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14.4.11

Beyond the Horizon

by Eugene O'Neill

Though written more than ten years later, Beyond the Horizon is often compared to The Great Divide. Strikingly different, yet with interesting similarities, O'Neill's first important full-length play shows influences of Moody and the tradition of melodrama from the late 19th century. 

There have been few revivals of this play since about 1920, which surprises me because I absolutely loved it. Perhaps I am just a little enamored of early American plays as the moment. When Beyond the Horizon first came out, not everyone felt as I did. Apparently, O'Neill's own father asked him, upon seeing the play, if his intent was to drive everyone in the audience to suicide. I will grant that there are moments that are depressing, sure, but what I gathered from the play was the power of love.

Federal Theatre Project poster
The story centers on a love triangle of two brothers - Andrew, the elder brother, husky and suited well to the physical labor of farm-work, and Robert, younger, more intellectual, and not quite as strong - and Ruth, the girl-next-door they grew up with. Both brothers love Ruth, but Ruth's affections belong to Robert. She is won over by his penchant for spouting poetry and telling her of his dreams.

The brothers couldn't be more different. All Andrew wants to do is to stay at home and make a life for himself by running his father's farm, as he has done for as long as he was physically capable. All Robert wants to do is get away and see the undiscovered countries that inhabit his daydreams. At the top of the play, the boys' mother has enlisted Captain Dick Scott, her brother, to take Robert on a sea voyage with him. Finally, Robert has the opportunity to get what he's been looking for - a chance to escape the routine.

Everything changes when Ruth confesses her feelings to Robert. He is at once shocked and overjoyed, and immediately decides that he will stay home to be with her. Captain Scott is angry, since he was looking forward to having some company on the voyage. James, the boys' father tries to pacify Captain Scott, telling him:
You can't order the tides on the seas to suit you, and I ain't pretendin' I can reg'late love for young folks.
Andrew (heartbroken, having just realized his own feelings for Ruth) decides to take Robert's place and go on the journey.

What follows is many years of hardship - by switching places, the brothers have upset the natural order of things, and Robert is not suited to life on the farm. Things fall into ruin, both on the farm, and in their marriage. Ruth tells Robert that she made a mistake in marrying him. It's all very hurtful. And, I mean, hurtful.

I won't give away the ending, but what I enjoyed so much about this play was finding the similarities between O'Neill and Moody as writers. The language is so beautiful and important. That is not always the case these days where characters are always minimizing moments and saying one thing but meaning another. There's something refreshing about hearing someone bare their soul and mean it.

At one point, Robert says to Ruth:
All our suffering has been a test through which we had to pass to prove ourselves worthy of a finer realization.
Their's may not have been a perfect marriage, but there was real love there. Between all three of them, in fact. Hard-won love, but love just the same. Love that will change your course in life; Make you cross the globe; Allow you to better yourself. Love that may break you down, but will help you get up again.

Tomorrow's Play: Racing Demon by David Hare

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