By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Howard Davies
Venue: Old Vic Theatre
Date: Wednesday 6th November 2006
Although I enjoyed this play enormously, and suspect that this is about the best production of it we’re likely to see (even assuming we get to see another one!) I felt it was just below 10/10 status for me. But only just. The play itself is a marvel, reminding me of the skill and power of Terence Rattigan in In Praise of Love. The story is basically about the relationships among three people. For long periods there are only two actors on stage, yet it constantly gripped and moved me. I wanted to see what happened to these people – would they make it out of their own personal hells?
The set was visible from the off. A Hopper-esque mid-western landscape with a splash of Dali in the crooked shack, and achingly blue skies stretching into forever while a few clouds failed to look important in the distance. Lovely. Actually, the play is set in Connecticut, which I don’t associate with the empty prairie look, but then what do I know?
Eve Best plays Josie Hogan, the daughter of Phil Hogan (Colm Meaney). The opening scene involves her helping her brother Mike (Eugene O’Hare) to run off. He’s tired of the old man’s beatings, and wants to better himself. We learn that there’s another brother who’s done the same thing before. Josie chooses to stay with her Dad; she can handle him OK, as we see when he turns up looking for his lazy good-for-nothing son. She gets a big stick and threatens him when he turns on her and he soon backs down.
Their conversation is rambling, and entertaining, and gives us a lot of the background. They’re working a pretty difficult farm – mostly stones – and not actually paying rent to the owner, Jim Tyrone (Kevin Spacey) the son of the original owner. Jim is a drunk. He used to be an actor, and apparently talks like he’s headed back to the bright city lights, but he never seems to do anything but mooch around and drink away his inheritance. He comes over regularly to hang out with Phil, mostly in the nearby bar, and despite his joking around we can see he’s really interested in Josie. Their relationship develops over the course of a drunken, moon-soaked night, and naturally we find out why Jim drinks. Phil has been spinning yarns again to encourage Josie to get Jim to propose, so that she can have a good life and not have to keep working on the farm, but it doesn’t quite work out. Although there’s not a happy ending as such, there is a sense of completion, as Josie forgives Jim for his assumed guilt.
We also see one T Steadman Harder (Billy Carter) whose land adjoins Phil’s farm. Phil has been taking liberties with Harder’s ice pond, tearing down the fence between the properties and letting his pigs enjoy themselves in a nice cool pool. Harder turns up to try and thrash things out, but ends up getting thrashed himself, as Phil and Josie gang up on him and accuse him of letting their pigs onto his land where they might drown or catch a cold from the chilly water! Very entertaining, and it shows father and daughter working as a team, which they do very effectively.
All the performances were great, with so much detail in them it was difficult to know who to watch especially when all three leads were on stage together. I do hope this production wins awards.
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me