12/2/2013 12:50 PM
Strange Interlude, Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning behemoth, is nine acts and nearly five hours long. Its excessive run-time and demanding plot make it one of O’Neill’s most under-produced plays. But because of its brilliant text and psychological complexity, Strange Interlude is a play that shouldn’t be ignored.
The play depicts 25 years of the life of Nina Leeds and the important men within it. At the start of the play, a young Nina loses her fiancée to World War I. She then resigns herself to a life of guilt for failing to consummate her marriage. To rid herself of this guilt, Nina enters a loveless marriage but maintains a passionate affair beside it for most of her adulthood. Throughout the play, the lovable “Old Charlie” Marsden nurses his love for Nina and finally wins it at the close. Though the play follows Nina’s life, it is “Old Charlie’s” arc that is the most relatable and satisfying.
Each character’s emotional battle is written into the text as small asides to the audience in the midst of dialogue. The result of this is an array of fleshed-out characters to whom the omniscient viewer can easily relate.
The play ends with Nina’s description of life as nothing more than a “strange interlude” between birth and death. After five hours of involvement in one woman’s story, this conclusion may seem to make the play’s contents meaningless. But O’Neill’s ending isn’t nihilistic; it acknowledges one’s inability to condense life into a polished moral proclamation. While Strange Interlude’s length is part of what makes this ending effective, the same effect could be achieved if the play were two hours shorter.