NEW YORK — Playwright Eugene O'Neill will be the centerpiece of the next season of public television's "American Playhouse," with Glenda Jackson, Jack Lemmon and Matthew Modine set to star in works by and about the playwright, series executive producer Lindsay Law said Tuesday.
The weekly drama series is due to begin its seventh season in January, 1988, the year that marks the centennial of O'Neill's birth.
"The thinking behind 'American Playhouse' is that the writer is foremost, and O'Neill is the father of the American theater as it is today," Law said by telephone from his office here. "It is appropriate that we devote the beginning, middle and end of our 1988 season, and one-third of our air time, to his life and work."
According to Law, the season opener will be a 4 1/2-hour production of O'Neill's epic play "Strange Interlude," to be broadcast in four parts over four consecutive weeks. Jackson has been signed to recreate the role she played in an English production of the play that ran on Broadway two seasons ago.
Joining her for the "Playhouse" production will be Rosemary Harris, Jose Ferrer, Ken Howard and David Dukes. Law said "Interlude" will start shooting next month in London.
Plans call for the season to conclude in late May with Lemmon starring in "Long Day's Journey Into Night," a production shown on Showtime cable last April.
The Showtime-"Playhouse" co-production was remounted from a stage version of the play with Lemmon in the legendary role of James Tyrone Sr.
By far the most inventive work set for the O'Neill retrospective is a new, 60-minute biographical portrait of the playwright. Modine, currently starring in Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket," appears as the young O'Neill.
Financed by a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, the film, "Journey Towards Genius," was produced and directed by New York-based film-maker Cal Skaggs and shot earlier this year on locations closely identified with O'Neill, according to Law.
"It follows the young O'Neill through his attempts at being a poet, his bouts with TB, and his drunken days in Greenwich Village, up until his first play, 'The Long Voyage Home,' was produced at the Provincetown (Mass.) Playhouse," Law said.
"It's a facet of his life we hear very little of, considering that to this day O'Neill remains the most important American playwright," Law said.