Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene O'Neill

Act Three

SceneThe same as Act Two of “Homecoming”— Ezra Mannon’s study. His body, dressed in full uniform, is laid out on a bier draped in black which is placed lengthwise directly before the portrait of him over the fireplace. His head is at right. His mask-like face is a startling reproduction of the face in the portrait above him, but grimly remote and austere in death, like the carven face of a statue.

The table and chairs which had been at center have been moved to the left. There is a lamp on this table. Two stands of three lighted candles are at each end of the black marble chimneypiece, throwing their light above on the portrait and below on the dead man. There is a chair by the dead man’s head, at front of bier.

Orin is standing by the head of the bier, at the rear of it, stiffly-erect like a sentinel at attention. He is not looking down at his father but is staring straight before him, deep in suspicious brooding. His face in the candlelight bears a striking resemblance to that of the portrait above him and the dead man’s .

The time of the opening of this act precedes by a few moments that of the end of the previous act.

Orin —(ashamed and guilty — bursts out angrily at himself) Christ, I won’t have such thoughts! I am a rotten swine to — Damn Vinnie! She must be crazy! (Then, as if to distract his mind from these reflections, he turns to gaze down at his father. At the same moment Lavinia appears silently in the doorway from the hall and stands looking at him. He does not notice her entrance. He stares at his father’s mask-like face and addresses it with a strange friendly mockery.) Who are you? Another corpse! You and I have seen fields and hillsides sown with them — and they meant nothing! — nothing but a dirty joke life plays on life! (then with a dry smile) Death sits so naturally on you! Death becomes the Mannons! You were always like the statue of an eminent dead man — sitting on a chair in a park or straddling a horse in a town square — looking over the head of life without a sign of recognition — cutting it dead for the impropriety of living! (He chuckles to himself with a queer affectionate amusement.) You never cared to know me in life — but I really think we might be friends now you are dead!

Lavinia —(sternly) Orin!

Orin —(turns to her startledly) Damn it, don’t sneak around like that! What are you trying to do, anyway? I’m jumpy enough without —(then as she turns and locks the door behind her — suspiciously) What are you locking the door for?

Lavinia — I’ve got to talk to you — and I don’t want to be interrupted. (then sternly) What made you say such things just then? I wouldn’t believe you could have grown so callous to all feeling of respect —

Orin —(guilty and resentful) You folks at home take death so solemnly! You would have soon learned at the front that it’s only a joke! You don’t understand, Vinnie. You have to learn to mock or go crazy, can’t you see? I didn’t mean it in an unkind way. It simply struck me he looks so strangely familiar — the same familiar stranger I’ve never known. (then glancing at the dead man with a kindly amused smile) Do you know his nickname in the army? Old Stick — short for Stick-in-the-Mud. Grant himself started it — said Father was no good on an offensive but he’d trust him to stick in the mud and hold a position until hell froze over!

Lavinia — Orin! Don’t you realize he was your father and he is dead?

Orin —(irritably) What Grant said was a big compliment in a way.

Lavinia — When I think of how proud of you he was when he came home! He boasted that you had done one of the bravest things he’d seen in the war!

Orin —(astonished — then grins with bitter mockery) One of the bravest things he’d seen! Oh, that’s too rich! I’ll tell you the joke about that heroic deed. It really began the night before when I sneaked through their lines. I was always volunteering for extra danger. I was so scared anyone would guess I was afraid! There was a thick mist and it was so still you could hear the fog seeping into the ground. I met a Reb crawling toward our lines. His face drifted out of the mist toward mine. I shortened my sword and let him have the point under the ear. He stared at me with an idiotic look as if he’d sat on a tack — and his eyes dimmed and went out —(His voice has sunk lower and lower, as if he were talking to himself. He pauses and stares over his father’s body fascinatedly at nothing.)

Lavinia —(with a shudder) Don’t think of that now!

Orin —(goes on with the same air) Before I’d gotten back I had to kill another in the same way. It was like murdering the same man twice. I had a queer feeling that war meant murdering the same man over and over, and that in the end I would discover the man was myself! Their faces keep coming back in dreams — and they change to Father’s face — or to mine — What does that mean, Vinnie?

Lavinia — I don’t know! I’ve got to talk to you! For heaven’s sake, forget the war! It’s over now!

Orin — Not inside us who killed! (then quickly — with a bitter, joking tone) The rest is all a joke! The next morning I was in the trenches. This was at Petersburg. I hadn’t slept. My head was queer. I thought what a joke it would be on the stupid Generals like Father if everyone on both sides suddenly saw the joke war was on them and laughed and shook hands! So I began to laugh and walked toward their lines with my hand out. Of course, the joke was on me and I got this wound in the head for my pains. I went mad, wanted to kill, and ran on, yelling. Then a lot of our fools went crazy, too, and followed me and we captured a part of their line we hadn’t dared tackle before. I had acted without orders, of course — but Father decided it was better policy to overlook that and let me be a hero! So do you wonder I laugh!

Lavinia —(soothingly, coming to him and taking his arm) You were brave and you know it. I’m proud of you, too.

Orin —(helplessly) Oh, all right! Be proud, then! (He leaves her and sprawls in the chair at left of table. She stands by the head of the bier and faces him. He says resentfully) Well? Fire away and let’s get this over! But you’re wasting your breath. I know what you’re going to say. Mother warned me. (The whole memory of what his mother had said rushes over him.) My God, how can you think such things of Mother? What the hell’s got into you? (then humoringly) But I realize you’re not yourself. I know how hard his death has hit you. Don’t you think it would be better to postpone our talk until —

Lavinia — No! (bitterly) Has she succeeded in convincing you I’m out of my mind? Oh, Orin, how can you be so stupid? (She goes to him and, grasping him by his shoulders, brings her face close to him — compellingly) Look at me! You know in your heart I’m the same as I always was — your sister — who loves you, Orin!

Orin —(moved) I didn’t mean — I only think the shock of his death —

Lavinia — I’ve never lied to you, have I? Even when we were little you always knew I told you the truth, didn’t you?

Orin — Yes — but —

Lavinia — Then you must believe I wouldn’t lie to you now!

Orin — No one is saying you’d deliberately lie. It’s a question of —

Lavinia — And even if she’s got you so under her thumb again that you doubt my word, you can’t doubt the absolute proof!

Orin —(roughly) Never mind what you call proofs! I know all about them already! (then excitedly) Now, listen here, if you think you’re going to tell me a lot of crazy stuff about Mother, I warn you I won’t listen! So shut up before you start!

Lavinia —(threateningly now) If you don’t, I’ll go to the police!

Orin — Don’t be a damn fool!

Lavinia — As a last resort I will — if you force me to!

Orin — By God, you must be crazy even to talk of —!

Lavinia — They won’t think so!

Orin — Vinnie! Do you realize what it would mean —?

Lavinia — I realize only too well! You and I, who are innocent, would suffer a worse punishment than the guilty — for we’d have to live on! It would mean that Father’s memory and that of all the honorable Mannon dead would be dragged through the horror of a murder trial! But I’d rather suffer that than let the murder of our father go unpunished!

Orin — Good God, do you actually believe —?

Lavinia — Yes! I accuse her of murder! (She takes the little box she has found in Christine’s room right after the murder [Act Four “Homecoming”] from the bosom of her dress and holds it out to him.) You see this? I found it right after Father died!

Orin — Don’t be a damned lunatic! She told me all about that! It’s only some stuff she takes to make her sleep!

Lavinia —(goes on implacably, ignoring his interruptions) And Father knew she’d poisoned him! He said to me, “She’s guilty!”

Orin — That’s all your crazy imagination! God, how can you think —? Do you realize you’re deliberately accusing your own mother — It’s too horrible and mad! I’ll have you declared insane by Doctor Blake and put away in an asylum!

Lavinia — I swear by our dead father I am telling you the truth! (She puts her hand on the dead man and addresses him.) Make Orin believe me, Father!

Orin —(harshly) Don’t drag him in! He always sided with you against Mother and me! (He grabs her arm and forces the box from her hand.) Here! Give me that! (He slips it into his coat pocket.)

Lavinia — Ah! So you are afraid it’s true!

Orin — No! But I’m going to stop your damned — But I’m a fool to pay any attention to you! The whole thing is too insane! I won’t talk to a crazy woman! But, by God, you look out, Vinnie! You leave Mother alone or —!

Lavinia —(regarding him bitterly) Poor Father! He thought the war had made a man of you! But you’re not! You’re still the spoiled crybaby that she can make a fool of whenever she pleases!

Orin —(stung) That’s enough from you!

Lavinia — Oh, she warned me just now what to expect! She boasted that you wouldn’t believe me, and that even if you knew she’d murdered Father you would be glad because you hated him! (then a note of entreaty in her voice) Orin! For God’s sake — here, before him! — tell me that isn’t true, at least!

Orin —(overcome by a sense of guilt — violently defensive) Of course, I never said that — and I don’t believe she did. But Mother means a thousand times more to me than he ever did! I say that before him now as I would if he could hear me!

Lavinia —(with a calculated scornful contempt now) Then if I can’t make you see your duty one way, I will another! If you won’t help me punish her, I hope you’re not such a coward that you’re willing to let her lover escape!

Orin —(in a tone of awakening suspicion) Lover? Who do you mean?

Lavinia — I mean the man who plotted Father’s murder with her, who must have got the poison for her! I mean the Captain Brant I wrote you about!

Orin —(thickly, trying to fight back his jealous suspicion) You lie! She told me your rotten lies — about him — about following her to New York. That was Mr. Lamar she met.

Lavinia — So that’s what she told you! As if I could mistake Lamar for Adam Brant! What a fool you are, Orin! She kisses you and pretends she loves you — when she’d forgotten you were ever alive, when all she’s thought of is this low lover of hers —!

Orin —(wildly) Stop! I won’t stand —!

Lavinia — When all she is thinking of right now is how she can use you to keep me from doing anything, so she’ll get a chance to run off and marry him!

Orin — You lie!

Lavinia — She pets you and plays the loving mother and you’re so blind you can’t see through her! I tell you she went to his room! I followed them upstairs. I heard her telling him, “I love you, Adam.” She was kissing him!

Orin —(grubs her by the shoulder and shakes her, forcing her to her knees — frenziedly) Damn you! Tell me you’re lying or —!

Lavinia —(unafraid — looking up into his eyes — coldly) You know I’m not lying! She’s been going to New York on the excuse of visiting Grandfather Hamel, but really to give herself to —!

Orin —(in anguish) You lie, damn you! (threateningly) You dare say that about Mother! Now you’ve got to prove it or else —! You’re not insane! You know what you’re saying! So you prove it — or by God, I’ll —!

Lavinia —(taking his hands off her shoulders and rising) All I ask is a chance to prove it! (then intensely) But when I do, will you help me punish Father’s murderers?

Orin —(in a burst of murderous rage) I’ll kill that bastard! (in anguished uncertainty again) But you haven’t proved anything yet! It’s only your word against hers! I don’t believe you! You say Brant is her lover! If that’s true, I’ll hate her! I’ll know she murdered Father then! I’ll help you punish her! But you’ve got to prove it!

Lavinia —(coldly) I can do that very soon. She’s frightened out of her wits! She’ll go to see Brant the first chance she gets. We must give her that chance. Will you believe me when you find them together?

Orin —(torturedly) Yes. (then in a burst of rage) God damn him, I’ll —!

Lavinia —(sharply) Ssshh! Be quiet. There’s someone in the hall! (They wait, staring at the door. Then someone knocks loudly.)

Christine —(Her voice comes through the door, frightened and strained.) Orin!

Orin —(stammers) God! I can’t face her now!

Lavinia —(in a quick whisper) Don’t let her know you suspect her. Pretend you think I’m out of my mind, as she wanted you to.

Christine — Orin! Why don’t you answer me? (She tries the doorknob, and finding the door locked, her voice becomes terrified.) Why have you locked me out? Let me in! (She pounds on the door violently.)

Lavinia —(in a whisper) Answer her. Let her in.

Orin —(obeying mechanically — calls in a choked voice) All right. I’m coming. (He moves reluctantly toward the door.)

Lavinia —(struck by a sudden idea — grasps his arm) Wait! (Before he can prevent it, she reaches in his pocket and gets possession of the box and puts it conspicuously on the body over the dead man’s heart.) Watch her when she sees that — if you want proof!

Christine — Open the door! (He forces himself to open the door and steps aside. Christine almost falls in. She is in a state bordering on collapse. She throws her arms around Orin as if seeking protection from him.) Orin! I got so afraid — when I found the door locked!

Orin —(controls a furious jealous impulse to push her violently away from him — harshly) What made you afraid, Mother?

Christine —(stammers) Why do you look at me — like that? You look — so like — your father!

Orin — I am his son, too, remember that!

Lavinia —(warningly) Orin!

Christine —(turning on Lavinia who stands by the head of the bier) I suppose you’ve been telling him your vile lies, you —

Orin —(remembering his instructions, forces himself to blurt out) She — she’s out of her head, Mother.

Christine — Didn’t I tell you! I knew you’d see that! (then anxiously, keeping her eyes on Lavinia) Did she tell you what she’s going to do, Orin? I know she’s plotting something — crazy! Did she threaten to go to the police? They might not believe she’s crazy —(pleading desperately, her eyes still on Lavinia) You won’t let her do anything dreadful like that, will you?

Orin —(feeling her guilt, stammers) No, Mother.

Christine —(Her eyes, which have been avoiding the corpse, now fasten on the dead man’s face with fascinated horror.) No — remember your father wouldn’t want — any scandal — he mustn’t be worried, he said — he needs rest and peace —(She addresses the dead man directly in a strange tone of defiant scorn.) You seem the same to me in death, Ezra! You were always dead to me! I hate the sight of death! I hate the thought of it! (Her eyes shift from his face and she sees the box of poison. She starts back with a stifled scream and stares at it with guilty fear.)

Orin — Mother! For God’s sake, be quiet! (The strain snaps for him and he laughs with savage irony.) God! To think I hoped home would be an escape from death! I should never have come back to life — from my island of peace! (then staring at his mother strangely) But that’s lost now! You’re my lost island, aren’t you, Mother? (He turns and stumbles blindly from the room. Lavinia reaches out stealthily and snatches up the box. This breaks the spell for Christine whose eyes have been fixed on it hypnotically. She looks wildly at Lavinia’s frozen accusing face.)

Lavinia —(in a cold, grim voice) It was Brant who got you this — medicine to make you sleep — wasn’t it?

Christine —(distractedly) No! No! No!

Lavinia — You’re telling me it was. I knew it — but I wanted to make sure. (She puts the box back in the bosom of her dress — turns, rigid and square-shouldered, and walks woodenly from the room.)

Christine —(stares after her wildly, then her eyes fasten again on the dead man’s face. Suddenly she appeals to him distractedly.) Ezra! Don’t let her harm Adam! I am the only guilty one! Don’t let Orin —! (Then, as if she read some answer in the dead man’s face, she stops in terror and, her eyes still fixed on his face, backs to the door and rushes out.)


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