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Strange Happiness

29 Aug

Last week I saw Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude at the National Theatre in London. Like Chekhov’s Three Sisters, it’s a play which on one level explores  the human preoccupation with happiness. ‘Being happy is the nearest we get to knowing what good is,’ is the justification one of the characters  offers for the pursuit of personal happiness. The female protagonist Nina thinks for a long time that she reconcile her desire for happiness with her sense of duty towards her husband. She can indulge her passion for a handsome doctor, and at the same time provide her nerdy husband with the son he craves but cannot be allowed to father because – though he himself isn’t aware of it – insanity runs in his family. For a while everything seems to go well for all parties. But Nina’s affair with the doctor gradually sours, and the son as he grows up transfers his affection from his mother to his supposed father. So in the end there’s not much happiness for Nina. But in her own way she has done her duty by her husband. Her affair did at least bring happiness to him, and he dies not knowing the secret of his son’s conception.

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