America’s only Nobel Prize winning playwright, Eugene O’Neill, chose to live in Northern California at the climax of his writing career. Isolated from the world and within the walls of his home, O’Neill wrote his final and most memorable plays; The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten. While he was at Tao House, O’Neill refused requests to produce the plays he wrote there. He wanted to complete five of the cycle lays first, and he did not want the others staged until the war was over. During his years there he turned his back on the “show shop,” his jaundiced term for the theatre world, giving himself to “soul-grinding” work on the cycle and transforming his past into the autobiographical plays that made him one of America’s most important playwrights.
Saved from destruction, today visitors can tour the house and grounds of Eugene O’Neill State Historic Park by making reservations for the free docent led tour. On the day of your visit, a van shuttles you into the hills above Danville. Although it’s an urban area now, the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness west of Tao House and Mt. Diablo to the east allow visitors to easily imagine the landscape of the late 1930s and early 1940s. The restored house also reflects those years.
The Eugene O’Neill Foundation and National Park Service has a unique partnership aimed at preserving and promoting O’Neill’s home and his works. Eugene O’Neill’s Tao House is operated by the National Park Service. Public visitation by advance reservation, Wednesdays through Sundays, with guided tours at 10:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. (allow 2 hours).Office hours are Wednesday-Sunday 9 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Starting June 6 through August 29, 2009, NO RESERVATION SATURDAYS are offered to the site. A park van will be waiting at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley (205 Railroad Ave.) at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to bring visitors up and down from the O’Neill home. No reservations are needed on these Saturdays this summer. If you are planning to bring a large group, please contact the park at (925) 838-0249.
A visit to Tao House stays with you. You leave with a sense of how Eugene O’Neill’s life struggles inspired plays that changed the history of American theatre and touch the souls of playgoers.
“We have a beautiful site in the hills of the San Ramon Valley with one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. This is the final home and harbor for me. I love California. Moreover, the climate is one I know I can work and keep healthy in.” — Eugene O’Neill (from a letter written to Barrett H. Clark on September 14, 1937)
Eugene O’Neill and his third wife, Carlotta, moved into Tao House (from the Taoist philosophy meaning “the right way of life”) in 1937. The design of Tao House, constructed of white adobe-like bricks with a black glazed tile roof, was left to Carlotta. Her choice of a Chinese motif reflected her interest in Chinese art and Eugene’s interest in Eastern philosophy. The house Eugene called his “final harbor” was at once a home, a working place and a fortress, built high on the hill, where few visitors were welcomed. Carlotta protected Eugene from the outside world, and he was able to write his most famous plays isolated behind three doors that closed off his study from the rest of the house.
In 1944, with Eugene’s failing health and having lost most of their help, including Herbert Freeman, to the war effort, the O’Neills were forced to sell Tao House. They stayed in San Francisco for awhile, but eventually returned east, settling in Boston. Eugene O’Neill never wrote another play after leaving Tao House. He died in Boston on November 27, 1953.
“We stayed at Tao House for six whole years, longer than we lived anywhere else. Of course, there were many hardships, but it was a beautiful place and I hated to leave.” — Carlotta O’Neill
“What I am after is to get an audience to leave the theater with an exultant feeling from seeing somebody on the stage facing life, fighting against the eternal odds, not conquering, but perhaps inevitably being conquered. The individual life is made significant just by the struggle.” — Eugene O’Neill
Be sure to include O’Neill’s plays as part of your reading for Books Around the Bay game. You will find his plays in the call number 812.54 O’NEILL or on the adult summer reading game display at your local branch.