DYNAMO by Eugene O’Neill

This is certainly minor O’Neill but it is enjoyable (sometimes unintentionally so) and instructive. The play deals, at least in part, with family relationships. This is a huge plus. Even when O’Neill isn’t at the height of his powers, when writing about families and/or couples, his interest level tends to jump up pretty dramatically. If you want to see O’Neill REALLY off, read The Emperor Jones which has none of his favorite themes. For all of its problems, Dynamo does show O’Neill on his home turf and that’s always worth the time.

The early parts of the play are actually quite solid and somewhat foreshadow Long Day’s Journey Into Night.  It’s not THAT good but still high quality. The nasty dynamic of the Light family is chilling and the dialogue incisive. The depiction of the mother and her twisted love/hate relationship with her weak son is very well-handled and quite disturbing.
Unfortunately, once the play moves away from the Light family and their troubles, it starts to falter badly. The rival Fife family is made up of caricatures and the love story is totally unconvincing. Then there is the ending…
Wow…I mean…well…wow. Please let me explain that I ADORE Eugene O’Neill. He is one of my favorite writers and some of his plays have helped me through some rough times. Even that can’t make me turn a blind eye to the absurdity of the final scene of Dynamo.  It is utter nonsense and imagining it on stage makes my entire head hurt. Not just my brain, mind you, the whole head all the way through to the nerve endings of my teeth! That such a great mind could conjure up such claptrap should give hope to entire generations of hack writers. However, the finale is hugely enjoyable as high camp. I will never regret reading it as now I will know what to do if I’m ever attacked by zombies. Reading them that scene will penetrate deep into their rotting brains and locate that essence of humor that unites everything that is, or ever was, human. I AM exaggerating…a little.
Bottom line, read this play if you love O’Neill. Parts of it are good and parts of it are lousy. Luckily, the lousy parts are tons of fun.


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