Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site Danville, Calif. Visited: June 17, 2005 NPS Site Visited: 204 of 353 NPS Website
WHAT IS IT? Home where Eugene OíNeill, our countryís only Nobel Prize-winning playwright, wrote his last six plays which included Long Dayís Journey Into Night and The Iceman Cometh.
BEAUTY (5/10) Eugene OíNeill and his third wife, Carlotta, designed their house in accordance to both Taoist principles and their own personal fancies. The OíNeillís so-called Tao House is more interesting than beautiful.
Taoist influences include outdoor paths and indoor hallways that turn sharply at right angles. There are false doors, protruding walls and colored mirrors, all designed to keep the bad spirits outside. Some personal touches include recessed windows, spine-tingling masks and dormitory-like white brick walls. It is hard to remove Eugene OíNeillís soul grabbing black mirror and his frightening devil masks from our consciousness.
The Tao House sits atop the East Bay hills overlooking the San Ramon Valley. The Houseís grounds offer beautiful views of Mount Diablo, the areaís highest point.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10) Eugene OíNeill is undoubtedly Americaís greatest playwright but his plays were much more personal than political. His focus was his own inner demons. The tour goes into great depth about OíNeillís troubling past and fails to analyze his plays and their impact.
CROWDS (8/10) There are no casual walk-in tourists at the Eugene OíNeill NHS. The mandatory advanced reservations stop that. Instead, everybody on the tour has some sort of interest in Eugene OíNeill. One woman on our tour had been to OíNeillís house in Connecticut. Her personal knowledge of the playwright enhanced our experience.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5) OíNeillís Tao House is located in the Oakland Hills very close to the quaint town of Danville. You cannot drive to the site because it is located within a gated community. As a result, you must arrange your visit ahead of time. The phone number is (925) 838-0249.
A Ranger leads tours of the house twice daily. Meet at the Danville Park and Ride, located just off the I-680 Sycamore Valley Exit, and pile into the NPS minivan. The Ranger chauffeurs you through Danville and up to the House. There are no tours on Monday and Tuesday. Tours fill up; plan accordingly.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5) Good but not great. Copies of all OíNeillís plays are for sale as are a few DVDís and videotapes of his playsí performances. We wish the bookstore carried plays and/or books written by his contemporaries. We felt lost in a literary sense during our entire stay because of the tourís emphasis on OíNeillís life. A more comprehensive bookstore would have helped us place OíNeill among his peers.
COSTS (5/5) Eugene OíNeill Tao House must be visited via a guided Ranger tour. Both the tour and entry are free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5) The same tireless spitfire of a Ranger does both the Eugene OíNeill NHS and Port Chicago Naval Magazine N MEM tours. She is amazing and seems to be the only Ranger on educational staff at both sites. Because the toursí numbers are limited, she is able to avoid being completely overwhelmed.
TOURS/CLASSES (7/10) First, we must embarrassedly confess to never having read an OíNeill play. Before our visit to this Site, our perception of OíNeill was limited to the fact that he had won a Nobel Prize and colored by Jack Nicholsonís portrayal of him in Reds.
NPS assumes, and not unjustly, that if you have gone through the trouble of securing reservations, getting yourself to a Park and Ride lot and allow yourself to be shuffled into a shuttle van that you have at least a cursory knowledge of the man whose home you are about to visit for the next two hours.
By the time the OíNeills built and moved into the Tao House, 35 of Eugeneís plays had been published; three Pulitzers and a Nobel Prize had been won, OíNeillís greatness as a literary figure well-established. This is the starting point of the tour.
We wandered the gardens and toured each room of the house, learning a little more about OíNeillís parents, his relationship with Carlotta, his children and his vices with each step. Touring the Tao House gives you an introspective look at the man behind the pen in the setting where he wrote his five most famous and autobiographical works. We learned a lot; we would have learned more had we done a little homework before the tour.
Since Michael occupied the front seat in the van, he used the ten-minute ride both to and from the site to fill in some blanks. Why have OíNeillís plays declined in popularity over the years? ďWell, itís not fun stuff. Nobody really wants to be depressed, do they?Ē was the Rangerís frank response.
FUN (6/10) Two of OíNeillís sons committed suicide. He disowned his only daughter because she married an actor, namely Charlie Chaplin. He suffered from a laundry list of unrelated but serious illnesses. One of these, a rare degenerative disease similar to Parkinsonís disease disabled him from the physical act of writing. OíNeill, being an impossibly stubborn man, refused to write at all once he could no longer transfer his words from ďhead to hand to paperĒ. He produced nothing in the last ten years of his life. Not exactly fun stuff.
What was fun was the chauffeured drive through a lovely town and up the hills into a gated community, a guided tour of a quirky house whose inhabitants interpreted Tao philosophy to suit their decorative needs and the opportunity to see the writing space and into the psyche of one of Americaís greatest artists. Did we mention it was free?
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10) Are you interested in the life of Eugene OíNeill? If you are not, then a tour of his house might not be a day well spent. If you are an admirer, then you owe yourself a visit.
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