By Susan Dunn
The annual Eugene O’Neill Festival is dedicated this year to the voices of women, and Anna Christie is the play that delivers that goal. To get there, we took a Festival Bus to an old barn on a remote hill in Danville to be entertained, time-warped, and enveloped by three compelling characters.
It’s the story of a former prostitute who must reveal her past to her father and fiancé. The denouement is a nut to crack enveloped in fog. Is this a drama, a tragedy, or a melodrama? Anna Christie has occasional aspects of all of these elements. But the engaging characters, their stories, and ultimately their charm work their magic.
Look up and see the stars through the holes in the barn ceiling. Pray that rain won’t come during the performance. Crickets crawl across the stage, and flies waft by. Where is this superb venue? At the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, managed with cooperation and support from the Eugene O’Neill Foundation.
…a triumph for one of O’Neill’s best plays to our delight…
Before showtime, one can tour O’Neill’s former residence, Tao House, now a complete museum and gift shop, just a short walk from the barn. At the end of September, the whole cast and production will perform again at The Eugene O’Neill International Festival of Theatre in New Ross, Ireland. It’s an annual cultural and civic celebration of the strong ties between Ireland and the United States exemplified by O’Neill’s Irish heritage.
Anna Christie opens with a glimpse of Anna, now a refugee from a hard-knock life, scurrying through the scene with her belongings in hand. Adriene Deane’s every expression reveals a 20-year-old who is oppressed but aching to recover from her past. It’s a subtle and primarily low-key role that is an excellent foil to her two loves. Her father, Chris Christopherson, hasn’t tried to see her in 15 years. He’s a crusty, boisterous, hard-drinking womanizing scamp ably captured by Charles Woodson Parker. He packs a hidden, vulnerable heart of filial love and a penchant for cursing “Ye old devil sea!” on whom he blames all life’s challenges.
Into this unlikely duo charges Matt Burke, a lowly Irish sailor whose profession is stoking coal on ships and living the itinerant life of the sea. Expertly played by Kyle Goldman, Matt makes up for his ignominious status with an explosive personality. His body writhes, his limbs contort or strut, his eyes bug and pinch, his eyebrows arch, and his chatter is non-stop, with an appeal that makes us want to take him home. This reviewer couldn’t wait for his next entrance.
Anna re-enters her father’s life, playing her last and lost family card, and hopes for help to recover from the abuse of her former professions: farm worker-slave, nurse, governess, and finally prostitute, a past she must hide. She moves onto the barge with her father and Matt. She ultimately is restored by the sea and the fog, which hides her past life from her consciousness, and the attentions and affections of Matt, who takes her for a well-bred young woman.
By Act III, this restorative happiness is challenged by Matt’s proposing marriage and her father’s attempts to control her – to steer her back to the land, to stability, to permanence, and away from the sea and the life of a sailor’s wife. She finally finds her voice and declares her love for both of them–and her right to personal responsibility and determinism.
Assisted by minimal but appropriate production elements, three featured roles, and the embrace of being set next to O’Neill’s former residence, the play delivers a triumph for one of O’Neill’s best plays to our delight and the Festival’s excellence.
Since arriving in California from New York in 1991, Susan Dunn has been on the executive boards of Hillbarn Theatre, Altarena Playhouse, Berkeley Playhouse, Virago Theatre and Island City Opera, where she is a development director and stage manager.
An enthusiastic advocate for new productions and local playwrights, she is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, and a recipient of a 2015 Alameda County Arts Leadership Award. Contact: email@example.com
|Written by||Eugene O’Neill|
|Directed by||Eric Fraisher Hayes|
|Producing Company||The Eugene O’Neill Foundation, Tao House|
|Production Dates||Through Sept 24th|
|Production Address||The Old Barn, Tao House, 1000 Kuss Rd
Danville, CA 94526
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review Pick?||YES!|