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Margaret Croyden

"Desire Under The Elms"

Desire Under The Elms
by Eugene O'Neill
with Brian Dennehy, Carla Gigino, Pablo Schreiber
Directed by Robert Falls
St James Theater
West 45th St New York
Reviewed May 14, 2009 by Margaret Croyden

The famous Eugene O'Neill play "Desire Under The Elms" has been revived many times. But it is mystery to me why. And why did the well known Goodman theater in Chicago produce it now. And why did such well known and savvy producers like Jeffrey Richards, Daryl Roth, the Weinstein Company, the Jujamcyn Theatre and fifteen other producers think it was worth their while and their money to transfer this production from the prestigious Goodman theater in Chicago to New York, where it received poor notices and was bound to close soon? But theater producers have always been a mystery; if they were smarter, fewer turkeys would be produced.

Now to the point. What could have attracted these producers? O. K. It's O'Neill and its sexy. But is that enough to bring it to Broadway. Lets look at the story: An old man, a farmer, wants a wife--a young one. He finds one who is poor and needs a place to live.. He brings her home where he lives with his three sons. Two are beasts of labor and leave the moment the new woman arrives. The third son stays on and surprise--- he becomes attracted to the woman. And what do you know--several hot sexual scenes ensue between the two young people and maybe that's what the producers were counting on. But these days sex scenes are ubiquitous. Hardly a movie or a TV is to be seen that has no sex. So why not hot scenes on stage. Strange to say, the sexuality is not really attractive--it is so predictable--and doesn't do the trick with this play.

To begin with, the stage is set with rocks, huge ones--not a farm at all and no elms or trees anywhere. The rest of the scenery, the house, the bedrooms, the dining area are all out of proportion to the story and are eyesores. Not much of a farm here--more like a mining business.

Now for the acting: not very good although all are experienced players. There is a lot of shouting and ranting and marching around on stage. This is particularly true of Brian Dennehy, who gives a one dimensional performance. He is always on the same note. The others are not any better.
Sorry I cannot be any more positive about this production but nothing of this work projects Eugene O'Neill. Besides the play is cut down to one hour 45 minutes and O'Neill never wrote short plays. The cutting was a mess. You can well afford to miss this one.

Margaret Croyden's latest book is "Conversations with Peter Brook, 1970-2000" (Fairer, Straus and Giroux).

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