When The Great God Brown opened at the Greenwich Village Theatre in New York on January 23, 1926, Eugene O’Neill presented the audience with a new kind of theatrical experience. Other playwrights had previously used masks on stage, but none had presented them in such an innovative way. While opening night reviews were mixed, the audience’s appreciation of the play kept it running for 283 performances. Many viewers were excited by the play’s bold expressionistic technique—specifically O’Neill’s experimental use of masks. The play focuses on the lives of three main characters: Dion Anthony, a failed artist; his wife, Margaret; and Billy Brown, a successful architect and friend to Dion and Margaret. Throughout the play, these characters wear masks that serve several purposes. They help the characters hide and thus protect their vulnerable inner selves while, at the same time, allowing them to project pleasing public images in an attempt to restore their confidence in themselves. Yet, ultimately, the tensions that result from not being able to reveal their true selves cause the characters to suffer and further isolate themselves from each other. The Great God Brown presents a penetrating study of the inner workings of the human psyche as it struggles to cope with betrayal, failure, and a search for identity.
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