August Strindberg: A Modernist is Spite of Himself


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

O'Neill's recognition of Strindberg's importance to twentieth century theater can be found in the inaugural program for the new Provincetown Playhouse, which opened in New York with a production of The Spook [Ghost] Sonata on 4 January 1924.1 The avant-garde arts theater, directed by the famous triumvirate Kenneth Macgowan, Eugene O'Neill, and Robert Edmond Jones, rediscovered in Strindberg's "behind-life" plays submerged parts of an aesthetic theater tradition that they themselves advocated as the dominating form of modernism. Strindberg's view of man and his radically new stagecraft presented the needed challenge to their own attempts to transcend realism. From this perspective O'Neill argues Strindberg's central place in their new repertoire in a letter to Kenneth Macgowan: "That's experiment in this country. No one else dares to do him-yet we all laud him justly as one of the two or three 'great modem ones'."2 The new Provincetown Players' production of The Ghost Sonata was followed in 1926 by A Dream Play. Strindberg was made to serve as figurehead for the experimental studio theater in MacDougal Street under the banner of modernism, the general notion being one of revolutionary change from a mimetic realism, defined by preceding generations of theater practitioners in its use of language and dramaturgical techniques. In his program note "Strindberg and Our Theatre," O'Neill refers to Strindberg's post-Inferno plays. The dividing line in Strindberg's life and oeuvre is marked by the autobiographical diary-novel Inferno (1897) in which he describes and interprets the core of his existential experiences on the road to Damascus.

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