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How Carlotta Monterey Betrayed Her Husband – And Gave The World A Theatrical Masterpiece

By Fredric Dannen

She called it “the twenty-five year box,” the restriction her husband placed on a play he had written – a play so personal that while he was writing it, she said, he “would come out of his study at the end of a day gaunt and sometimes weeping.” The typescript of the play was sealed in red wax and placed in a vault at the offices of Random House, with clear instructions: It was not to be published until 25 years after the playwright’s death, and never performed in public.

Theater
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
By Eugene O’Neill
Aug 17–27
Thu, Fri, and Sat, 6pm
Sun, 2pm
San Miguel Playhouse, Av. Independencia 82
Spanish, English supertitles
Reserved Seat Tickets: 300, 200 and100 pesos
Box Office: 57 Mesones, Mon–Fri 10am–2pm
Online Sales: latroupemexico.com

The author was Eugene O’Neill, and the play was Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which the critic Harold Bloom has called “the best play in our more than two centuries as a nation.” The wife was the actress and former beauty queen Carlotta Monterey, whom the playwright had married in 1929. In July 1941, on the couple’s twelfth wedding anniversary, O’Neill gave Monterey the manuscript of Long Day’s Journey, which depicts a single day, from 8 am to midnight, in life of the Tyrone family—a merciless recreation of O’Neill’s own family. The play spares no one, including its author, yet ends in catharsis, with “deep pity and understanding and forgiveness.”

In 1951, O’Neill disinherited his children—his daughter, Oona, 18, had incurred O’Neill’s wrath by marrying 54-year-old Charlie Chaplin–and named Monterey sole executor of his estate. Almost immediately after O’Neill’s death two years later, the strong-willed Monterey, defying her husband’s wishes, made arrangements for publication and performance of Long Day’s Journey. When Random House head Bennett Cerf declined to publish, citing the author’s pact, Monterey “exploded with fury,” he recalled, “charging me with about as many crimes as are included in the penal code.” Instead, in February 1956, Yale University Press published the play, and that same month the world premiere took place in Stockholm, where O’Neill had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Broadway debut, in November 1956, received spectacular reviews (Walter Kerr, The New York Times: “Endlessly savage … harrowing in the ferocity of its revelation.”)

Monterey never overcame her guilt feelings, however. Director Jose Quintero witnessed psychotic episodes in which she addressed a stuffed monkey as if it were the dead O’Neill, and begged him to stop haunting her. Theater enthusiasts have absolved her. Playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America), a self-described “O’Neill fanatic,” says Monterey’s “betrayal of (O’Neill’s) wishes must be seen by us as an act of beneficence.”

Theatergoers within traveling distance of the San Miguel Playhouse, on Avenida Independencia 82, will have an opportunity to see a full production of the play, with period sets and costumes and professionally trained actors, director, and assistant director, between August 17 and 27, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 6pm, Sundays at 2pm. This will be the debut production of La Troupe, San Miguel’s first bilingual theater company. Long Day’s Journey will be performed in Spanish, but La Troupe has equipped the playhouse with a supertitling system, and English supertitles will make the play fully accessible to people with limited or no Spanish.

 

 

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