BWW Reviews: Jovanka Bach's O'NEILL'S GHOSTS Rivets With Her Stark, Unapologetic Portrait of Eugene O'Neill
O'Neill's Ghosts/written by Jovanka Bach/directed by John Stark/Odyssey Theatre/thru September 28, 2014
Does genius have to be accompanied by totally a-hole behavior? As written by Jovanka Bach, the brilliance behind Eugene O'Neill's successful dramas and his total neglect of social skills seem to be caused by all the trials and tribulations of his troubled family, past and present. O'Neill's Ghosts covers a period in time in which O'Neill battles writer's block. Various family members, already deceased, enter his drawing room to interact with him.
John Stark directs his uniformly strong cast in a slick, strong-handed pace, in which they vividly exhibit the demons alternately possessing and inspiring the playwright's writings.
Bravo to John DiFusco for going balls out in his unapologetic, unflinchingly unsympathetic portrayal of the genius playwright Eugene O'Neill. No room for niceties for DiFusco's O'Neill, except for the few times he's manipulating his wife to do his bidding. Bach writes Eugene O'Neill as tunnel-vision on his works, with not even his family ever taking priority. He misses graduations; he misses funerals of relatives. Must be O'Neill's deep, heavy guilt that make these apparitions appear so often and so mercilessly.
Lisa Thayer delights as the delicious Carlotta; current wife, or step stool, of Eugene. Thayer's Carlotta would fit right in one of those "Real Housewives" reality shows, with her haughty airs and extreme pampering of their sick dog Blemi. Carlotta accepts her purpose in Eugene's life-- as, first and foremost, his deflector for all distractions to his work then, as his beloved(?) wife.
O'Neill's son Bud relentlessly strives for his father's approval- personal, professional, on any level. Michael Vaccaro's Bud's certainly driven in his many ploys to connect with his father. Vaccaro especially excels in his scene where he asks his "Pop" to read his first attempt at a play, a thinly disguised story of their real life relationship. Eugene's reaction, though expected, still frustratingly hard to accept as from an actual person possessing feelings, let alone, a loving parent.
Eugene's parents probably have to share some of the blame for Eugene's non-relationships with others. But as portrayed by Dana Kelly (his actor father James) and Penny Orloff (his gone-crazy mother Ella,) all the culpability's well stacked against Eugene. Kelly's charming James took acting roles beneath him to provide for his family. Orloff's Ella excusably lost her mind after losing her baby Edmond to measles.
And then there's the other O'Neill son, Eugene's younger brother Jamie. Tom Groenwald nails his young sibling's adoration for his older, more successful brother. As Groenwald limns Jamie, so easy to see Jamie's charisma during his many drunken spells and in his bonding with surrogate-son Bud.
Tanya Starcevich makes the most of her limited stage time as the O'Neills' down-to-earth maid Maud.
Top-notch production elements include: Jaret Sacrey's gorgeous set design of O'Neill's writing room complete with floating grilled bay windows framing a peaceful seascape painting; and sound/light designer J. Kent Inasy's mood-setting foghorns, annoying telephone bells, and sometimes separating "ghost" lighting.
The only person left with Eugene at the end of the play; you wish for her sake, would leave him too.
Intense theatre! Nice!
Poster design by Lara Starcevich