Theater: Babbitt in Cathay

Marco Millions, by Eugene O'Neill, seemed a ponderous, pontifical play when it was first produced in 1928, and it has not improved with age. O'Neill's idea was to cast Marco Polo as the go-getting, money-grubbing Babbitt from Polo Bros., Venice, whose travels to Cathay and the kingdom of Kublai Khan result in a grand confrontation of Eastern and Western values. More symbol than satire, the play is a contrived collision of abstractions rather than a felt conflict of human beings.

As O'Neill's symbol of the West, Marco stands for greed, hypocrisy, ravening ambition, hard-nosed...

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