Friday, October 27, 2017

Ripe on the Bough

You just don't expect certain things.

Almost as unlikely as a guy rapping on a rock in the James - which I saw today - was having a friend volunteer to see a Eugene O'Neill play - and a near tragedy at that - with me.

Leave it to Pru to be attracted to the literate.

But even a literary type would be a fool to see a brooding play like "Desire Under the Elms" on an empty stomach, although deciding on a restaurant became the challenge of the morning given that it's Restaurant Week and we wanted nothing to do with any of that.

After extensive back and forth, geography determined our choice and we landed at Flora, mere blocks from Firehouse Theatre. She'd made a reservation, which had seemed unnecessary at the time, but proved to be prescient when the restaurant filled up around us during the course of our meal.

Perhaps we aren't the only ones bent on avoiding the amateur crowds.

Because it was happy hour, we had no excuse not to eat half price tacos, choosing three chicken tinga (her fave) and three fried catfish with radish slices, cabbage and chipotle mayo (mine), along with a ramekin of obscene queso fundido with chorizo and a side of the best guacamole in town, thanks to queso cojita and ancho.

If we were going to watch a modern American tragedy, we were going to be well fed Americans first.

We made it as far as three of the five blocks we needed to go before an SUV driven by a moron talking on his phone pulled out from an alley mere feet in front of us. My response was to scream at the top of my lungs, while Pru wisely slammed on the brakes in that way that makes you feel like a cartoon car standing on its front tires.

And don't you know, the idiot never so much as glanced at us as he continued yakking on his phone. I suppose it makes us bad people to hope he dies a lingering, unpleasant death?

Inside the Firehouse, each person was given a tiny bag of gravel ("You'll see why") and told to pass it on because if the recipient brought it back to Firehouse, they'd get a dollar. And while clearly the dollar was not the incentive, talking about the play was.

Brilliant enough that I give them an "A" for creativity.

Further in, I chatted with a theater critic friend about the latest local media misfire, agreeing that the public doesn't want to hear the excuse "human error" or how woefully understaffed print publications are these days.

On a more positive note, he also gave me a heads up about CAT Theater's upcoming production by David Lindsay-Abaire, the very same production that Pru had mentioned as recently as dinner, no doubt an indicator I need to score tickets.

Firehouse's producing artistic director Joel elaborated on the gravel, explaining how difficult it was for them to convince people how great this rarely-produced work by a heavy playwright is, not to mention how ineffectual it was for them, Firehouse, to try to convince people that their lives would be empty without seeing it (a line that got a big laugh and probably increased the number of people who'll pass on their bag o' gravel on to someone).

I hope it works because "Desire Under the Elms" was impressively staged, beautifully lit and managed to pack an incredible number of emotions into an hour and forty minutes.

Much of the appeal came from watching Landon Nagel effortlessly inhabit the character of Eben, the sensitive younger son of an overbearing father on a New England farm that was mostly rock. Sure, he hates Dad and misses his dead mother, but he does his work and only occasionally slips off to see a prostitute in town.

And he might have lived out his life like that if Dad - a blustery Alan Sader again playing the difficult old man role - hadn't brought home a new wife, a schemer who wanted a farm of her own.

But Dad did and next thing you know, we're embroiled in a saga of Greek proportions - adultery, lies, jealousy and, of course, infanticide. Eugene O'Neill, remember?

As the object of Eben's lust and eventually love, the actress who played Abbie didn't fully inhabit the character's emotions to the point that I ever felt her longing, lust or pain - much less the loss of her child - as deeply as should have been conveyed.

Pru was more succinct, summing up her performance as, "Willing, naked and able."

Even so, it was completely engrossing, not to mention utterly satisfying, to watch the words and story of a major playwright like O'Neill play out live. A a devoted theater-goer who'd only seen "Long Day's Journey Into Night," I'd been sadly deficient in O'Neill performances.

Dare I say that my life is no longer empty because I saw it? Well, it's still got a significant hole or two, but it's also infinitely better for having seen tonight's production.

Once I finish mulling it over, you can bet I'll be passing on my gravel to encourage someone else to witness this classic.

"It's a great game - the pursuit of happiness," O'Neill wrote. Not only great, but lifelong.

Personally, I think not pursuing would be the tragedy.


  1. "Long's Day's Journey Into the Night" -- what a bright cheerful play that was!!!


  2. Ha! As if ANY O'Neill could be bright or cheerful?!

  3. I... like you ...still like him though..


  4. Maybe it's having Irish great-grandparents!