"Anna Christie" is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Eugene O’Neill. It debuted on Broadway in 1921 and ran for 177 performances. Several revivals of the play have been staged over the years, the most recent of which was in 2011.
Act 1 of "Anna Christie" opens in the saloon of a barkeep named Johnny the Priest. Chris Christopherson, a barge captain, is having a drink at the bar when he receives a letter from his daughter Anna, who writes that she is coming to New York City for a visit. Chris tells Johnny that he has not seen Anna since she was a child because he was always away from home working as a sailor. Anna’s mother took their daughter to live on a farm in Minnesota with her family members, and Chris never visited them there. He feels trepidation about meeting his adult daughter since he does not live an upstanding life.
After Chris leaves the bar, Anna arrives, revealing herself to be a tough and cynical prostitute. She strikes up an acquaintance with her father’s girlfriend Marthy, and tells her about how she has come to be in New York. The brothel Anna was working at in Saint Paul was raided by the police, and after a stay in jail she was released on the condition that she would leave town. She has come to stay with her father to get some rest. However, she doesn’t expect much from her father since she has been treated badly for most of her life. Her family on the farm was cruel to her, and one of her cousins raped her. To escape from her abusive family, Anna ran away to Saint Paul. Though she worked for a time as a nanny, she did not like caring for children and became a prostitute instead.
Chris returns to the bar. He and Anna are reunited, and are cautiously optimistic about seeing each other. Anna keeps her history a secret from him, and agrees to come live on Chris and Marty’s barge.
Anna takes to life on the sea. She tells her father that living on the barge makes her feel clean and healthy, but this displeases Chris. He is worried that Anna will marry a sailor who will have no choice but to be away from home often. He doesn’t want Anna to feel the loneliness that her mother felt.
Later that night, the barge rescues four shipwrecked sailors. Anna strikes up a conversation with one of them, a young man named Mat Burke. Mat attempts to seduce her, but Anna resists his advances. He is impressed by her toughness and vows to marry her, but Chris is determined to keep the two of them apart.
Chris and Mat argue about Anna, eventually coming to blows. Mat beats Chris easily. This angers Anna who does not like seeing men she barely knows argue over her fate. She tells Mat that she loves him but cannot marry him. When Mat insists that she accept his proposal, she angrily tells him that she used to be a prostitute. Chris and Mat are both deeply upset by the news, but Anna refuses to allow them to make her feel ashamed.
She tells Chris that it is his fault that she became a prostitute because he abandoned her mother and forced them to go live on the farm. In addition, she tells Mat that she would have gladly kept the past a secret from him, but he has forced her to come clean. Mat is furious and storms off the barge. However, Chris has realized how deep Anna’s feelings are, and so he goes after Mat.
Two days later, Chris returns to the barge, having failed to find Mat. Anna has packed her belongings and is planning to return to Saint Paul. Chris tells her that he has signed on a ship bound for South Africa so he can make some money to send to her. Anna forgives him for being absent from her childhood and assures him that she knows he was only trying to provide for his family.
Mat then boards the steamer, wanting to make up with Anna. He begs her to tell him that she lied about her past, but Anna refuses to pretend to be someone she is not. She swears that she has changed, and Mat decides to forgive her. They agree to marry in the morning, since Mat is leaving on the same ship as Chris. However, Mat promises that she won’t be alone for long, since she will soon have children.
Chris attempts to caution Anna one more time about marrying a sailor, but Anna assures him that everything will work out for her and Mat. Though her words are hopeful, the play ends on a bittersweet and mournful note, suggesting that she may be destined to repeat the same mistakes as her parents.