April 21, 2012
Fwd: Jake's show: NY Times Review
> Oddly enough, from way "up north", The New York Times reviewed the show Jake is performing in this month here in Washington, D.C., joining the bandwagon of very favorable write ups given locally for Eugene O'Neill's "Strange Interlude" at the Shakespeare Theatre. FYI, Rob
> April 20, 2012
> Theater Review
> The Laughs Evoked by Anguished Souls
> By CHARLES ISHERWOOD
> WASHINGTON - Great gusts of laughter are rippling through the Shakespeare Theater Company's<http://www.shakespearetheatre.org/> capacious Sidney Harman Hall here. If you stood outside the auditorium's doors, listening to the happy tumult inside, you might assume that one of Shakespeare's comedies was being performed, or that some of Noël Coward's bright young things were deploying their barbed wits in plush drawing rooms.
> Not exactly. The characters causing such continual merriment are actually the tortured souls of Eugene O'Neill<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/o/eugene_oneill/index.html?inline=nyt-per>'s epic drama "Strange Interlude," circling one another through the years, scratching at their heart sores as they grapple with the demons of hopeless love, unquenchable guilt and the mystery of God's indifference to man's search for happiness.
> Time can play strange tricks on art, or rather on perceptions of it. When "Strange Interlude" first opened on Broadway, in 1928, it was greeted as a monumental attempt by America's greatest playwright to push the boundaries of theater beyond the straitening conventions of the time. Its subject matter, daring then, includes frank discussions of abortion and adultery. Experimenting with form O'Neill exposed the workings of his characters' psyches by having them speak their thoughts aloud, so that dialogue and interior monologue play in counterpoint, revealing the distance between men and women's words and actions and their darker impulses.
> Even the play's extensive running time betokened its importance. Staged in two parts with a dinner break in between, it ran about five hours. Although not all the critics<http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=FA0A11FE3858167A93C7A91789D85F4C8285F9> heaped praise (Alexander Woollcott called it "the 'Abie's Irish Rose' of the pseudo-intelligentsia"), the play became a big hit and won O'Neill his third Pulitzer Prize in less than 10 years.
> It was not, I should make clear, considered a laugh riot at the time. And yet the director Michael Kahn's stylish, oddly fascinating new production of "Strange Interlude" makes a convincing argument - unintentionally, I suppose - that while O'Neill's expansive drama may no longer be wholly persuasive as a probing philosophical exploration of the human condition, it remains surprisingly engaging entertainment. It is a rollicking mixture of ripe melodrama and acerbic comedy, the humor deriving from the almost farcical manner in which the lives of its characters keep tangling themselves together in fraught, borderline absurd ways.
> One of the biggest laughs of the evening, for example, arrives when Charles Marsden (an amusingly priggish Robert Stanton), the effete novelist who nurtures a chaste, lifelong love for the ravishing and neurotic Nina Leeds (Francesca Faridany), turns up in her brooding presence for the umpteenth time, surrounded by the usual suspects: her unloved husband, Sam Evans (Ted Koch), and her lover, Ned Darrell (Baylen Thomas).
> Marsden has been tortured by Nina's sisterly affection for a couple of decades by now, and still he comes back for more. Looking on quietly as the other characters circle one another warily, Marsden finally breaks his own silence with an inner wail, "What am I doing here?"
> The audience guffaws, its collective interior monologue surely chiming in unison, "What indeed, Charlie?"
> Credible emotional logic and subtle psychology do not figure prominently in "Strange Interlude," which accounts for a fair portion of the humor that Shakespeare Theater audiences discover in it today. It is not easy to enter into the spirit with which the angst-riddled Nina conducts her affairs.
> Grieving for Gordon Shaw, the glamorous fiancé she lost in World War I, Nina is tortured by guilt because they failed to consummate their love on the eve of his departure. She blames her father (the excellent Ted van Griethuysen) for depriving her of this pleasure and possibly the child that might have come of it.
> And so Nina embarks on an odyssey of self-sacrifice that involves nursing wounded soldiers back to health; her ministrations include jumping into bed with them, to the shock and consternation of both Charlie and the doctor running the clinic, Ned. He urges Charlie, for whom Nina promptly develops a father fixation soon after her actual father dies, to help Nina find some stability by marrying the good-natured if witless Sam.
> Indifferent to her own happiness and still expiating her guilt over her lost love, Nina agrees, only to discover - egad, no! - that madness runs in Sam's family. His mother (Tana Hicken, making a fairly ludicrous part entirely credible) divulges this news to the secretly pregnant Nina, and urges her to get rid of the baby lest the curse continue. She gently hints that Nina find "a healthy man" to father another child. She would have done so herself, she recalls, but "I was too afraid of God then to have ever done it!"
> Nina's relationship with God is less traditional, and soon she has trained her appraising glance on Ned. Suddenly they are casting themselves as selfless participants in a plan that will bring about the most happiness for all. "In the interest of science I can be for the purpose of this experiment a healthy guinea pig myself and still remain an observer," Ned muses to himself. "I observe my pulse is high, for example, and that's obviously because I am stricken with a recurrence of an old desire."
> Ned's racing pulse, and Nina's responding lust, rather complicates their neat arrangement. As the years pass, Sam prospers, transformed from a self-lacerating failure into a business magnate by fatherhood. The fates are less kind to Nina, who realizes too late that sacrifice isn't as much fun as she'd hoped, and to the love-struck Ned and the ever-neglected Charlie.
> Mr. Kahn has trimmed O'Neill's text with a skilled hand, reducing the play's running time by perhaps as much as an hour. Still, the play remains liberally endowed with long bouts of expository dialogue or heated, passionate exchanges dappled with exclamation points.
> Nina: "No, don't go away, Ned - ever again. I don't love Sam! I love you!"
> Ned: "But I don't understand! Sam gets everything - and I have nothing!"
> Nina: "You have my love, my lover! Isn't that the nearest we can come to making everyone happy?"
> Despite the actors' fine work, these exchanges pulsate with pulpy excess. Ms. Faridany makes Nina's evolving obsessions, from the dead Gordon to the son named after him, about as emotionally convincing as they can be, employing a mid-Atlantic accent that strongly recalls Katharine Hepburn. She also looks sensational in Jane Greenwood's gorgeous period costumes. (The slinky red number that she slips into when Ned returns to her orbit, after trying to escape her clutches, earns its own laugh.)
> Mr. Koch similarly gives a persuasive rendering of Sam's abrupt transition from abject failure, convinced of his wife's indifference, to proud father and preening businessman. Mr. Thomas brings a brooding, understated sexual allure to his role as the scientist undone by his own experiment in manipulating human lives.
> But it is Mr. Stanton, who might as well be walking around under a neon sign reading, "Mother Fixated," who keeps the audience in stitches most frequently. At this point in his career O'Neill was not the most subtle interpreter of Freud. (He often denied any influence whatsoever, not always credibly.) Charlie has an apron-string problem so pronounced that you half expect to see the actual strings trailing behind him.
> In 1985 a Broadway revival starring a bewitching Glenda Jackson mostly attempted to meet O'Neill on his own, deeply sincere terms. Still, both Frank Rich<http://www.nytimes.com/1985/02/22/arts/theater-a-fresh-look-for-o-neill-s-interlude.html?scp=3&sq=Strange%20Interlude%20Glenda%20Jackson&st=cse> and Walter Kerr<http://theater.nytimes.com/mem/theater/treview.html?_r=1&res=9F0CE5DB1339F930A35750C0A963948260&scp=2&sq=Strange%20Interlude%20Glenda%20Jackson&st=cse> noted in The New York Times that "Strange Interlude" inspired bouts of laughter. Mr. Kahn's production, without explicitly sending up the play, nevertheless comes close to turning it into a higher-brow "Design for Living," threaded with musings on metaphysics. Time will tell if this unlikely transformation turns out to be just a strange interlude itself in the history of O'Neill's big, flawed, fascinating work.
> Strange Interlude
> By Eugene O'Neill; directed by Michael Kahn; sets by Walt Spangler; costumes by Jane Greenwood; lighting by Stephen Strawbridge; music and sound by Fitz Patton; projections by Aaron Rhyne; hair and wig design by Tom Watson; assistant director, Jenny Lord; production stage manager, Joseph Smelser. Presented by the Shakespeare Theater Company, Mr. Kahn, artistic director; Chris Jennings, managing director. At the Shakespeare Theater Company's Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington; (202) 547-1122; shakespearetheatre.org. Through April 29. Running time: 3 hours 45 minutes.
> WITH: Robert Stanton (Charles Marsden), Ted van Griethuysen (Prof. Henry Leeds), Francesca Faridany (Nina Leeds), Ted Koch (Sam Evans), Baylen Thomas (Ned Darrell), Tana Hicken (Mrs. Amos Evans), Jake Land (Gordon Evans as a boy), Rachel Spencer Hewitt (Madeline Arnold) and Joe Short (Gordon Evans as a young man).