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Anna Christie

Anna Christie
Poster for the 1977 Broadway revival by James McMullan
Written by Eugene O'Neill
Date premiered November 2, 1921
Place premiered Vanderbilt Theatre
New York City
Original language English
Subject A former prostitute falls in love, but runs into difficulty in turning her life around
Genre Drama
Setting 1910; a New York City saloon; on a barge at anchor in Provincetown

Anna Christie is a play in four acts by Eugene O'Neill. It made its Broadway debut at the Vanderbilt Theatre on November 2, 1921. O'Neill received the 1922 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this work.

  • Johnny the Priest
  • Two longshoremen
  • A postman
  • Larry — bartender
  • Chris C. Christopherson — captain of the barge Simeon Winthrop
  • Marthy Owen
  • Anna Christopherson — Chris’s daughter
  • Mat Burke — a stoker
  • Johnson — deckhand on barge

Plot summary

Anna Christie is a play in four acts by Eugene O'Neill. It made its Broadway debut at the Vanderbilt Theatre on November 2, 1921. O'Neill received the 1922 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his work. It is the story of a former prostitute who falls in love, but runs into difficulty in turning her life around.

The play opens in Johnny-The-Priest’s saloon in New York City, one afternoon in the fall. Barge captain Chris Christopherson receives a letter from Anna, his daughter, who writes that she is coming to see him. Chris explains that he hasn’t seen her since she was five and lived in Sweden. Since he was a sailor who rarely saw his family, Anna’s mother brought her to Minnesota to live with her cousins on a farm. When her mother died, she stayed on. Chris insists that it was “better Anna live on farm, den she don’t know dat ole davil, sea, she don’t know fa’der like me.”

When Chris leaves to get food, Anna appears in the bar, plainly showing all the outward evidences of belonging to the world’s oldest profession.” She immediately demands of the bartender, “Gimme a whisky — ginger ale on the side. And don’t be stingy, baby.” As she drinks, she relates details of her past to Marthy, the woman who has been staying on the barge with Chris. Anna explains that when the police raided the house where she worked in Saint Paul, she was thrown in jail, and then she was sent to the hospital. She has come to see her father to get rest but does not expect much from him, since men, she claims, “give you a kick when you’re down, that’s what all men do.” She admits that she hated the farm where her cousins worked her to death “like a dog.” After one of her cousins raped her, she escaped to Saint Paul, where she found work as a nanny. She soon became tired of taking care of other women’s children, and so she drifted into prostitution. When Chris returns to the bar, the two have an awkward reunion. Chris is thrilled when she agrees to stay with him on the barge. Ten days later, Anna walks on the deck of the barge, “Simeon Winthrop,” anchored in the Provincetown harbor, looking healthy and “transformed.” She admits to her father that she loves the sea, which angers him. He does not want her to be ruined by her association with it, but she claims it has made her feel “clean.” Chris worries that she will marry a sailor, and then experience the extreme loneliness her mother felt.

That night, they rescue four shipwrecked sailors. Anna brings one of them, Mat Burke, a drink, and the two begin to talk. She impresses him when she aggressively holds off his advances, and he soon declares he will marry her. When Chris finds the two together, he becomes angry and vows to keep them apart. When Chris tries to convince Anna that Mat would make a terrible husband, she insists, “it’s me ain’t good enough for him.” Later, Chris attacks Mat during an argument over Anna, but Mat quickly subdues him. Anna declares her love for Mat, but tells him she can never marry him. When Mat and Chris battle over her fate, Anna, who feels as if she is being treated like “a piece of furniture,” explodes and tells them about her past. Chris in “a stupor of despair” and Mat “livid with rage” fall silent with condemnation, which goads Anna into “a harsh, strident defiance.” She blames Chris’s abandonment of her for her descent into prostitution. She tells Mat that she wanted to keep her past a secret from him, but she loved him too much to deceive him. Insisting that she has changed, and that the sea and his love have cleansed her, she pleads with Mat not to reject her. Mat, however, thinking she has made a fool of him, physically threatens her and then leaves, swearing never to see her again. Chris, recognizing Anna’s great love for Mat and her present predicament, is determined to force Mat to marry her. He tells her “dat ole davil sea” is to blame.

Two days later, when Chris returns to the barge, drunk, Anna is packed and ready to go back to her life in Saint Paul. Chris admits, “Ay guess it vas all my fault — all bad tangs dat happen to you,” and he asks for her forgiveness. Chris tells her he has signed onto a steamer that sails the next morning for South Africa, so he can send money to her. Soon Mat appears wanting to have “a last word” with Anna. When he begs her to admit she had lied about her past, Anna swears that she has changed, and that she hated all the men she was with. Eventually, Mat is able to believe her and to forgive her. The two happily embrace and decide they will marry in the morning. When Anna discovers Mat has signed up for duty on the same ship as Chris, Mat assures her that she will not be lonesome for long, since “with the help of God” they will have children.

When Chris discovers that both he and Mat will be leaving the next morning on the same ship, he again blames the sea. Anna tries to reassure them that “we’re all fixed now.” She offers a toast to the sea “no matter what.” The play ends with the “mournful wail of steamers’ whistles.”


Act I

The first act takes place in a bar owned by Johnny the Priest and tended by Larry. Coal-barge captain Old Chris receives a letter from his daughter, a young woman he has not seen since she was 5 years old and their family lived in Sweden. They meet at the bar and she agrees to go on the coal barge with him. The rest of the play takes place on the barge.

Act II

The barge crew rescues Mat Burke and 4 other men who were in an open boat after a shipwreck. After not getting along initially, Mat and Anna fall in love.


A confrontation among Anna, Chris and Mat. Mat wants to marry Anna, Chris does not want her to marry any sailor, and Anna doesn't want either of them to think they're in charge of her. She tells them the truth about her life: she was raped while living with her mother's relatives on a Minnesota farm, then became a prostitute after some time as a nurse's aide. Mat gets furious, and he and Chris leave.

Act IV

Mat and Chris return. Anna forgives Chris for not being part of her childhood, and after a dramatic confrontation, Mat forgives Anna for being a prostitute after she promises to stop, and Chris agrees to their getting married. It turns out that Chris and Mat have both signed up for the same ship that is leaving for South Africa the next day, but they promise to return to Anna after the voyage.


O'Neill's first version of this play, begun in January 1919, was titled Chris Christopherson and performed as Chris in out-of-town tryouts. O'Neill revised it radically, changing the barge captain's daughter Anna from a pure woman needing to be protected into a prostitute who finds reformation and love from life on the sea. The new version, play, now titled Anna Christie, had its premiere on Broadway at the Vanderbilt Theatre on 2 November 1921, and ran for 177 performances before closing in April 1923. The production was staged by Arthur Hopkins and starred Pauline Lord.

Alexander Woollcott in the New York Times called it "a singularly engrossing play", and advised that "all grown-up playgoers should jot down in their notebooks the name of Anna Christie as that of a play they really ought to see."[1]

  • 1923: The London West End premiere was staged at the Strand Theatre (now the Novello) in 1923. This was the first time an O'Neill play was seen in the West End. The play starred Pauline Lord, who had been the original Anna Christie on Broadway. The play had a great reception. Time magazine wrote, "In London, the first night of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, with Pauline Lord in the title role, received a tremendous ovation. After the first act the curtain was rung up a dozen times during the applause.[2]
  • 1955: According to actress Ellen Burstyn in the 2012 film "Marilyn in Manhattan," Marilyn Monroe performed a scene from Anna Christie at the Actors Studio with Maureen Stapleton. Calling the story "legendary," Burstyn said, "Everybody who saw that says that it was not only the best work Marilyn ever did, it was some of the best work ever seen at Studio, and certainly the best interpretation of Anna Christie anybody ever saw. She...achieved real greatness in that scene." (According to some biographers, Marilyn was molested by foster parents and worked as a prostitute.)


File:Silver Sheet January 01 1923 - ANNA CHRISTIE.pdf
The Silver Sheet, a studio publication promoting Thomas Ince Productions. 1923, pages 1-31, includes cover. Illustration of ANNA CHRISTIE on cover.
Main article: Anna Christie (film)

In 1923 Anna Christie was adapted by Bradley King for a film directed by John Griffith Wray and Thomas H. Ince, with stars Blanche Sweet, William Russell, George F. Marion, and Eugenie Besserer.

Another adaptation by Frances Marion, released in 1930, was directed by Clarence Brown and starred Greta Garbo, Charles Bickford, George F. Marion and Marie Dressler. This pre-Code film used the marketing slogan "Garbo Talks!", as it was her first talkie. Her first spoken line has become her most famous: "Give me a whiskey with ginger ale on the side, and don't be stingy, baby." George F. Marion performed the role of Anna's father in the original Broadway production and in both the 1923 and 1930 film adaptations.

The German language film was shot after the English version and was also released in 1930. This film was adapted by Frances Marion, translated by Walter Hasenclever and directed by Jacques Feyder, also starring Garbo, with Theo Shall, Hans Junkermann, and Salka Viertel.

In 1957, a musical version by Bob Merrill, called New Girl in Town, opened on Broadway.

In 2014, the Ningbo Yong Opera Troupe performed "Andi", a Chinese operatic adaptation, at Roberts Theatre, Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa. [6]

Awards and nominations

  • 1922 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
  • 1993 Drama Desk Award for Best Revival of a Play
  • 1993 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play
  • 2011 Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Play


  1. ^ Alexander Woollcott (13 November 1921). "Anna Christie: Second Thoughts on First Nights". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  2. ^ Time writers (21 April 1923). "Notes". Time. Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  3. ^ Girvan, Andrew (15 April 2012). "2012 Olivier Award winners". Retrieved 21 July 2012. 
  4. ^ Billington, Michael (August 9, 2011). "Anna Christie – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-09-02. 
  5. ^ Spencer, Charles (August 10, 2011). "Anna Christie, Donmar Warehouse, Review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2011-09-02. 
  6. ^ "Sharing the Stage". 

Further reading

  • O'Neill, Eugene (1923). Anna Christie: A Play in Four Acts (First ed.). London: Jonathan Cape. OCLC 252007125. 

External links