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Theatre / Mourning Becomes Electra

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Mourning Becomes Electra is a play written by Eugene O'Neill.

The story is a retelling of The Oresteia by Aeschylus. It consists of three parts called "Homecoming," "The Hunted" and "The Haunted." It is set in New England in 1865, after The American Civil War, in which the Mannon family, emulating the heroes of Greek tragedies, have to face their turbulent destiny in middle of a puritan society. The story narrates the return from the war of the patriarch Ezra to the Mannon family's enormous mansion, only to find a totally different world from the one he left when marching into the conflict. The other members of the Mannon family are Christine, Ezra's wife, and their children; their daughter Lavinia, and their son, First Lieutenant of Infantry Orin.

The play premiered on Broadway at the Guild Theatre on October 26, 1931 where it ran for 150 performances before closing in March 1932, starring Lee Baker as Ezra, Earle Larimore as Orin, Alice Brady as Lavinia and Alla Nazimova as Christine. In 1947 the play was adapted for film by Dudley Nichols, starring Rosalind Russell as Christine, Michael Redgrave as Ezra, Raymond Massey as Orin, and Katina Paxinou as Lavinia, alongside Kirk Douglas in one of his early roles. For theirs roles in the film, Redgrave and Russell received nominations for Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively.


This play and its adaptations feature examples of:

  • All Psychology Is Freudian: The play itself being a modernized (circa The American Civil War) adaptation of Aeschylus's The Oresteia, it is swarming with Freudianism. Just for starters, Lavinia (the modern equivalent of Electra) won't shut up about how much she loves her father, and won't hear anything against him.
  • Greek Chorus: Being an adaptation of an actual Ancient Greek play, the various townsfolk fill the role of a Greek chorus, commenting on the events of the play and the main characters' behavior.
  • Parental Incest: There are no actual cases on incest in Mourning Becomes Electra (note the name) but the female lead character and the male (who are siblings) have serious cases of Elektra and Oedipus complexes, respectively, leading to the murders of both of their parents.
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  • Setting Update: Went from Ancient Greece in The Oresteia to 1860s New England (specifically 1865, immediately post-Civil War) in the play.