I recently came across a couple of articles with a common theme: the rediscovery of works by renowned playwrights which were considered lost for many decades. “Umbrellas,” a short comic sketch by Harold Pinter, and “Exorcism,” a one-act by Eugene O’Neill, were both recently uncovered and published; both of these pieces were thought to have disappeared completely, and only discovered accidentally this year. The text of the former piece is available online at the bottom of the provided article, and the latter can be viewed in the latest edition of The New Yorker, either in print or online.
There’s two things I find intriguing about discoveries like these. First is the excitement that comes with new work being published by deceased individuals whose writings were thought to have been cataloged in their entirety. Such discoveries breathe new life into established canons, and have the potential to challenge expectations and expand our perceptions of a particular playwright. I was touched by Pinter’s widow’s reaction to the finding; it was as if she was paid a visit by her late husband through his forgotten words. Secondly, the opportunity to re-examine a well-produced playwright in a fresh and exciting way. I’d like to give the script for “Umbrellas” to several groups of people for a day and just see what comes out of it. Reading through the script alone made me want to get up and perform it with someone else, out of pure curiosity. And O’Neill’s play…wow. It almost feels wrong to want to read a play he worked so hard to destroy, but there’s something in that motivation he had to demolish his work that makes me want to reconstruct it! It would be an incredible opportunity to learn about O’Neill to perform a work that was so deeply personal to him. There’s no precedent for the interpretation of either of these works, and I find a sense of freedom in that knowledge. I’m excited to see if either of these plays will be professionally produced at some point in the near future (if so, they’d likely be a part of a revue, as they are rather short in comparison to other works by Pinter and O’Neill).