A cautionary tale of romantic idealism
The two scenes in this drama take place 30 years apart and represent the before and after pictures of Emma’s idealistic intractability. While the early scene is somewhat picturesque and hopeful in tone, the latter half of the play takes a decided turn towards the dark. With rare exceptions, O’Neill was not a feel-good playwright. The power of his plays generally relies on his ability to examine the darker sides of human nature. For today’s readers, Diff’rent reminds one of the misanthropic themes and callous characters one finds in a Neil LaBute film. O’Neill not only shatters illusions of romantic love, but escalates the harboring of such illusions to a form of insanity. If this play were produced today, it’s likely O’Neill’s depiction of Emma as obdurate and foolish would be criticized as a misogynistic bitterness toward women, but in this day and age there’s no reason why the genders of the roles couldn’t be switched. It’s more a play against the irrationality and impracticality of love than against women.
Given the abundance of masterpieces in O’Neill’s body of work, it’s unlikely Diff’rent is going to draw anyone’s attention away from Anna Christie, The Iceman Cometh, or Long Days Journey into Night. Nevertheless, amid the catalog of lesser-known works in this master playwright’s catalog, Diff’rent is a noteworthy entry. It is an engaging and thought-provoking read, and relatively brief and brisk compared to O’Neill’s more celebrated opuses. If you’re a newcomer to O’Neill’s plays, you would be better off starting with one of his “greatest hits,” but if you are already a fan of his dramas, this one is worth a look.
If you liked this review, please follow the link below to Amazon.com and give me a “helpful” vote. Thank you.