Posted by Robert Falls
We are now in the midst of preview performances for Desire Under the Elms, the first great tragedy by the playwright who I consider to be the American Shakespeare: Eugene O’Neill, our country’s greatest and most influential writer for the stage. Desire is a passionate, brutal and ultimately tremendously moving play, one which generated a storm of controversy when it premiered in 1924. It is a landmark in the evolution of O’Neill’s work, a play that I feel is every bit as compelling today as it was nearly 90 years ago.
When I first began to think seriously about directing Desire Under the Elms, I naturally assumed that I would be working with my great friend and longtime collaborator Brian Dennehy. Through more than two decades, our work together has included a number of O’Neill’s greatest plays, including The Iceman Cometh, A Touch of the Poet, Long Day’s Journey into Night and Hughie; and Brian is now widely considered to be among the finest interpreters of O’Neill in the world today. For this production, I was fortunate in finding two other highly respected actors to share the stage with Brian: Carla Gugino, whose work in film and in such recent Broadway revivals as After the Fall and Suddenly Last Summer has brought her great acclaim; and Pablo Schreiber, one of our most dynamic young actors and a recent Tony Award nominee for his Broadway debut in Odets’ Awake and Sing! The work of these three performers (and that of the other two fine actors in the cast, Boris McGiver and Daniel Stewart Sherman) is astonishing, as I hope you will agree.
This production serves as the centerpiece for our exploration of the early works of O’Neill, all of which drew on 19th century theater traditions and all of which were first produced in the first half of the 20th century. How vital are they today? What resonances do they have for contemporary artists and contemporary audiences? How can the works of a playwright writing nearly a century ago remain as provocative today as they were in their own time? These are the questions that are central to this Global Exploration, questions that are being addressed by some of the world’s most exciting theater artists. I look forward to hearing your responses to our work, and to your ideas concerning the fascinating, passionate world of Desire Under the Elms.
See you at the theater,