It's almost impossible to say exactly what influenced an author's career, particularly a playwright as complex as Eugene O'Neill, who had a banquet of influences.
They ranged from a huge variety of jobs when he was young to a successful but tortured alcoholic father, to a mother who abused her own pain medicine, to his own difficult bouts with mental and physical health problems and alcoholism. There was also the rapidly changing pace of life at the turn of the 19th century when he came of age.
While that would be enough for an anthology of O'Neill plays, there is also the influence Russian and European plays had on him, according Gary Schaub of the Eugene O'Neill Foundation, which is launching a series of readings of plays written by two of his influences.
The series starts May 5 at the Playwrights' Theatre, the Old Barn on the grounds of Tao House, the author's home in the Danville hills where Henrik Ibsen's romantic drama, "The Lady from the Sea." will be performed at 3 p.m. Two weeks later, on at 3 p.m. May 19, the company will present a reading of Anton Chekhov's drama "The Cherry Orchard."
O'Neill's European influence was a good thing, since the state of American theater, outside of Shakespeare, Moliere and other imports, was along the lines of melodramas and broadly played chest-thumping tales such as "The Count of Monte Cristo."
O'Neill became familiar with the European authors and their works during the 1920s, when extreme changes in his work can be noted. Before then, according to Eric Frasier Hays, program vice-president for the O'Neill Foundation, O'Neill's work mirrored the sort of romanticized, melodramatic plays being done in this country. Afterward, they took a much more realistic tone, shown by the Europeans, ranging from Ibsen and Chekhov to George Bernard Shaw.
The change did not go unnoticed. He went on to win four Pulitzer Prizes for his work and became the only American to receive the 1936 Nobel Prize for Literature for the body of his work, "for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy".
O'Neill had high praise for Ibsen in 1938. When asked to recall the impact of seeing the Norwegian playwright's work for the first time in 1907, he remarked that he'd attended the production of "Hedda Gabler on 10 consecutive nights.
"That experience discovered an entire new world of the drama for me. It gave me my first conception of a modern theater where truth might live," he said.
Tickets to the readings cost $25 each or $45 for both plays. Reservations may be made at 925) 820-1818 or www.eugeneoneill.org. There is no car access to Tao House; instead, patrons may take a free shuttle from the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, 205 Railroad Ave., Danville.
San Ramon: "CINDERELLA," the Prince Street Players version, adapted by Jim Eiler and Jeanne Bargy, continues its run through May 5 in San Ramon's Front Row Theatre, 17011 Bollinger Canyon Road.
The San Ramon Community Theatre production takes a fresh look at the classic tale in the new production, which plays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays with a special 3 p.m. performance May 4. Tickets, at $11 to $16, can be reserved at 925-973-3343 or www.sanramonperformingarts.com.
Contact Pat Craig at email@example.com.