photo & story
by Christopher Annino
The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford, was founded in 1964 in honor of four-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and only American to win a Nobel Prize in Literature Eugene O’Neill. The center acts as both a school and museum for up-and-coming performing artists and playwrights. The center was also the childhood home of the award-winning playwright.
This year embarked on the 10th anniversary of the Eugene O’Neill celebration. There were special guest presentations by Thierry Dubost from The University of Caan Basse-Normandie, Robert Dowling from Central Connecticut State University, Sheila Hickey Garvey from Southern Connecticut State University, two time Fullbright recipient Eileen Hermann, Kenneth Kuzmich from Mitchell College, Robert A. Richter from ConnCollege and award winning actor Brian Denney.
During the two day celebration there were tours of the Eugene O’Neill estate, a staged reading of O’Neill’s “A Touch of the Poet” directed by Leah Lowe and performed by Nancy Hoffman, Sarah Rodes and Laura Chrisinger, a conversation with Brian Dennehy and panel discussion in regards to the Irish and the Yankees and how it had a profound effect on Eugene O’Neill’s writing.
The special guest scholars used “A Touch of the Poet” as an example of how Irish immigrants struggled with gaining social acceptance amongst the already established English when they arrived in America.
“The Irish were known for using pipe dreams. In ‘A Touch of the Poet,’ each Irish character suffered tragic stories, and they used their dreams as a crutch to lean on when times were tough,” said Rob Dowling.
Eileen later added, “Throughout his life, Eugene seemed to be an alien in an unfriendly zone. This was mainly because of his feeling of constant guilt from both Catholic and Puritan religions. It was interesting he lived his life as both a sinner and a saint. He was very accepting and compassionate of society’s outcasts. Even with his awards he still even today he is seen as a embarrassment amongst many people of the town that he was raised in.”
Brian added, “Eugene helps you realize that as a stage actor you’re never finished or satisfied with a role. I have been in many of his plays and, in some of them, I feel like I could have done a lot better. You know an actor or writer has done a good job, when the audience feels that are apart of the production. The whole Irish vs Yankee discussion is a good example of what all cultures have to struggle with. I have tremendous respect for my ancestors for making that leap, coming to this country.”