|November 2, 1921
New York City
|A former prostitute falls in love, but runs into difficulty in turning her life around.
|1910; a New York City saloon; on a barge at anchor in Provincetown.
Anna Christie is a play in four acts by Eugene O'Neill. It made its Broadway debut at the Vanderbilt Theatre on November 2, 1921. O'Neill received the 1922 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this work. According to historian Paul Avrich, the original of Anna Christie was Christine Ell, an anarchist cook in Greenwich Village, who was the lover of Edward Mylius, a Belgian-born radical living in England who libeled the British king George V.
Anna Christie is the story of a former prostitute who falls in love, but runs into difficulty in turning her life around.
The first act takes place in a bar owned by Johnny the Priest and tended by Larry. Coal-barge captain Old Chris receives a letter from his daughter, a young woman he has not seen since he lived in Sweden with his family and she was five years old. They meet at the bar and she agrees to go to the coal barge with him.
The barge crew rescues Mat Burke and four other men who survived a shipwreck in an open boat. Anna and Mat don't get along at first, but quickly fall in love.
A confrontation on the barge among Anna, Chris and Mat. Mat wants to marry Anna, Chris does not want her to marry a sailor, and Anna doesn't want either of them to think they can control her. She tells them the truth about her past: She was raped while living with her mother's relatives on a Minnesota farm, worked briefly as a nurse's aide, then became a prostitute. Mat reacts angrily, and he and Chris leave.
Mat and Chris return. Anna forgives Chris for not being part of her childhood. After a dramatic confrontation, Anna promises to abandon prostitution and Mat forgives her. Chris agrees to their marriage. Chris and Mat have both signed to work aboard a ship that is leaving for South Africa the next day. They promise to return to Anna after the voyage.
O'Neill's first version of this play, begun in January 1919, was titled Chris Christopherson and performed as Chris in out-of-town tryouts. O'Neill revised it radically, changing the barge captain's daughter Anna from a pure woman needing to be protected into a prostitute who finds reformation and love from life on the sea. The new version, now titled Anna Christie, premiered on Broadway at the Vanderbilt Theatre on November 2, 1921, and ran for 177 performances before closing in April 1923. The production was staged by Arthur Hopkins and starred Pauline Lord.
Alexander Woollcott in The New York Times called it "a singularly engrossing play", and advised "all grown-up playgoers" to see it.
The London West End premiere was staged at the Strand Theatre (now the Novello) in 1923. This was the first time an O'Neill play was seen in the West End. The play starred Pauline Lord, who had been the original Anna Christie on Broadway. The play had a great reception. Time magazine wrote, "In London, the first night of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, with Pauline Lord in the title role, received a tremendous ovation. After the first act the curtain was rung up a dozen times during the applause."
The play was adapted by Bradley King for a 1923 film of the same name directed by John Griffith Wray and Thomas H. Ince, with stars Blanche Sweet, William Russell, George F. Marion, and Eugenie Besserer.
The play inspired Kiri no Minato, directed by Kenji Mizoguchi in 1923, though the plot is quite different from the original. This film is actually lost.
A 1930 film adaptation by Frances Marion was directed by Clarence Brown and starred Greta Garbo, Charles Bickford, George F. Marion and Marie Dressler. This pre-Code film used the marketing slogan "Garbo Talks!", as it was her first talkie. Her first spoken line has become her most famous: "Give me a whiskey with ginger ale on the side, and don't be stingy, baby." George F. Marion, who had performed the role of Anna's father in the original Broadway production, reprised the role in both the 1923 and 1930 film adaptations.
A German-language adaptation, also starring Garbo, was filmed in 1930 and released the same year, using the same production as the English language film that had concluded filming in 1929. This version was adapted by Frances Marion, translated by Walter Hasenclever and directed by Jacques Feyder. In addition to Garbo, the cast included Theo Shall, Hans Junkermann, and Salka Viertel.
In 1957, a thoroughly reworked adaptation by George Abbott with music and lyrics by Bob Merrill, called New Girl in Town, opened on Broadway. It ran for 431 performances.
In 2018, Encompass New Opera Theatre presented an opera adaptation composed by Edward Thomas with a libretto by Joe Masteroff at the Baruch College Performing Arts Center in New York City. Directed by Nancy Rhodes and conducted by Julian Wachner, it featured Melanie Long in the title role, Frank Basile as Chris, Jonathan Estabrooks as Mat, Joe Hermlayn as Marthy and Mike Pirozzi as Larry. It ran for 12 performances. A recording with the original cast, produced by Thomas Z. Shepard and conducted by Julian Wachner, with the orchestra NOVUS New York, will be released by Broadway Records on August 16, 2019. It is a collaboration of Trinity Church and Encompass New Opera Theatre.
According to actress Ellen Burstyn in the 2012 film Marilyn in Manhattan, Marilyn Monroe performed a scene from Anna Christie at the Actors Studio with Maureen Stapleton. Calling the story "legendary," Burstyn said, "Everybody who saw that says that it was not only the best work Marilyn ever did, it was some of the best work ever seen at Studio, and certainly the best interpretation of Anna Christie anybody ever saw. She...achieved real greatness in that scene."