Strange Interlude is an experimental play by American playwright Eugene O'Neill. O'Neill finished the play in 1923, but it was not produced on Broadway until 1928, when it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Lynn Fontanne originated the central role of Nina Leeds on Broadway. It was also produced in London at the Lyric Theatre in 1931.
Because of its length, over four hours, the play has sometimes been produced with a dinner break or on consecutive evenings. The play's subject matter, very controversial for the 1920s, led to it being censored or banned in many cities outside New York.
Strange Interlude is one of the few modern plays to make extensive use of a soliloquy technique, in which the characters speak their inner thoughts to the audience. Some productions have had the actors carry masks to distinguish their spoken dialogue from their soliloquies, although most productions allow the distinction to be made through acting style alone. The soliloquies in Strange Interlude mostly take the form of relatively brief side comments, not of lengthy speeches in the Shakespearean manner.
The plot centers on Nina Leeds, the daughter of an Ivy League professor, who is devastated when her adored fiance' is killed in World War I, before they even have a chance to consummate their passion. Ignoring the unconditional love of the novelist Charles Marsden, Nina embarks on a series of sordid affairs before determining to marry an amiable fool, Sam Evans. While Nina is pregnant with Sam's child, she learns a horrifying secret known only to Sam's mother - insanity runs in the Evans family and could be inherited by any child of Sam's. Realizing that a child is essential to her own and to Sam's happiness, Nina decides on a "scientific" solution. She will abort Sam's child and conceive a child with the physician Ned Darrell, letting Sam believe that it is his. The plan backfires when Nina and Ned's intimacy leads to their falling passionately in love. Twenty years later, Sam's "son" Gordon Evans is approaching manhood, with only Nina and Ned aware of the boy's true parentage.
The meaning of the title is suggested by the aging Nina in a speech near the end of the play: "Our lives are strange dark interludes in the electrical displays of God the Father."
has been filmed twice, as a theatrical film in 1932 and as a television mini-series in 1988. The 1932 film
, which starred Norma Shearer
as Nina Leeds and Clark Gable
as Ned Darrell, was a shortened and toned-down version of the play. Voiceovers were used for the soliloquies.
The 1988 television version directed by Herbert Wise was based on a 1985 London stage revival and starred Glenda Jackson as Nina and David Dukes as Ned (with Kenneth Branagh in the small part of Gordon Evans). This version follows O'Neill's original text fairly closely, and allows the actors to speak their soliloquies naturally in the manner of the stage production.
- Groucho Marx parodies this play in the 1930 Marx Brothers film, Animal Crackers. On three occasions, he tells a player, "Pardon me while I have a strange interlude," whereupon he walks over to the camera and makes ersatz philosophical comments to himself and the audience.
- MAD Magazine satirically combined the play with the television show Hazel in a piece that ran in the 1960s.
- The fledgling Howard Johnson's restaurant chain received a boost in 1929 when the mayor of Boston banned a production of Strange Interlude from his city. The Theatre Guild moved the production to suburban Quincy, where it was presented with a dinner break. The original Howard Johnson's restaurant was near the theater, and hundreds of influential Bostonians discovered the restaurant, leading eventually to nationwide publicity for the chain.