Monday, February 16, 2009

Desire Under The Elms (The SOB Review)

Desire Under The Elms (The SOB Review) - The Albert Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Chicago, Illinois

** (out of ****)

In Robert Falls' gloriously hamstrung revival of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under The Elms, the would-be emperor of the Cabot family has no clothes. Literally and figuratively. And his name is Pablo Schreiber.

Falls certainly ignites Elms with scintillating to titillating sizzle. Kindling the initial sparks are the opening wafts of bacon frying on a stove as hogs are being gutted via Walt Spangler's inspired scenic design. Those sparks rage into a full flame when Schreiber's Eben Cabot falls under the spell of the rousing Carla Gugino as Abbie Putnam, the new bride of Eben's father Ephraim (the reliably talented Brian Dennehy). It certainly ranks as the most sensuous depiction of O'Neill I've ever witnessed.

Yet all that burning lust can't obscure the fact that Schreiber is virtually unintelligible with an accent that couldn't be found with a GPS. He may be a great, buff actor, but he mumbled his way through my performance and strained my ears, if not some credulity.

Confounding matters is that Eben's brothers Peter (Boris McGiver) and Simeon (Daniel Stewart Sherman) appear to come directly from central casting for "Deliverance" -- every time they stepped on stage, I half expected to hear "Dueling Banjos" played. Never mind that O'Neill set Desire Under The Elms in New England.

While Falls' Desire may be beautiful to look at, as the latter-day Greek tragedy O'Neill intended, it whimpers away more quietly than the baby snuffing we never actually see played out.

If this is going to Broadway, be forewarned, as erotic as no clothes may be, the emperor still has no clothes.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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