Thursday, May 14, 2009

Desire Under the Elms

Boy, these folks make the Tyrone family look like the Cleavers. I had forgotten how grim this play is. Eugene O’Neill outdid himself with this one.

Director Robert Falls has shortened the play to 100 minutes and cut 10 characters, but still manages to pack in a lot of misery, which is heightened by Walt Sprangler’s bleak 1850 set. This is not a show for the casual theatergoer, but if this play intrigues you, you will appreciate the quality of this revival, which comes to Broadway following a highly praised run at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. First performed in 1924, Desire Under the Elms is a story of lust, family betrayal and loathing, and infanticide that has its roots in Greek tragedy.

I was especially impressed with Carla Gugino (in photo), who plays Abbie, the sensual young bride of Ephraim Cabot (Brian Dennehy), a nasty old landowner with three grown sons by two deceased wives. She made Abbie alive with passion. Pablo Schreiber (in photo) as Eben Cabot, Ephraim’s youngest son and the object of her desire, also gave a strong performance . Their scenes together gave the spark the play needs to be bearable. Daniel Stewart Sherman and Boris McGiver are good as Eben’s older brothers.

Richard Woodbury’s original music, which alternates between brooding and country love songs, is effective in enhancing the mood. Ana Kuzmanic’s costumes and Michael Philippi’s lighting also contribute to the despair of the story.

All in all, it’s a well-done production, just not my cup of tea. I would have liked to close the 2008-2009 season on a more upbeat note, but that’s show business. I’ve submitted my Drama Desk ballot and winners will be announced at our awards show Sunday night. After a week’s breather, the 2009-2010 season starts for me with Pure Confidence. Round and round and round in the circle game!

Performances of Desire Under the Elms continue to May 24 -- six weeks earlier than scheduled -- at the St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St. For information, call at (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250, or visit

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