A wondrous play written and starring


By Iride Aparicio

Photos Courtesy: TABARD Theatre

SAN JOSÉ, CA -- "INTO the WAKE of the MOON" is a  75 minutes play written and starring by playwright/Actor KURT GRAVENHORST, that is based on the life of American playwright,  Eugene  O'Neill (1888-1953).

 "I was first inspired to write a one-man show on the life of Eugene  O'Neill  when I attended a conference at Tao House." (Where O'Neill lived for a few years)  writes  GRAVENHORST in the play's program. "At the time, I only knew a few sketchy details about O'Neill' s life, but I was drawn to his plays ever since I first read  Long Day's Journey into Night and  A Moon for the Misbegotten in college. I was able to sense, even then, that O'Neill's sublime revelation on the human condition were wrought from a deeply personal anguish."

"At the Tao House seminar, I listened to the tragedies that haunted O'Neill's life --tragedies that continued to haunt his life even as his literary acclaim grew-- and I realized his art was inseparable from his life.  O'Neill himself once said, "The stuff of tragedy comes out of your life, not out of your head." This was the story I wanted to tell."

The Stage at the Tao House located in Danville, California

He does it, convincingly, in his portrayal of O'Neill in  "INTO The WAKE of the MOON," Produced by CATHY SPIELBERGER CASSETTA, JOE CASSETTA Technical Director, with  Lighting Design by NICK NICHOLS and Sound Design by JOHN DiLORETO.

 Playing the role of O'Neill, actor GRAVENHORST expresses realistically, in his manners and voice, O'Neill's  deep melancholy. The different short scenes revealing to us, the audience, some of  the tragedies in his life that he used to bring "realism" in the pages of: The Moon of the Caribbean (1917), Beyond the Horizon (1918),  The Emperor Jones (1920), Anna Christie (1921), The Hairy Ape (1922),  Marco Millions (1923), Desire under the Elms (1924), All God's chillun got Wings (1924) Lazarus Laughed (1927) Strange Interlude (1928), The Great God Brown (1926), Dynamo (1929),  Mourning becomes Electra (1931), Ah Wilderness (1933), The Ice Man Cometh (1939), A Moon for the Misbegot (1941) A Touch of the Poet (1942), Long Days Journey into the Night (1956) (Published post mortem)

Tao-House Study.jpg
Gravenhorst as O'Neill (in the study of the Tao House)

Before O'Neill began publishing his plays, the mainstream American theatre from 1859-1900 was still bound up in the European melodramas, spectacle, comic and romantic operettas, and vaudevilles. When the Revolutions in Europe showed that there was a desire for political, social and economic reform in the arts, in the last part of the l9th Century, the theatre began changing with playwrights like IBSEN, and " The Realism Movement" an experiment to make theater more useful to society began. O'Neill, was the first American Dramatist to integrate "realism" into his plays. It was stated when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1936, that it was given to him  "For the power, honor and deep-felt emotions in his dramatic works. which embody an original concept of tragedy."

The "voice" in  "INTO THE WAKE OF THE MOON" is O'Neill himself. The story related under his point of view. It is presented on a stage with a desk to its left, a coach in the back,  a table with a bottle on its top on the right.  and projections at both sides. O'Neill is sitting on a chair, stage center, reading his obituary in the local newspaper. His first revelation to the audience, is that he was born in a hotel room, and he died in a hotel room.

On a projection we see the building of  the Boston Massachusetts hotel where he was born in room 237,  in October 16. l888.  He explains that the reason why he was born in a hotel room, was that his mother always travelled with his father, JAMES O'Neill who was a successful touring actor, and that as a child, he spent the first seven years of  his life living in hotels and railroad trains.

Another projection shows us a a picture of his father, a handsome man and actor, who one night, after a performance. was introduced to a 17 year old girl named Ella. The girl had been raised by nuns in a convent school, and because she wanted to enter the convent, she had been sent to explore the world before taking her religious vows. Infatuated, at first sight, by the handsome actor, instead of becoming another  "Sister" in the convent, she became Mrs. O'Neill.

By O'Neill's comments in the play, it becomes obvious to the audience that he resented his Irish Father.  James O'Neill was a "Classical theatre" actor after  fame. He knew that he was a great actor, and so good looking, that he had played  the role of Jesus Christ. Sadly, after playing the role of  The Count of Monte Cristo in a stage adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas' Novel, he lost his soul. Eugene explains to us that because his father was making so much money playing the role touring the United States, and receiving so much adulation that he no longer accepted other roles. He continued playing the role, year until he became "the ghost" of  The Count of Monte Cristo. He ended rich, but bitter and frustrated. He started drinking.  On her part, sensitive Ella who had been given morphine  after childbirth to ease the pain, got addicted.


Kurt Gravenhorst in Eugene  O'Neill's studio in the TAO HOUSE

In his role as O'Neill, GRAVENHORST tells us about the events of his life with feeling, acting, some of them, describing others. He talks about his Nobel Prize, his despair one night when he walked into the ocean into the wake of the moon, wanting to drown himself. About his struggle with alcoholism. His struggle trying to reconcile God's Mercy, with the suffering all around him. About his wives, about his children, about his brother, his drunk father and his drug-addicted mother. The realism in his performance, keeps the audience entranced.

 The most interesting thing about this one-man play, is that the actor does not try to impersonate the characters that he is talking about. Maybe just for a short dialogue. He lets Eugene O'Neill tell his life story, using his own words.. On opening night,  GRAVEN HORST's performance moved the audience. He seized our attention from beginning to end. His one-man play was wondrous. It brought the  realism of IBSEN to the stage.

INTO the WAKE of the MOON was performed for two nights only. (June 8 & 9) at TABARD THEATRE, 29 N San Pedro Street Downtown San José. For information about performance of similar plays go to https://tabardtheatre.org or call (408) 679-2330.