Thursday, May 21, 2009

Desire Under The Elms Scorches

Last weekend, my friend Leila and I went to see “Desire Under The Elms.”

Robert Falls’ production of the revered Eugene O’Neill classic about longing and deception pulls you in right away. Two siblings struggle to build a stone wall in oppressive heat, an example of the hard labor they’ve been forced into by their widowed father Ephraim (Brian Dennehy).

At odds with their stepbrother Eben (Pablo Schreiber) over who will inherit the family’s farm, the men sell their shares and take off for California. Eben is left to battle it out with his father and the young new bride Ephraim brings home, Abbie (Carla Gugino).

Carla Gugino as Abbie Putnam and Pablo Schreiber as Eben Cabot in “Desire Under the Elms" (photo courtesy: Liz Lauren/New York Times)

Embittered that the land of his late mother is up for grabs, Eben lashes out as Abbie plays the two men against each other to get what she wants. Hate soon gives way to passion for Abbie and Eben, with an affair that leads to a pregnancy -- and a devastating twist at the end.

Schreiber is explosive as the wronged son wanting to claim his birthright, while Dennehy is at his ferocious best in his portrayal of a patriarch who refuses to give up control. But the show truly belongs to Gugino, whose chilling performance of a woman blinded by love and desperation has you riveted until the final curtain call.

“Desire Under The Elms” is Greek tragedy at its best. The show’s shortened Broadway run wraps up on May 24th.

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