ERIC FRAISHER HAYES
SILICON VALLEY-- As the Artistic Director of the Eugene O'Neill's Foundation, Tao House in Danville, California since 2008, Eric Fraisher Hayes has been the leading producer of the Eugene O'Neill's plays during the Eugene O'Neill's Festival, where he had directed 29 of O'Neill's 51 plays. In the process, he became an O'Neill's classical scholar. In Boston, he recently presented his Lecture O'Neill's 51 plays in 51 minutes, and after the Eugene O'Neill Festival is over, Fraisher Hayes will be returning to Ireland to direct the productions of O'Neill's plays Welded and Shell Shock.
But this month, from September 10 to September 25 at the TAO HOUSE , Eugene O'Neill's National Historical site. located in 1000 Kuss Road in Danville, California, the director will be directing A MOON for the MISBEGOTTEN, the last play written by O'Neill, that in subject matter, is completely different from his other plays because in this play O'Neill tried to demonstrate to his audience the farmers' life, which according to Fraisher Hayes, is to many "the easy life" and the symbol of all things that are simple and good, but that in reality is very difficult, and in the plot of A MOON for the MISBEGOTTEN, O'Neill proves it. The play is focused on an Irish family: A farmer, his three sons and his daughter, and in the complicated plot of the play, O'Neill allows his characters to bare their souls to the audience, and let them know, watching their actions and listening to their dialogue, the toils in the farmers' lives.
We start our interview by asking the director what attracted him to direct O'Neill's plays.
E.F.H: "I actually grew up in Danville, California where O'Neill wrote his last plays, but I never took any interest in his plays until I went to study at De Paul University (One of the best colleges in the Midwest for its social mobility and innovationzz0 where I was trained as an actor, got a Master degree in acting, and worked professionally as an actor. When I moved back from Chicago to Danville, I really got interested in the most famous playwright living in my own town, so, I joined the Eugene O'Neill Foundation.
"My immediate approach, was to read all of O'Neill's plays in the order that he wrote them. I thought that this was very important, because it is very easy for people to jump to the "famous ones" and disregard the others as "inferior or as rough drafts." But because I had read them all in order, I took in what he was doing in each one of his plays, and trying to gather my thoughts, as a director and as an actor, learn to make these plays work. "
"What I wanted, from the start, was to be The Champion of O'Neill's lesser-known plays, in particular his Impressionistic plays from the l920's. So, after I had the opportunity to produce his plays, and this is the one place that has a full commission to produce the O'Neill's plays, I made my goal, or my mission, to preserve the legacy of America's greatest playwright. Perhaps The Father of American Theatre, by producing his plays."Also, and because I had the opportunity to produce so many of his plays . and found merits in so many of them, I pushed very hard to continue producing them as often as possible."
"The 29th of his plays which we had produced (under his direction) will be A MOON for the MISBEGOTTEN" which is about to open this week. I know that there are many people out there who think that MOON is not a good play, and that there are other people who do not think that all of O'Neill's plays are producible or that some of his early plays are worth producing, but what I wanted, in producing them, was to give the audience a broader swatch of what O'Neill created when he lived here in Danville. I had directed five, of the six he wrote here already,. And A MOON of the MISBEGOTTEN will be the six one I will direct. '
C.W.B. As the last of O'Neill's plays, what can you tell us about MOON?
E.F.H: "That one of the things that really picked up my curiosity in this play is to realize that, like in a number of his late plays, O'Neill seemed to be struggling with his brother and with his feelings about his younger brother (Who in this play he represents in the character of JIM). He is very direct in referenced his brother in "One Days Long Journey into the Night," but one can say that some of his other characters in some of his other plays, also represent a version of his brother. I have been interested in Eugene O'Neill's trajectory wrestling with his brother in many of his other plays, but the one thing that really draw me to MOON for years, was that , being the last play that O'Neill wrote, in MOON, he may have tried to find some kind of forgiveness for his brother, and in some ways, even try to find some forgiveness for himself."
C.W.B. You may have a good point there, because most of the characters in this play are very complex in nature. Take Jossie for example. As the director of MOON, how would you instruct the actress playing the role to play it?
E.F.Y: "That's interesting, because one of the things that are really important about the role of Jossie , is to understand her "Irishness" especially in her relation to her father. So, I would tell her that when acting her role, (As an Irish farmer) she will have to act very cynical. To act as if really nothing matters to her, because she really does not want anybody to perceive her as vulnerable. And yet, in-between every line, I would suggest that with her eyes and her body language, she actually shows to the audience how really vulnerable she is."
C.W.B. Interesting. And to continue talking about MOON's characters. How would you define the character of Jim?
E.F.Y. "I will start by saying that I directed the same actor who will be playing the role of Jim in MOON in "Long Day's Journey into the Night." two years ago, at the time he was called Jimmie by his family in the play, and that now, a few years later Jimmie is now JIM, because that's how O'Neill would call his younger brother now. And to answer your question, I will use Jossie's description of the character in MOON, when before Jim made his first entrance (to the stage) Jossie (who is looking out) sees Jim (at a distance) walking towards the farm, and she describes him as "Looking like a:corps walking behind his coffin."
" I think that her imagery is really powerful. As for me, (The play director) I see Jim as a lost soul. Even as a ghost to himself but I think that there is still something inside him. That he still has a deep desire for a little bit of forgiveness, for a little bit of understanding, and that he thinks that Jossie is the person who could do this for him. And that even when he will never admit it, what Jim really wants in MOON is absolution, forgiveness and peace. He is exhausted, but he still has one last impulse to find something that may give him some relief. I read in one description of the play that describes Jim as a person waking up every morning to dirty grey windows, which is symbolic of a person who always wakes up with a sense of shame, and regrets."
C.W.B. And as director of the play, what, in your opinion, may have been O'Neil's purpose ending A MOON for the MISGBEGOTTEN as he did?
E.F.Y. "To let us know that Jossie really understands Jim. That is why, after their night together, she does not want him wake up and see grey dirty windows on that day.(experience shame or regrets) so to be sure that on that day he sees light, and that the light that he sees is just right. Jossie wakes him up during the dew, just before the sunrise. . That to me is very powerful" .
After A MOON of the MISBEGOTTEN opens on September 10 through September 25th, at the TAO HOUSE, with all evening performances starting at 7:30PM and the afternoon performances at 2PM (tickets may still be available so try calling the box office at 925- 820-1818)
To register for this free program, go to The Museum of the San Ramon Valley website https://museumsrv.org/events/the-geography-of-eugene-oneill-virtual-program/.