Saturday, March 7, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of O'Neill's Ghosts at The Barrow Group Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of O'Neill's Ghosts at The Barrow Group Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

O'Neill's Ghosts
Written by Jovanka Bach
Directed & Produced by John Stark
The Barrow Group Theatre (312 West 36th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 3/6/15 at 8:00 p.m. 

If you were unaware of how absolutely dysfunctional the O'Neill family was, then O'Neill's Ghosts will provide you with insight into the recurring patterns of alcoholism, depression, drug addiction and parental neglect that revealed itself in multiple generations of that family. If you did not know that Eugene Gladstone O'Neill used his own family's troubled history as plot fodder for his many plays, then O'Neill's Ghosts will enlighten you on that issue. Finally, if you have not discovered what an egotistic, self-absorbed, uncaring, moody, unlovable and unloving man Eugene O'Neill was, then this is the play for you. No good outcomes here in this play set in 1950 with O'Neill being visited by ghosts of family members reminding him of how bad things always were. In flashbacks, we get to see James O'Neill, his career-plagued and alcoholic father; Mary Ellen Quinlan(Ella), his depressed and morphine-addicted mother; Jamie, his alcoholic, debauched brother who drank himself to death at age 45; and Eugene Gladstone O'Neill, Jr. (Bud), a Yale classicist who constantly sought his father's approval and ultimately committed suicide. The play doesn't even mention his daughter Oona, who was disowned for marrying English actor Charlie Chaplin when she was 18 and Chaplin was 54 nor does it mention Shane O'Neill, his other son, a heroin addict who moved into Spithead, the family home in Bermuda, and supported himself and his new wife by selling off the furnishings.

While O'Neill's Ghosts certainly gives you a feel for this troubled family, for whatever reason, Jovanka Bach used her literary license to play fast and loose with a number of facts. For example, Eugene O'Neill is depicted as being troubled by whether he or his brother Jamie gave his infant brother Edmund the measles resulting in his death but Eugene wasn't born until years after the young Edmund died. Similarly, Bud is said to have committed suicide by shooting himself in the head when, in fact, he slit his left wrist and ankle. In addition, Eugene and Carlotta's dog Blemie died years before the year in which the play is set. Many people unaware of the facts and circumstances of Eugene O'Neill's life and family are going to leave the theater having learned inaccurate information. On the other hand, does it really matter whether Eugene O'Neill missed his own brother's funeral and his own son's commencement speech? Does it matter whether he actually failed to read Bud's doctoral thesis? In those situations, it is the general point that Eugene O'Neill was an arrogant fellow who put his work and his own selfish desires above those of his family that matters most.

In the play, O'Neill's aloofness and dedication to his work are depicted by his not wanting anything or anyone to interfere with his writing. When Bud kills himself, O'Neill's character says, "I should never have let Bud into my life. I should never have let him get close." Whenever a family crisis was happening, his character says, "I will not be drawn into it." The best example of his complete detachment is when Blemie, their dog (who has been loyal and loving for 11 years), is dying and Carlotta asks her husband to pet the dog, O'Neill can't even be bothered to do that. So you can see how little time he would have for his own children and his wives, of which he had three. Even Carlotta Monterey, his third wife, was deeply affected by O'Neill's mood swings and ultimately became addicted to potassium bromide.

John DiFusco does a fine job portraying Eugene O'Neill and the very attractive Lisa Thayer is a pleasure to watch in the role of Carlotta. Phil Donlon very professionally exhibits the longings and frustrations of Bud while Tom Groenwald is impeccable as Jamie, O'Neill's brother. Dana Kelly is sufficiently believable in his paternal role as O'Neill's father. On the other hand, poor Mona Lee Wylde as Ella doesn't get to act much since most of the time she appears wandering the stage, saying nothing, in a morphine-induced stupor. Similarly, Tanya Starcevich has only a few lines as Maud, the maid.  

O'Neill's Ghosts is in New York for a limited engagement. For information about purchasing tickets, call 212-868-5252 or visit 

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