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TV REVIEW : GRAB BAG ‘O’NEILL’ SHOW DELIVERS--EVENTUALLY

Times Theater Critic

Like many of O’Neill’s plays, “Eugene O’Neill: A Glory of Ghosts” is too long and too impressed with itself. Like the best of O’Neill’s plays, it also delivers --eventually. (It airs tonight from 8-10:30 on Channels 15 and 50 and from 9-11:30 on Channel 28.)

Written by Paul Shyre and directed by Perry Miller Adato, it’s a real grab bag. Sometimes we hear from someone who actually did know O’Neill (Armina Marshall of the Theatre Guild). Sometimes we hear from an actor playing someone who knew O’Neill (Frances Conroy as his first wife, Agnes Boulton O’Neill).

Sometimes we’re given a genuine O’Neill artifact--a clip of his father, James, in the silent movie “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Sometimes we see a slice of an O’Neill play as read by modern actors (Blythe Danner as Anna Christie). Sometimes we hear a snatch of an O’Neill letter, read by Jeffrey De Munn.

For the first half, it’s a rather muddled and-then-he-wrote, not nearly as effective as other shows on the “American Masters” series--the one on Thomas Eakins, for instance. It’s not until Carlotta Monterey enters O’Neill’s life in the late 1920s that the program finds a form.

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We see how Carlotta (Zoe Caldwell) allowed O’Neill to abandon his children and to pursue his art, without sacrificing the comforts of home--a devil’s bargain for which both parties eventually paid heavily, as did the children.

Caldwell plays Carlotta as a kind of Spider Woman, and that may not be far from the truth. Yet their bargain also resulted in some great plays. Jason Robards reads from “Moon for the Misbegotten” and “The Iceman Cometh,” and Colleen Dewhurst reflects that such writing forces the actor to go into the eye of the hurricane.

The last voice is that of the playwright himself, shakily reading from “Long Day’s Journey"--"I would have been more successful as a sea gull or a fish.” A more rigorous documentary would have been more apt, but as usual O’Neill comes through--if you’ve got the time.


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