Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

O'Neill in Bondage

— On paper it looked like a lock. The same Cygnet Theatre team that did award-winning work with Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof last year -- director-scenic designer Sean Murray, actors Jim Chovick, Jessica John, and Francis Gercke -- rejoined to produce Eugene O'Neill's breakthrough tragedy, Desire Under the Elms (1924). In some ways the plays are similar: totalitarian fathers, dysfunction abounding, concerns about property, and language galore: Williams's painterly poetic flights; O'Neill's linear, frontal salvos.

Cygnet's opening-night performance, however, was strangely flat. The acting, if you don't count fluctuating New England accents and fussy, unmotivated movement, was consistent but consistently restrained and lacking O'Neill's hallmark. The critic George Jean Nathan, his lifelong friend and advocate, said the one thing O'Neill's plays had, even the flops, was "size." The characters never express mundane emotions. Often echoing those in Greek tragedy, O'Neill wrote his people large. They're possessed. But not by demons. There's no room for demons in these tormented psyches.

The road to tragedy leads through the Slough of Melodrama. Possibly to avoid the purple patches lurking in O'Neill's script, or to make them seem more human and believable, Cygnet Theatre has toned down the characters' epic intensities. The language still crackles and burns. But the people speaking it don't fill the words with fire.

Some of the production's best moments are unspoken. Murray uses stage pictures to show daily life and the passage of time: rocks getting lugged here and there (with the suggestion of Sisyphus); Abbie, married to a man twice her age, sewing, or sweeping a floor, and beginning to have eyes for young Eben, her husband's son.

The set, wooden planks and two platforms, lit evocatively by Eric Lotze, conjures the hardscrabble New England farm built, a rock at a time, by Ephraim Cabot, the crazed-bitter patriarch who, O'Neill slyly suggests, is a member of one of New England's most landed families. Combined with Jeanne Reith's homespun 1850 costumes, coffee browns and dusty beiges, the production has a rustic, sepia look.

But even the set has shrinkage. The house and the famous hovering elm trees (that O'Neill wanted to show a "sinister maternity" and a "crushing-jealous absorption") are reduced to dollhouse size in the rear.

"Sinister maternity"? O'Neill also wants the trees to "brood oppressively...like exhausted women" over the stage (and, due to the elms' contact with people, an "appalling humanness"). O'Neill wrote more stage directions than almost any other playwright. He filled them with projections of his conflicts and pain. He was "an emotional hemophiliac," writes his biographer, Louis Shaeffer, "his wounds, his grievances, would never heal."

O'Neill wanted Abbie, the sensual, 35-year-old woman who marries Ephraim, to be a Freudian icon: "a horribly frank mixture of lust and mother love" (she even tells Eben that she will be his new "Maw"); and O'Neill wants Eben, who's maybe five years younger than Abbie, to be "thunderin' soft" but with a "fierce, repressed vitality."

The father, the son, and the father's new wife form an Oedipal triangle. But what O'Neill wanted over-the-top explicit -- "appalling humanness" -- Jessica John and Francis Gercke downplay; they stress the passions but relegate the Freudian material to subtext. This is admirable, Honest Acting 1A. But to reach the tragic stature the play demands, they must loosen the psychological tourniquet.

It would also help if the characters were more frank about their greed. Property and securing the future obsess them all. It's in the air. O'Neill chose 1850 for a reason: "gold fever" drew tens of thousands of 49ers west, often abandoning homes and families for that One Big Chance. Among those that remained, O'Neill suggests, many caught a fever of selfishness. They don't love. They can't. They're too caught up with ownership.

Ephraim's other sons, Peter and Simeon, are headed west ("Simon Peter" was a rock; when it comes to ladling out obvious symbolism, O'Neill never skimps). John Garcia and Craig Huisenga play them as antsy bumpkins. What they do, they do well. But they're comic characters, and their speeches need more avarice -- more at stake. They set too light a tone.

Jim Chovick makes old Ephraim a scrapping, red-faced belligerent who will stay King of the Mountain, to the end of his days, then tear the mountain down. Chovick gives Ephraim the larger-than-life size O'Neill wanted. He also suggests that the man's real battle has not only been against his wives and children, and the stony acreage he cultivated an inch at a time: it's been against his mortality.

Desire Under the Elms, by Eugene O'Neill

Cygnet Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard, College Area

Directed by Sean Murray; cast: Francis Gercke, Jessica John, Jim Chovick, John Garcia, Craig Huisenga; scenic design, Murray; costumes, Jeanne Reith; lighting, Eric Lotze; sound, George Ye

Playing through June 3; Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Matinee Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-337-1525, x3.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Market research analyst
San Diego Reader Classified ads
April 6, 2020
Reggae pop progrock fusion
San Diego Reader Classified ads
March 24, 2020
Armstrong #104 student flute
San Diego Reader Classified ads
March 26, 2020
Kills Coronavirus dead
San Diego Reader Classified ads
March 23, 2020
Cowboy theater
San Diego Reader Classified ads
April 6, 2020
Ad
Previous article

Alexander Hamilton: one of the Founding Fathers of the United States

He also founded the United States Coast Guard and the New York Post
Next Article

Alexander Hamilton: one of the Founding Fathers of the United States

He also founded the United States Coast Guard and the New York Post
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

— On paper it looked like a lock. The same Cygnet Theatre team that did award-winning work with Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof last year -- director-scenic designer Sean Murray, actors Jim Chovick, Jessica John, and Francis Gercke -- rejoined to produce Eugene O'Neill's breakthrough tragedy, Desire Under the Elms (1924). In some ways the plays are similar: totalitarian fathers, dysfunction abounding, concerns about property, and language galore: Williams's painterly poetic flights; O'Neill's linear, frontal salvos.

Cygnet's opening-night performance, however, was strangely flat. The acting, if you don't count fluctuating New England accents and fussy, unmotivated movement, was consistent but consistently restrained and lacking O'Neill's hallmark. The critic George Jean Nathan, his lifelong friend and advocate, said the one thing O'Neill's plays had, even the flops, was "size." The characters never express mundane emotions. Often echoing those in Greek tragedy, O'Neill wrote his people large. They're possessed. But not by demons. There's no room for demons in these tormented psyches.

The road to tragedy leads through the Slough of Melodrama. Possibly to avoid the purple patches lurking in O'Neill's script, or to make them seem more human and believable, Cygnet Theatre has toned down the characters' epic intensities. The language still crackles and burns. But the people speaking it don't fill the words with fire.

Some of the production's best moments are unspoken. Murray uses stage pictures to show daily life and the passage of time: rocks getting lugged here and there (with the suggestion of Sisyphus); Abbie, married to a man twice her age, sewing, or sweeping a floor, and beginning to have eyes for young Eben, her husband's son.

The set, wooden planks and two platforms, lit evocatively by Eric Lotze, conjures the hardscrabble New England farm built, a rock at a time, by Ephraim Cabot, the crazed-bitter patriarch who, O'Neill slyly suggests, is a member of one of New England's most landed families. Combined with Jeanne Reith's homespun 1850 costumes, coffee browns and dusty beiges, the production has a rustic, sepia look.

But even the set has shrinkage. The house and the famous hovering elm trees (that O'Neill wanted to show a "sinister maternity" and a "crushing-jealous absorption") are reduced to dollhouse size in the rear.

"Sinister maternity"? O'Neill also wants the trees to "brood oppressively...like exhausted women" over the stage (and, due to the elms' contact with people, an "appalling humanness"). O'Neill wrote more stage directions than almost any other playwright. He filled them with projections of his conflicts and pain. He was "an emotional hemophiliac," writes his biographer, Louis Shaeffer, "his wounds, his grievances, would never heal."

O'Neill wanted Abbie, the sensual, 35-year-old woman who marries Ephraim, to be a Freudian icon: "a horribly frank mixture of lust and mother love" (she even tells Eben that she will be his new "Maw"); and O'Neill wants Eben, who's maybe five years younger than Abbie, to be "thunderin' soft" but with a "fierce, repressed vitality."

The father, the son, and the father's new wife form an Oedipal triangle. But what O'Neill wanted over-the-top explicit -- "appalling humanness" -- Jessica John and Francis Gercke downplay; they stress the passions but relegate the Freudian material to subtext. This is admirable, Honest Acting 1A. But to reach the tragic stature the play demands, they must loosen the psychological tourniquet.

It would also help if the characters were more frank about their greed. Property and securing the future obsess them all. It's in the air. O'Neill chose 1850 for a reason: "gold fever" drew tens of thousands of 49ers west, often abandoning homes and families for that One Big Chance. Among those that remained, O'Neill suggests, many caught a fever of selfishness. They don't love. They can't. They're too caught up with ownership.

Ephraim's other sons, Peter and Simeon, are headed west ("Simon Peter" was a rock; when it comes to ladling out obvious symbolism, O'Neill never skimps). John Garcia and Craig Huisenga play them as antsy bumpkins. What they do, they do well. But they're comic characters, and their speeches need more avarice -- more at stake. They set too light a tone.

Jim Chovick makes old Ephraim a scrapping, red-faced belligerent who will stay King of the Mountain, to the end of his days, then tear the mountain down. Chovick gives Ephraim the larger-than-life size O'Neill wanted. He also suggests that the man's real battle has not only been against his wives and children, and the stony acreage he cultivated an inch at a time: it's been against his mortality.

Desire Under the Elms, by Eugene O'Neill

Cygnet Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard, College Area

Directed by Sean Murray; cast: Francis Gercke, Jessica John, Jim Chovick, John Garcia, Craig Huisenga; scenic design, Murray; costumes, Jeanne Reith; lighting, Eric Lotze; sound, George Ye

Playing through June 3; Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Matinee Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-337-1525, x3.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Play kickball with us
San Diego Reader Classified ads
March 24, 2020
Four gravesites
San Diego Reader Classified ads
March 24, 2020
Desperately seeking kennel attend position.
San Diego Reader Classified ads
March 28, 2020
Homemade style Mexican food in Lemon Grove available
San Diego Reader Classified ads
April 5, 2020
Pro sports team 4 sale
San Diego Reader Classified ads
April 6, 2020
Previous article

COVID-19 screening lapses plagued San Diego veterans' care

V.A.'s response asserts stealth audit "put our patients and staff at risk"
Next Article

TP Mummy torn roll from roll by crazed, pantsless mob

Monstrous Prank, Bro
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer News — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close