O’Neil Play Goes Back Down Memory Lane

When reading the manuscript of a play, the reader can discover a world that does not necessarily appear on stage.  Dialogue and most importantly stage directions reveal more about the playwright’s true purpose for writing the play other than applause and a stint on Broadway.  Similar to a poem cleverly hidden within a poem, stage directions add texture and inject supplementary life to the work.

No playwright was as detailed with their stage direction as Eugene O’Neil.  The legendary dramatist made his first mark on Broadway with Beyond the Horizon, but before O’Neil became a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, he was an experimental writer in the downtown theatre district. 

Christopher Loar describes O’Neil as “a failed poet who became a Nobel Prize winning playwright.”  Loar is an ensemble member for New York Neo-Futurists  Known for Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, a production billed as “an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 Plays in 60 Minutes,” New York Neo-Futurists interject vivacious physicality into live theatre – they are not a theatre group, they are a revolution.  As the director of The Complete and Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neil: Vol. 1, Early/Lost Plays, Christopher Loar accepted the mission of adapting O’Neil’s punctilious stage directions into a production that could stand on its own, separate from the dialogue, scenery and transformation of the actors into the characters.  The result is an uproarious free-for-all.

Loar and the ensemble of New Neo-York Futurists deconstruct the instructions of an obsessive control freak and create comedic art.  Following the model of Too Much Light, the troupe stages a physical reenactment of seven of O’Neil’s lesser known works.   As a narrator, played by Jacquelyn Landgraf describes the action, the ensembles mimic O’Neil’s stage directions with gestures that are over-dramatized and abundant with laughs.  There is no way anyone can watch this production and not walk away without having one moment in which they are doubled over in their seats from laughter.  Each of these plays deals with intense emotion and somber subject matter, however after New York Neo-Futurists get done with it, it became a vaudeville skit for the new millennium.  A red pail doubles for a fire in the Arizona desert; actors with shark fins on their heads imitate circling predators, an ensemble member places a puppet dinosaur over her hand and pretends to coo and cry like a baby, actors smear rouge on their face to display changes in emotion, a pig nose masquerades for an oddly shaped feature– all of it absurd and every bit of it comedic gold.

Overall, The Complete and Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neil is a 60-minute bacchanalia.  It is a brilliant, unique theatre going experience that elevates O’Neil’s work into a new realm all while bringing  America’s greatest playwright back to his beginnings.  If Benny Hill and Monty Python adopted a group of kids, New York Neo-Futurists would be their rainbow tribe.  Hats off to this kooky troupe for developing a new take on a theatre legend.

Photos:  Anton Nickel