Review by Joe Regan Jr.
O’Neill’s Ghosts, a play by Jovanka Bach, has been imported from an acclaimed run in Los Angeles and is being presented, in a slightly revised script by Bach’s widower, John Stark and Ruth Marlenee, at The Barrow Group Theatre. Stark has directed this play which dramatizes O’Neill’s writing process, with interruptions by his last wife, Carlotta Monterey, and flashback scenes with his father, his brother, his mother and his son, Eugene O’Neill Jr. It will help if audience members know some of the back story and especially “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” the autobiographical play produced after his death in a legendary production directed by Jose Quintero on Broadway, with extraordinary performances by Frederic March, Florence Eldridge, Jason Robards Jr., and Bradford Dillman, later made into a great movie with Ralph Richardson, Katharine Hepburn, Robards, and Dean Stockwell. It has been revived many times on Broadway and is a great favorite with productions all over the world.
Carlotta, who is played with great style and intensity by Lisa Thayer, is overly protective of O’Neill, letting absolutely nothing disturb the playwright, superbly played by John DiFusco, from his writing, including news of the latest suicide attempt by his estranged son, Eugene O’Neill Jr., nicknamed “Bud,” and played with extraordinary intensity by Phil Donlon. As the play goes forward, we see flashbacks of his father famous for his role as the Count of Monte Cristo on stage, his alcoholic womanizing brother Jamie, and his sleepwalking morphine addicted mother, Ella. At times the play erupts in emotional outbursts from all of the men whose loves for each other are complicated by the competition for their father’s respect. There is a lot of physical action, and Tom Groenwald as Jamie (the Jason Robards part) is unashamedly drunk and violent in his confrontations with his younger brother, corrupting his nephew, and unremitting in his confession of the sexual activity he participated in on his mother’s funeral train. The Irish maid, also recognizable, who cares for Bud, is played charmingly and affectionately by Tanya Starcevich, All of these incidents and characters are in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” but if you haven’t seen or read that play you will still find this play absolutely compelling in its pacing and performance.
Mona Lee Wylde as the ghost of Ella, the mother, roams through the play trying to relate to her sons and sometimes speaking drug induced gibberish. There is a damaging plot revelation that her youngest baby was killed by a kiss by one of the sons. Wylde’s performance is riveting to watch as she alternates between drug induced dementia and honest love for her family.
Against all this, is Thayer’s Carlotta who is mourning the illness of her dog, which she places as important as Bud’s latest suicide attempt. Thayer is believable in her love and protection of DiFusco’s O’Neill and when he lashes out against her, concealing the fate of Bud, the two of them go at each other like the couple in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.” If you are familiar with “Moon For the Misbegotten” and “Iceman Cometh” you will recognize many plot references. And Donlon’s portrayal of O’Neill’s son, trying to gain his own recognition against his father’s reputation, is heart-breaking in his despair.
All of this production is compelling with a minimal set but great costumes. A recurring motif is the sound of a fog horn and there is a panorama of the sea on the back wall which is significant in some of O’Neill’s early plays. The high quality production elements are costumes by Michaelyn Whitlock, the set designer is Jared Sacrey and the lighting and sound design is by Joe Morrisey,
As mentioned before, the entire production is skillfully directed by John Stark, Bach’s widower, who also produced this first rate production.
“O’Neill’s Ghosts” continues at the TBG Theatre, 312 West 36th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues) Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8PM, and Sundays at 2 PM. For reservations go to Smarttix.com or phone (212) 868-5252. For additional information go to http://johnstarkproductions.com
Photo: Miriam Geer