Thursday, February 28, 2013
Douglas Messerli | "The Endless Voyage" (on O'Neill's Glencairn Plays)
the endless voyageby Douglas Messerli
Eugene O’Neill Early Plays (Three Glencairn Plays) performed by The Wooster Group and New York City Players / the performance I saw was a matinee at Los Angeles, Redcat (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) on February 24, 2013
Yet, at the same time, Maxwell is emphatically loyal to the original texts. And, in this case, his actors speak every Swedish, Bronx, Caribbean, and British accent that O’Neill has thrown their way. By speaking those lines without dramatic intensity, almost in a monotone, they somehow relieve us from necessity of placing them into a realist world, and, while often calling up laughter, they also highlight the poetic value behind their somewhat incoherent words.
Particularly in Bound East for Cardiff, in the long dialogue between the dying Yank (Brian Mendes) and Driscoll (Ari Fliakos, who I last saw in the Wooster’s Williams play Vieux Carré), this strange pairing of theatricality and emotionality creates its own intensity, as the two long time sailor friends reveal their love and devotion to one another, while reminding themselves of their various past adventures. Played out in a corner of the stage, supposedly the ship’s fo’c’s’le, the scene requires the audience to listen attentively and peer into the set from a great distance as if they were secret voyeurs. Indeed, they are, as it gradually becomes clear, particularly with Yank’s admission that he had always dreamed of settling down with Driscoll on a farm. Far more believable than anything expressed in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, we sense the intense eroticism of these two “roughs” and the painful denials and acceptances of their own mortality. If they speak often almost incoherently, it is even more painful that the two now so clearly confess to each other their own love.
The last of the three plays, The Long Voyage Home, is also painful in its chicanery, betrayal, and inevitable imprisonment of the young Olson (Bobby McElver) who, fed up with the hard work, low wages, and inedible food of the several ocean voyages he has suffered is determined to return to his homestead in Sweden, with the hopes of helping his brother and mother on their farm. He has apparently had that dream for a long while, but each time he reaches port, his thirst for alcohol seizes him, and spends his wages, unable to travel back to his homeland. This time, he brags, he will not drink. The sleazy bar owner, Fat Joe (Jim Fletcher), his assistant Mag (the wonderful Kate Valk), and a fellow sailor, Cocky (Keith Connolly), helped by the prostitute Freda (Victoria Vazquez) work to break down the young innocent’s defenses, slipping a potion into his drink that knocks him out. In sad inevitability, he is once again shipped out on one of the worst vessels in port! Olson’s quiet revelation of his story through O’Neill’s torturous Swedish rendition helps to make the audience feel sad and solicitous for this doomed young traveler, who, like Odysseus takes a nearly endless voyages to reach his destination.
In the end, I am not sure that any of these plays represent great theater. But in the hands of the Wooster Group and Maxwell’s New York Players we see them, at least, for their fascinating potentialities, and recognize why O’Neill himself saw them as break-through works.
February 27, 2013