Before I went to see A Noise Within‘s (ANW) production of Eugene O’Neill‘s Desire Under the Elms, I bought a copy of the play and read it. Though I initially found it difficult to read because of the ambiguous country dialect the characters speak, I found the play to be fascinating. It had all the key ingredients of a good, tragic read: pride, envy, greed, a juicy incestuous love triangle.. I was curious to see how the actors would tackle the difficulty in the unusual vernacular and how the larger-than-life, nearly archetypal Greek characters would be portrayed.
O’Neill goes to great lengths to describe the atmosphere of the play, which is created by the set: an expansive two-story New England farmhouse that is flanked and enveloped by two enormous elms marked by a “sinister maternity in their crushing, jealous absorption.” Award-winning set designer John Iacovelli absolutely took “full advantage of the venue’s height and depth [to create] a fractured version of the Cabot home.” The house looks weary and weighed down by old age and toil, much like the proud, iron-fisted, God-fearing patriarch Ephraim Cabot (William Dennis Hunt). Unfortunately, the eponymous elms took a backseat in the set and because of this, the decaying, sickly atmosphere O’Neill evokes in the play is missing. However, classical violin soloist Endre Balogh managed to capture some of the “stark yet hauntingly beautiful New England landscape that O’Neill continually has his characters refer to” through his fiddle playing character, underscoring the scenes and transitions with his own musical composition.
Jason Dechert was a convincingly “trapped but inwardly unsubdued” Eben, and it seemed as though Eben’s less intelligent half-brothers Simeon (Christopher Fairbanks) and Peter (Stephen Rockewell) had walked off the pages and had come to life. Filling the theater with his commanding presence, Hunt successfully portrayed the hateful but pitiable miser that is Ephraim though Monette Magrath as Ephraim’s cunning young bride Abbie Cabot was wanting. Because she lacked the possessive superiority and sensual lust that characterizes Abbie at the start of the play, her evolution into the love-stricken stepmother and adulterous wife fell flat. The horrific definitive measures she takes at the end of the play to prove her love for Eben did not feel like it came from the twisted mind of a woman dangerously capable of doing anything, whether it was for love or for selfish ulterior motives. It seemed instead that Abbie was simply a lovelorn young wife with a mind clouded by her desperate need to be loved by a man closer to her own age.
Desire Under the Elms is one of six shows celebrating ANW’s inaugural 20th season at its new state-of-the-art Pasadena venue in the former Stuart Pharmaceutical building. As the only year-round classical repertory company in Southern California and one of few companies in the nation dedicated to solely producing classical dramatic literature, ANW’s new location will provide the space to continue its long tradition of presenting and preserving classical theatre to its audiences. Its 2011/2012 season includes productions of Noises Off by Michael Frayn, Anthony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare, The Illusion by Pierre Corneille, and The Bungler by Molière.
Who: A Noise Within
Where: 3352 E. Foothill Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107
Tickets for upcoming shows can be purchased here.