Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene O'Neill

Act Two

SceneSame as Act Three of “The Hunted”— Ezra Mannon’s study — on an evening a month later. The shutters of the windows are closed. Candles on the mantel above the fireplace light up the portrait of Ezra Mannon in his judge’s robes. Orin is sitting in his father’s chair at left of table, writing by the light of a lamp. A small pile of manuscript is stacked by his right hand. He is intent on his work. He has aged in the intervening month. He looks almost as old now as his father in the portrait. He is dressed in black and the resemblance between the two is uncanny. A grim smile of satisfaction twitches his lips as he stops writing and reads over the paragraph he has just finished. Then he puts the sheet down and stares up at the portrait, sitting back in his chair.

Orin —(sardonically, addressing the portrait) The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth! Is that what you’re demanding, Father? Are you sure you want the whole truth? What will the neighbors say if this whole truth is ever known? (He chuckles grimly.) A ticklish decision for you, Your Honor! (There is a knock on the door. He hastily grabs the script and puts it in the drawer of the desk.) Who’s there?

Lavinia — It’s I.

Orin —(hastily locking the drawer and putting the key in his pocket) What do you want?

Lavinia —(sharply) Please open the door!

Orin — All right. In a minute. (He hurriedly straightens up the table and grabs a book at random from the bookcase and lays it open on the table as if he had been reading. Then he unlocks the door and comes back to his chair as Lavinia enters. She wears a green velvet gown similar to that worn by Christine in Act Three of “Homecoming.” It sets off her hair and eyes. She is obviously concealing beneath a surface calm a sense of dread and desperation.)

Lavinia —(glances at him suspiciously, but forces a casual air) Why did you lock yourself in? (She comes over to the table.) What are you doing?

Orin — Reading.

Lavinia —(picks up the book) Father’s law books?

Orin —(mockingly) Why not? I’m considering studying law. He wanted me to, if you remember.

Lavinia — Do you expect me to believe that, Orin? What is it you’re really doing?

Orin — Curious, aren’t you?

Lavinia —(forcing a smile) Good gracious, why wouldn’t I be? You’ve acted so funny lately, locking yourself in here with the blinds closed and the lamp burning even in the daytime. It isn’t good for you staying in this stuffy room in this weather. You ought to get out in the fresh air.

Orin —(harshly) I hate the daylight. It’s like an accusing eye! No, we’ve renounced the day, in which normal people live — or rather it has renounced us. Perpetual night — darkness of death in life — that’s the fitting habitat for guilt! You believe you can escape that, but I’m not so foolish!

Lavinia — Now you’re being stupid again!

Orin — And I find artificial light more appropriate for my work — man’s light, not God’s — man’s feeble striving to understand himself, to exist for himself in the darkness! It’s a symbol of his life — a lamp burning out in a room of waiting shadows!

Lavinia —(sharply) Your work? What work?

Orin —(mockingly) Studying the law of crime and punishment, as you saw.

Lavinia —(forcing a smile again and turning away from him) All right, if you won’t tell me. Go on being mysterious, if you like. (in a tense voice) It’s so close in here! It’s suffocating! It’s bad for you! (She goes to the window and throws the shutters open and looks out.) It’s black as pitch tonight. There isn’t a star.

Orin —(somberly) Darkness without a star to guide us! Where are we going, Vinnie? (then with a mocking chuckle) Oh, I know you think you know where you’re going, but there’s many a slip, remember!

Lavinia —(her voice strident, as if her will were snapping) Be quiet! Can’t you think of anything but —(then controlling herself comes to him — gently) I’m sorry. I’m terribly nervous tonight. It’s the heat, I guess. And you get me so worried with your incessant brooding over the past. It’s the worst thing for your health. (She pats him on the arm — soothingly) That’s all I’m thinking about, dear.

Orin — Thank you for your anxiety about my health! But I’m afraid there isn’t much hope for you there! I happen to feel quite well!

Lavinia —(whirling on him — distractedly) How can you insinuate such horrible —! (again controlling herself with a great effort, forcing a smile) But you’re only trying to rile me — and I’m not going to let you. I’m so glad you’re feeling better. You ate a good supper tonight — for you. The long walk we took with Hazel did you good.

Orin —(dully) Yes. (He slumps down in his chair at left of table.) Why is it you never leave me alone with her more than a minute? You approved of my asking her to marry me — and now we’re engaged you never leave us alone! (then with a bitter smile) But I know the reason well enough. You’re afraid I’ll let something slip.

Lavinia —(sits in the chair opposite him — wearily) Can you blame me, the way you’ve been acting?

Orin —(somberly) No. I’m afraid myself of being too long alone with her — afraid of myself. I have no right in the same world with her. And yet I feel so drawn to her purity! Her love for me makes me appear less vile to myself! (then with a harsh laugh) And, at the same time, a million times more vile, that’s the hell of it! So I’m afraid you can’t hope to get rid of me through Hazel. She’s another lost island! It’s wiser for you to keep Hazel away from me, I warn you. Because when I see love for a murderer in her eyes my guilt crowds up in my throat like poisonous vomit and I long to spit it out — and confess!

Lavinia —(in a low voice) Yes, that is what I live in terror of — that in one of your fits you’ll say something before someone — now after it’s all past and forgotten — when there isn’t the slightest suspicion —

Orin —(harshly) Were you hoping you could escape retribution? You can’t! Confess and atone to the full extent of the law! That’s the only way to wash the guilt of our mother’s blood from our souls!

Lavinia —(distractedly) Ssshh! Will you stop!

Orin — Ask our father, the Judge, if it isn’t! He knows! He keeps telling me!

Lavinia — Oh, God! Over and over and over! Will you never lose your stupid guilty conscience! Don’t you see how you torture me? You’re becoming my guilty conscience, too! (with an instinctive flare-up of her old jealousy) How can you still love that vile woman so — when you know all she wanted was to leave you without a thought and marry that —

Orin —(with fierce accusation) Yes! Exactly as you’re scheming now to leave me and marry Peter! But, by God, you won’t! You’ll damn soon stop your tricks when you know what I’ve been writing!

Lavinia —(tensely) What have you written?

Orin —(his anger turned to gloating satisfaction) Ah! That frightens you, does it? Well, you better be frightened!

Lavinia — Tell me what you’ve written!

Orin — None of your damned business.

Lavinia — I’ve got to know!

Orin — Well, as I’ve practically finished it — I suppose I might as well tell you. At his earnest solicitation —(he waves a hand to the portrait mockingly) as the last male Mannon — thank God for that, eh! — I’ve been writing the history of our family! (He adds with a glance at the portrait and a malicious chuckle) But I don’t wish to convey that he approves of all I’ve set down — not by a damned sight!

Lavinia —(trying to keep calm — tensely) What kind of history do you mean?

Orin — A true history of all the family crimes, beginning with Grandfather Abe’s — all of the crimes, including ours, do you understand?

Lavinia —(aghast) Do you mean to tell me you’ve actually written —

Orin — Yes! I’ve tried to trace to its secret hiding place in the Mannon past the evil destiny behind our lives! I thought if I could see it clearly in the past I might be able to foretell what fate is in store for us, Vinnie — but I haven’t dared predict that — not yet — although I can guess —(He gives a sinister chuckle.)

Lavinia — Orin!

Orin — Most of what I’ve written is about you! I found you the most interesting criminal of us all!

Lavinia —(breaking) How can you say such dreadful things to me, after all I—

Orin —(as if he hadn’t heard — inexorably) So many strange hidden things out of the Mannon past combine in you! For one example, do you remember the first mate, Wilkins, on the voyage to Frisco? Oh, I know you thought I was in a stupor of grief — but I wasn’t blind! I saw how you wanted him!

Lavinia —(angrily, but with a trace of guilty confusion) I never gave him a thought! He was an officer of the ship to me, and nothing more!

Orin —(mockingly) Adam Brant was a ship’s officer, too, wasn’t he? Wilkins reminded you of Brant —

Lavinia — No!

Orin — And that’s why you suddenly discarded mourning in Frisco and bought new clothes — in Mother’s colors!

Lavinia —(furiously) Stop talking about her! You’d think, to hear you, I had no life of my own!

Orin — You wanted Wilkins just as you’d wanted Brant!

Lavinia — That’s a lie!

Orin — You’re doing the lying! You know damned well that behind all your pretense about Mother’s murder being an act of justice was your jealous hatred! She warned me of that and I see it clearly now! You wanted Brant for yourself!

Lavinia —(fiercely) It’s a lie! I hated him!

Orin — Yes, after you knew he was her lover! (He chuckles with a sinister mockery.) But we’ll let that pass for the present — I know it’s the last thing you could ever admit to yourself! — and come to what I’ve written about your adventures on my lost islands. Or should I say, Adam Brant’s islands! He had been there too, if you’ll remember! Probably he’d lived with one of the native women! He was that kind! Were you thinking of that when we were there?

Lavinia —(chokingly) Stop it! I— I warn you — I won’t bear it much longer!

Orin —(as if he hadn’t heard — in the same sinister mocking tone) What a paradise the Islands were for you, eh? All those handsome men staring at you and your strange beautiful hair! It was then you finally became pretty — like Mother! You knew they all desired you, didn’t you? It filled you with pride! Especially Avahanni! You watched him stare at your body through your clothes, stripping you naked! And you wanted him!

Lavinia — No!

Orin — Don’t lie! (He accuses her with fierce jealousy.) What did you do with him the night I was sick and you went to watch their shameless dance? Something happened between you! I saw your face when you came back and stood with him in front of our hut!

Lavinia —(quietly — with simple dignity now) I had kissed him good night, that was all — in gratitude! He was innocent and good. He had made me feel for the first time in my life that everything about love could be sweet and natural.

Orin — So you kissed him, did you? And that was all?

Lavinia —(with a sudden flare of deliberately evil taunting that recalls her mother in the last act of “Homecoming,” when she was goading Ezra Mannon to fury just before his murder) And what if it wasn’t? I’m not your property! I have a right to love!

Orin —(reacting as his father had — his face grown livid — with a hoarse cry of fury grabs her by the throat) You — you whore! I’ll kill you! (Then suddenly he breaks down and becomes weak and pitiful.) No! You’re lying about him, aren’t you? For God’s sake, tell me you’re lying, Vinnie!

Lavinia —(strangely shaken and trembling — stammers) Yes — it was a lie — how could you believe I— Oh, Orin, something made me say that to you — against my will — something rose up in me — like an evil spirit!

Orin —(laughs wildly) Ghosts! You never seemed so much like Mother as you did just then!

Lavinia —(pleading distractedly) Don’t talk about it! Let’s forget it ever happened! Forgive me! Please forget it!

Orin — All right — if the ghosts will let us forget! (He stares at her fixedly for a moment — then satisfied) I believe you about Avahanni. I never really suspected, or I’d have killed him — and you, too! I hope you know that! (then with his old obsessed insistence) But you were guilty in your mind just the same!

Lavinia —(in a flash of distracted anger) Stop harping on that! Stop torturing me or I—! I’ve warned you! I warn you again! I can’t bear any more! I won’t!

Orin —(with a mocking diabolical sneer — quietly) Then why don’t you murder me? I’ll help you plan it, as we planned Brant’s, so there will be no suspicion on you! And I’ll be grateful! I loathe my life!

Lavinia —(speechless with horror — can only gasp) Oh!

Orin —(with a quiet mad insistence) Can’t you see I’m now in Father’s place and you’re Mother? That’s the evil destiny out of the past I haven’t dared predict! I’m the Mannon you’re chained to! So isn’t it plain —

Lavinia —(putting her hands over her ears) For God’s sake, won’t you be quiet! (then suddenly her horror turning into a violent rage — unconsciously repeating the exact threat she had goaded her mother to make to her in Act Two of “Homecoming”) Take care, Orin! You’ll be responsible if —! (She stops abruptly, terrified by her own words.)

Orin —(with a diabolical mockery) If what? If I should die mysteriously of heart failure?

Lavinia — Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Don’t keep saying that! How can you be so horrible? Don’t you know I’m your sister, who loves you, who would give her life to bring you peace?

Orin —(with a change to a harsh threatening tone) I don’t believe you! I know you’re plotting something! But you look out! I’ll be watching you! And I warn you I won’t stand your leaving me for Peter! I’m going to put this confession I’ve written in safe hands — to be read in case you try to marry him — or if I should die —

Lavinia —(frantically grabbing his arm and shaking him fiercely) Stop having such thoughts! Stop making me have them! You’re like a devil torturing me! I won’t listen! (She breaks down and sobs brokenly. Orin stares at her dazedly — seems half to come back to his natural self and the wild look fades from his eyes leaving them glazed and lifeless.)

Orin —(strangely) Don’t cry. The damned don’t cry. (He slumps down heavily in his father’s chair and stares at the floor. Suddenly he says harshly again) Go away, will you? I want to be alone — to finish my work. (Still sobbing, her hand over her eyes, Lavinia feels blindly for the door and goes out closing it after her. Orin unlocks the table drawer, pulls out his manuscript, and takes up his pen.)


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59