Sean and O’Neill

According to my brother, Breon, my father was first introduced to the work of Eugene O’Neill by the great Irish Labour leader, Jim Larkin. Sean was a labourer in Dublin and was digging a trench in a road when Jim lent down and gave him a book of a Eugene O’Neill play saying, “I think you will like this man’s work, Sean.” I don’t know for certain which play or plays he gave Sean. Breon thinks it was The Hairy Ape but there is one thing certain that from then on he had found another writer to add to those he truly admired. Along with Shaw, Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekov and his great love, Shakespeare, he would place Eugene O’Neill.

Sean’s visit to New York City in 1934 was a highlight in his life, and if he hadn’t had a wife and a young and growing family in England, or had money enough in his pocket, he would have stayed in America for the rest of his life. George Jean Nathan had brought him over to oversee the production of his play Within the Gates, that Nathan had managed to organise, starring Nathan’s friend Lillian Gish. Nathan was there to greet Sean off the boat and, after making sure that Sean was as good as he had hoped, arranged for him to move to a suite next to him at the Royalton Hotel.

It was in front of Nathan’s hearth that he met Maxwell Anderson, Elmer Rice, the young Tom Quinn-Curtiss, Richard Watts, and Eugene and Carlotta. In Eugene, Sean had found another artist who was on the same wavelength as him. The other writer in that position was George Bernard Shaw. Praise from Nathan, Shaw or O’Neill meant everything to Sean. It meant that he felt on the right track. Although from different backgrounds they had similar outlooks with great humanity, one a great critic and the other two wonderful Irish writers.

—Shivaun O’Casey