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And Give Us The Shadows
Similarities: An O'Neill four member family cursed with alcohol and drug addiction, a sea side setting with ominous fog horns in the distance; a home insulated — or isolated — from the rest of the world where secrets fester for lack of light and air. Set in the living room of the Marblehead, Massachusetts home of Eugene O'Neill and his third wife, Carlotta, the action takes play on Oct. 16, 1949, O'Neill's 61st birthday. The playwright's life was, at this point, at a low ebb both physically and professionally. Though sober now, his years of heavy drinking had done serious damage to his liver, his body already compromised by years of fighting tuberulocis. Professionally, he had fallen out of favor with American theater audiences, especially after the cool reception to his last work, the five hour
Despite his Nobel Prize for Drama, O'Neill's works were rarely being produced, and when they were he was seldom happy with the results. Living in near isolation with just Carlotta, a cook (Dora) and an Asian houseboy (Saki), his household is as bleak and depressed as the Tyrone family home in Long Day's Journey.
Awaiting his two sons from New York City, for his birthday dinner, O'Neill (Len Gochman) has to endure a fierce harangue by Carlotta (Hollis McCarthy) as she rages at him for everything from lack of money to sexual impotence. Spewing vitriol, she insists that he change his will to insure that she will be financially secure after he dies. Moreover, she wants the rights of his plays to revert to her, in particular his personal, and still secret, Long Day's Journey Into Night.
The opening scene between the two near recluses is so fierce and ugly, had the scene been played in Noren's native Swedish, it is likely the audience might have thought they were watching Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The arrival of the two sons, only increases Carlotta's anger. She dislikes both men from O'Neill's first and second wives. Eugene, Jr. (Paul Michael Valley) is a wastrel and a roaring alcoholic, even though he initially seems sober enough. Shane (Jack Berenholtz) is a heroin addict who twists and turns so much that his father and Carlotta keep asking him what's wrong. That's a little hard to grasp in a family, both present and past cursed with rampant alcohol and drug addiction. Such physical distress would immediately have been a red flag that he was "using."
Suffice to say, the day grows darker and meaner. Like Long Day's Journey, Shadows ends with only the barest glimmer of hope. Eugene, Jr. will commit suicide the next year, Shane will fall victim to heroin and O'Neill, himself, will only last another four years. The only saving grace in this odyssey of gloom is that Carlotta finally relented and allowed Long Day's Journey to be published and performed.
God, what a price the O'Neill family paid to bask, however briefly, in the glow of two talented men, O'Neill's father and himself Noren's lean and savage script has been translated expertly by Marita Lindholm Gochman. This is both a strong drama and a merciless portrait of a doomed family, despite a few caveats: there is a familiar device of cataloging — in this case O'Neill's works; some name-dropping — Bennett Cerf, O'Neill's daughter Oona and her husband, Charlie Chaplin.
The acting is first rate from McCarthy's seemingly cold hearted Carlotta to the wounded psyches projected by Valley and Berenholtz. At the performance I saw, the role of O'Neill was taken by Len Gochman filling in for an indisposed Jerry Lanning. Though he carried a script, which he occasionally referred to, he still delivered a moving performance. Jason Bolen's set is quite fitting, if a bit spiffier than you might have expected in this isolated retreat.
Moni Yakim has directed with an emphasis on the desperation of the passions provoked here. God, what a price the O'Neill family paid to bask, however briefly, in the glow of the talents of two men — O'Neill and his father. While I would not consider Shadows exactly on a par with Long Day's Journey it is clearly an intriguing partner. Wouldn't it be interesting to see both plays in repertory?