As a definite groupie of Eugene O’Neil, I was very much looking forward to the one and only humorous work written by the great American playwright and found that while I did enjoy the evening, I would most definitely not call this a comedy as it was a little short of laughs.
Set in a small town on the Connecticut shore on the 4th of July 1906, the play depicts family life at the turn of the century and before either World Wars. The play revolves around Nat, the owner of the local newspaper, Essie, his wife, their children and close family. Their son, Richard is in love with Muriel but utterly devastated when he learns that she no longer loves him. It’s a play about family, teenage love (with those incredible highs and terrible lows) and ruined family celebrations. The play still has some of O’Neil’s trade mark characters like Lily the spinster, who loves a man more in love with the bottle and Belle, the kind-hearted prostitute, but there is fundamentally little plot. It is more about young love, growing pains and sitting on the beach looking at the moon.
The brilliant Natalie Abrahami directs a great ensemble cast and has thankfully cut some of the play’s length (and characters) and brought it down to two hours with no interval. She has also injected O’Neil himself into the play in an ingenious silent role which confused my theatre companion but which I found charming, perhaps because I knew what O’Neil looked like from photographs.
I know that some will object to my next statement but I will take issue with a black actor playing a brother in a 1906 white Connecticut family. It’s just confusing and does not add to the play. That said, Ashley Zhangazha is an excellent actor and I cannot fault his performance.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the set designed by Dick Bird is quite extraordinary. When I walked in, I thought I was in for a Happy Days take two which I wouldn’t have minded at all, as I loved the play, the set and Juliet Stevenson (see my review in this blog) but this set was even more ingenious. That being said, I’m not sure it added that much to the play but it does make for some amusing set changes and a lovely last scene. All in all, this is a play to warm your heart about youth and remind everyone in attendance of what it was like to love so much that you wanted to die if you could not be with that one person. Do you remember?