Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene O'Neill

Act Three

SceneSame as Act One, Scene Two — the sitting-room. The lamp on the table is lighted but turned low. Two candles are burning on the mantel over the fireplace at right, shedding their flickering light on the portrait of Abe Mannon above, and of the other Mannons on the walls on each side of him. The eyes of the portraits seem to possess an intense bitter life, with their frozen stare “looking over the head of life, cutting it dead for the impropriety of living,” as Orin had said of his father in Act Two of “The Hunted.”

No time has elapsed since the preceding act. Lavinia enters from the hall in the rear, having just come from the study. She comes to the table and turns up the lamp. She is in a terrific state of tension. The corners of her mouth twitch, she twines and untwines the fingers of her clasped hands with a slow wringing movement which recalls her mother in the last Act of “The Hunted.”

Lavinia —(torturedly — begins to pace up and down, muttering her thoughts aloud) I can’t bear it! Why does he keep putting his death in my head? He would be better off if — Why hasn’t he the courage —? (then in a frenzy of remorseful anguish, her eyes unconsciously seeking the Mannon portraits on the right wall, as if they were the visible symbol of her God) Oh God, don’t let me have such thoughts! You know I love Orin! Show me the way to save him! Don’t let me think of death! I couldn’t bear another death! Please! Please! (At a noise from the hall she controls herself and pretends to be glancing through a book on the table. Seth appears in the doorway.)

Seth — Vinnie!

Lavinia — What is it, Seth?

Seth — That durned idjut, Hannah, is throwin’ fits agin. Went down cellar and says she felt ha’nts crawlin’ behind her. You’d better come and git her calmed down — or she’ll be leavin’. (Then he adds disgustedly) That’s what we git fur freein’ ’em!

Lavinia —(wearily) All right. I’ll talk to her. (She goes out with Seth. A pause. Then a ring from the front door bell. A moment later Seth can be seen coming back along the hall. He opens the front door and is heard greeting Hazel and Peter and follows them in as they enter the room.)

Seth — Vinnie’s back seein’ to somethin’. You set down and she’ll be here soon as she kin.

Peter — All right, Seth. (Seth goes out again. They come forward and sit down. Peter looks hearty and good-natured, the same as ever, but Hazel’s face wears a nervous, uneasy look although her air is determined.)

Peter — I’ll have to run along soon and drop in at the Council meeting. I can’t get out of it. I’ll be back in half an hour — maybe sooner.

Hazel —(suddenly with a little shiver) I hate this house now. I hate coming here. If it wasn’t for Orin — He’s getting worse. Keeping him shut up here is the worst thing Vinnie could do.

Peter — He won’t go out. You know very well she has to force him to walk with you.

Hazel — And comes along herself! Never leaves him alone hardly a second!

Peter —(with a grin) Oh, that’s what you’ve got against her, eh?

Hazel —(sharply) Don’t be silly, Peter! I simply think, and I’d say it to her face, that she’s a bad influence for Orin! I feel there’s something awfully wrong — somehow. He scares me at times — and Vinnie — I’ve watched her looking at you. She’s changed so. There’s something bold about her.

Peter —(getting up) If you’re going to talk like that —! You ought to be ashamed, Hazel!

Hazel — Well, I’m not! I’ve got some right to say something about how he’s cared for! And I’m going to from now on! I’m going to make her let him visit us for a spell. I’ve asked Mother and she’ll be glad to have him.

Peter — Say, I think that’s a darned good notion for both of them. She needs a rest from him, too.

Hazel — Vinnie doesn’t think it’s a good notion! I mentioned it yesterday and she gave me such a look! (determinedly) But I’m going to make him promise to come over tomorrow, no matter what she says!

Peter —(soothingly, patting her shoulder) Don’t get angry now — about nothing. I’ll help you persuade her to let him come. (then with a grin) I’ll help you do anything to help Orin get well — if only for selfish reasons. As long as Vinnie’s tied down to him we can’t get married.

Hazel —(stares at him — slowly) Do you really want to marry her — now?

Peter — Why do you ask such a fool question? What do you mean, do I want to now?

Hazel —(Her voice trembles and she seems about to burst into tears.) Oh, I don’t know, Peter! I don’t know!

Peter —(sympathetic and at the same time exasperated) What in the dickens is the matter with you?

Hazel —(hears a noise from the hall and collects herself — warningly) Ssshh! (Orin appears in the doorway at rear. He glances at them, then quickly around the room to see if Lavinia is there. They both greet him with “Hello, Orin”.)

Orin — Hello! (then in an excited whisper, coming to them) Where’s Vinnie?

Hazel — She’s gone to see to something, Seth said.

Peter —(glancing at his watch) Gosh, I’ve got to hurry to that darned Council meeting.

Orin —(eagerly) You’re going?

Peter —(jokingly) You needn’t look so darned tickled about it! It isn’t polite!

Orin — I’ve got to see Hazel alone!

Peter — All right! You don’t have to put me out! (He grins, slapping Orin on the back and goes out. Orin follows him with his eyes until he hears the front door close behind him.)

Orin —(turning to Hazel — with queer furtive excitement) Listen, Hazel! I want you to do something! But wait! I’ve got to get —(He rushes out and can be heard going across the hall to the study. Hazel looks after him worriedly. A moment later he hurries back with a big sealed envelope in his hand which he gives to Hazel, talking breathlessly, with nervous jerks of his head, as he glances apprehensively at the door.) Here! Take this! Quick! Don’t let her see it! I want you to keep it in a safe place and never let anyone know you have it! It will be stolen if I keep it here! I know her! Will you promise?

Hazel — But — what is it, Orin?

Orin — I can’t tell you. You mustn’t ask me. And you must promise never to open it — unless something happens to me.

Hazel —(frightened by his tone) What do you mean?

Orin — I mean if I should die — or — but this is the most important, if she tries to marry Peter — the day before the wedding — I want you to make Peter read what’s inside.

Hazel — You don’t want her to marry Peter?

Orin — No! She can’t have happiness! She’s got to be punished! (suddenly taking her hand — excitedly) And listen, Hazel! You mustn’t love me any more. The only love I can know now is the love of guilt for guilt which breeds more guilt — until you get so deep at the bottom of hell there is no lower you can sink and you rest there in peace! (He laughs harshly and turns away from her.)

Hazel — Orin! Don’t talk like that! (then conquering her horror — resolutely tender and soothing) Ssshh! Poor boy! Come here to me. (He comes to her. She puts an arm around him.) Listen. I know something is worrying you — and I don’t want to seem prying — but I’ve had such a strong feeling at times that it would relieve your mind if you could tell me what it is. Haven’t you thought that, Orin?

Orin —(longingly) Yes! Yes! I want to confess to your purity! I want to be forgiven! (then checking himself abruptly as he is about to speak — dully) No. I can’t. Don’t ask me. I love her.

Hazel — But, you silly boy, Vinnie told Peter herself what it is and told him to tell me.

Orin —(staring at her wildly) What did she tell?

Hazel — About your having a quarrel with your poor mother that night before she — and how you’ve brooded over it until you blame yourself for her death.

Orin —(harshly) I see! So in case I did tell you — oh, she’s cunning! But not cunning enough this time! (vindictively) You remember what I’ve given you, Hazel, and you do exactly what I said with it. (then with desperate pleading) For God’s sake, Hazel, if you love me help me to get away from here — or something terrible will happen!

Hazel — That’s just what I want to do! You come over tomorrow and stay with us.

Orin —(bitterly) Do you suppose for a moment she’ll ever let me go?

Hazel — But haven’t you a right to do as you want to?

Orin —(furtively) I could sneak out when she wasn’t looking — and then you could hide me and when she came for me tell her I wasn’t there.

Hazel —(indignantly) I won’t do any such thing! I don’t tell lies, Orin! (then scornfully) How can you be so scared of Vinnie?

Orin —(hearing a noise from the hall — hastily) Ssshh! She’s coming! Don’t let her see what I gave you. And go home right away and lock it up! (He tiptoes away as if he were afraid of being found close to her and sits on the sofa at right, adopting a suspiciously careless attitude. Hazel looks self-conscious and stiff. Lavinia appears in the doorway and gives a start as she sees Hazel and Orin are alone. She quickly senses something in the atmosphere and glances sharply from one to the other as she comes into the room!)

Lavinia —(to Hazel, forcing a casual air) I’m sorry being so long.

Hazel — I didn’t mind waiting.

Lavinia —(sitting down on the chair at center) Where’s Peter?

Hazel — He had to go to a Council meeting. He’s coming back.

Lavinia —(uneasiness creeping into her tone) Has he been gone long?

Hazel — Not very long.

Lavinia —(turning to Orin — sharply) I thought you were in the study.

Orin —(sensing her uneasiness — mockingly) I finished what I was working on.

Lavinia — You finished —? (She glances sharply at Hazel — forcing a joking tone) My, but you two look mysterious! What have you been up to?

Hazel —(trying to force a laugh) Why, Vinnie? What makes you think —?

Lavinia — You’re hiding something. (Hazel gives a start and instinctively moves the hand with the envelope farther behind her back. Lavinia notices this. So does Orin who uneasily comes to Hazel’s rescue.)

Orin — We’re not hiding anything. Hazel has invited me over to their house to stay for a while — and I’m going.

Hazel —(backing him up resolutely) Yes. Orin is coming tomorrow.

Lavinia —(alarmed and resentful — coldly) It’s kind of you. I know you mean it for the best. But he can’t go.

Hazel —(sharply) Why not?

Lavinia — I don’t care to discuss it, Hazel. You ought to know —

Hazel —(angrily) I don’t know! Orin is of age and can go where he pleases!

Orin — Let her talk all she likes, Hazel. I’ll have the upper hand for a change, from now on! (Lavinia looks at him, frightened by the triumphant satisfaction in his voice.)

Hazel —(anxious to score her point and keep Orin’s mind on it) I should think you’d be glad. It will be the best thing in the world for him.

Lavinia —(turns on her — angrily) I’ll ask you to please mind your own business, Hazel!

Hazel —(springs to her feet, in her anger forgetting to hide the envelope which she now holds openly in her hand) It is my business! I love Orin better than you! I don’t think you love him at all, the way you’ve been acting!

Orin —(sees the envelope in plain sight and calls to her warningly) Hazel! (She catches his eye and hastily puts her hand behind her. Lavinia sees the movement but doesn’t for a moment realize the meaning of it. Orin goes on warningly.) You said you had to go home early. I don’t want to remind you but —

Hazel —(hastily) Yes, I really must. (starting to go, trying to keep the envelope hidden, aware that Lavinia is watching her suspiciously — defiantly to Orin) We’ll expect you tomorrow, and have your room ready. (then to Lavinia — coldly) After the way you’ve insulted me, Vinnie, I hope you realize there’s no more question of any friendship between us. (She tries awkwardly to sidle toward the door.)

Lavinia —(suddenly gets between her and the door — with angry accusation) What are you hiding behind your back? (Hazel flushes guiltily, but refusing to lie, says nothing. Lavinia turns on Orin.) Have you given her what you’ve written? (as he hesitates — violently) Answer me!

Orin — That’s my business! What if I have?

Lavinia — You — you traitor! You coward! (fiercely to Hazel) Give it to me! Do you hear?

Hazel — Vinnie! How dare you talk that way to me! (She tries to go but Lavinia keeps directly between her and the door.)

Lavinia — You shan’t leave here until —! (then breaking down and pleading) Orin! Think what you’re doing! Tell her to give it to me!

Orin — No!

Lavinia —(goes and puts her arms around him — beseechingly as he avoids her eyes) Think sanely for a moment! You can’t do this! You’re a Mannon!

Orin —(harshly) It’s because I’m one!

Lavinia — For Mother’s sake, you can’t! You loved her!

Orin — A lot she cared! Don’t call on her!

Lavinia —(desperately) For my sake, then! You know I love you! Make Hazel give that up and I’ll do anything — anything you want me to!

Orin —(stares into her eyes, bending his head until his face is close to hers — with morbid intensity) You mean that?

Lavinia —(shrinking back from him — falteringly) Yes.

Orin —(laughs with a crazy triumph — checks this abruptly — and goes to Hazel who has been standing bewilderedly, not understanding what is behind their talk but sensing something sinister, and terribly frightened. Orin speaks curtly, his eyes fixed on Lavinia.) Let me have it, Hazel.

Hazel —(hands him the envelope — in a trembling voice) I’ll go home. I suppose — we can’t expect you tomorrow — now.

Orin — No. Forget me. The Orin you loved was killed in the war. (with a twisted smile) Remember only that dead hero and not his rotting ghost! Good-bye! (then harshly) Please go! (Hazel begins to sob and hurries blindly from the room. Orin comes back to Lavinia who remains kneeling by the chair. He puts the envelope in her hand — harshly) Here! You realize the promise you made means giving up Peter? And never seeing him again?

Lavinia —(tensely) Yes.

Orin — And I suppose you think that’s all it means, that I’ll be content with a promise I’ve forced out of you, which you’ll always be plotting to break? Oh, no! I’m not such a fool! I’ve got to be sure —(She doesn’t reply or look at him. He stares at her and slowly a distorted look of desire comes over his face.) You said you would do anything for me. That’s a large promise, Vinnie — anything!

Lavinia —(shrinking from him) What do you mean? What terrible thing have you been thinking lately — behind all your crazy talk? No, I don’t want to know! Orin! Why do you look at me like that?

Orin — You don’t seem to feel all you mean to me now — all you have made yourself mean — since we murdered Mother!

Lavinia — Orin!

Orin — I love you now with all the guilt in me — the guilt we share! Perhaps I love you too much, Vinnie!

Lavinia — You don’t know what you’re saying!

Orin — There are times now when you don’t seem to be my sister, nor Mother, but some stranger with the same beautiful hair —(He touches her hair caressingly. She pulls violently away. He laughs wildly.) Perhaps you’re Marie Brantôme, eh? And you say there are no ghosts in this house?

Lavinia —(staring at him with fascinated horror) For God’s sake —! No! You’re insane! You can’t mean —!

Orin — How else can I be sure you won’t leave me? You would never dare leave me — then! You would feel as guilty then as I do! You would be as damned as I am! (then with sudden anger as he sees the growing horrified repulsion on her face) Damn you, don’t you see I must find some certainty some way or go mad? You don’t want me to go mad, do you? I would talk too much! I would confess! (Then as if the word stirred something within him his tone instantly changes to one of passionate pleading.) Vinnie! For the love of God, let’s go now and confess and pay the penalty for Mother’s murder, and find peace together!

Lavinia —(tempted and tortured, in a longing whisper) Peace! (then summoning her will, springs to her feet wildly) No! You coward! There is nothing to confess! There was only justice!

Orin —(turns and addresses the portraits on the wall with a crazy mockery) You hear her? You’ll find Lavinia Mannon harder to break than me! You’ll have to haunt and hound her for a lifetime!

Lavinia —(her control snapping — turning on him now in a burst of frantic hatred and rage) I hate you! I wish you were dead! You’re too vile to live! You’d kill yourself if you weren’t a coward!

Orin —(starts back as if he’d been struck, the tortured mad look on his face changing to a stricken terrified expression) Vinnie!

Lavinia — I mean it! I mean it! (She breaks down and sobs hysterically.)

Orin —(in a pitiful pleading whisper) Vinnie! (He stares at her with the lost stricken expression for a moment more — then the obsessed wild look returns to his eyes — with harsh mockery) Another act of justice, eh? You want to drive me to suicide as I drove Mother! An eye for an eye, is that it? But —(He stops abruptly and stares before him, as if this idea were suddenly taking hold of his tortured imagination and speaks fascinatedly to himself.) Yes! That would be justice — now you are Mother! She is speaking now through you! (more and more hypnotized by this train of thought) Yes! It’s the way to peace — to find her again — my lost island — Death is an Island of Peace, too — Mother will be waiting for me there —(with excited eagerness now, speaking to the dead) Mother! Do you know what I’ll do then? I’ll get on my knees and ask your forgiveness — and say —(His mouth grows convulsed, as if he were retching up poison.) I’ll say, I’m glad you found love, Mother! I’ll wish you happiness — you and Adam! (He laughs exultantly.) You’ve heard me! You’re here in the house now! You’re calling me! You’re waiting to take me home! (He turns and strides toward the door.)

Lavinia —(who has raised her head and has been staring at him with dread during the latter part of his talk — torn by remorse, runs after him and throws her arms around him) No, Orin! No!

Orin —(pushes her away — with a rough brotherly irritation) Get out of my way, can’t you? Mother’s waiting! (He gets to the door. Then he turns back and says sharply) Ssshh! Here’s Peter! Shut up, now! (He steps back in the room as Peter appears in the doorway.)

Peter — Excuse my coming right in. The door was open. Where’s Hazel?

Orin —(with unnatural casualness) Gone home. (then with a quick, meaning, mocking glance at Lavinia) I’m just going in the study to clean my pistol. Darn thing’s gotten so rusty. Glad you came now, Peter. You can keep Vinnie company. (He turns and goes out the door. Peter stares after him puzzledly.)

Lavinia —(with a stifled cry) Orin! (There is no answer but the sound of the study door being shut. She starts to run after him, stops herself, then throws herself into Peter’s arms, as if for protection against herself and begins to talk volubly to drown out thought.) Hold me close, Peter! Nothing matters but love, does it? That must come first! No price is too great, is it? Or for peace! One must have peace — one is too weak to forget — no one has the right to keep anyone from peace! (She makes a motion to cover her ears with her hands.)

Peter —(alarmed by her hectic excitement) He’s a darned fool to monkey with a pistol — in his state. Shall I get it away from him?

Lavinia —(holding him tighter — volubly) Oh, won’t it be wonderful, Peter — once we’re married and have a home with a garden and trees! We’ll be so happy! I love everything that grows simply — up toward the sun — everything that’s straight and strong! I hate what’s warped and twists and eats into itself and dies for a lifetime in shadow. (then her voice rising as if it were about to break hysterically — again with the instinctive movement to cover her ears) I can’t bear waiting — waiting and waiting and waiting —! (There is a muffled shot from the study across the hall.)

Peter —(breaking from her and running for the door) Good God! What’s that? (He rushes into the hall.)

Lavinia —(sags weakly and supports herself against the table — in a faint, trembling voice) Orin! Forgive me! (She controls herself with a terrible effort of will. Her mouth congeals into a frozen line. Mechanically she hides the sealed envelope in a drawer of the table and locks the drawer.) I’ve got to go in —(She turns to go and her eyes catch the eyes of the Mannons in the portraits fixed accusingly on her — defiantly) Why do you look at me like that? Wasn’t it the only way to keep your secret, too? But I’m through with you forever now, do you hear? I’m Mother’s daughter — not one of you! I’ll live in spite of you! (She squares her shoulders, with a return of the abrupt military movement copied from her father which she had of old — as if by the very act of disowning the Mannons she had returned to the fold — and marches stiffly from the room.)


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