different watches (there are 8 bells per watch)
  •  “Rio Grande”, “Viskey Johnny”, “Flyin’ Cloud”, “Maid o’ Amsterdam”, and “Santa Anna” are all sea shanties popular at the time (recordings?)
  • Main: could refer to either the main deck or main engine on a ship
  • Mizzen: third mast from the bow
  • Windjammer: a large sailing ship with a steel hull
  • Blow the Man Down”: a very famous sea shanty the sailors sing
  • Old Black Joe: subject of a parlor song in the 19th century reminiscent of an African spiritual
  • Barbary Coast: a historic red-light district of San Francisco during the gold rush
  • You Great Big Beautiful Doll”: well-known ragtime song actually titled “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” that was very popular at the time
  • Turkey Trot: a type of ragtime dance popular before the foxtrot
  • Electric flash: a flash-lamp used for taking pictures, among other things, in the early 20th century

Bound East for Cardiff

  • Oilskins: cloth made waterproof with oil for use on the ocean
  • Sou’westers: a special type of hat made from oilskins shaped to protect from high winds and surf; named after the notoriously dangerous southwesterly winds
  • Caña: a type of pomace brandy from north-west Spain
  • Port Said: a port city in north-east part of Egypt on both the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal

The Long Voyage Home

  • Square-‘ead: a person of Scandinavian, esp. Swedish, origin
  • Crimpin’: to forcefully conscript men to a ship; shanghaiing
  • Sovereigns: British gold coin once equal to a pound sterling
  • Yarder: piece of logging equipment used to transport tree trunks
  • “We ar-re the byes av We-e-exford who fought wid hearrt an’ hand!”: from “The Boys of Wexford” a ballad written about the Irish Rebellion of 1798
  • Bluenose: a person who advocates a rigorous moral code