Eugene O'Neill's magnum opus is a masterpiece of American playwriting, but keeping an audience engaged through its
3 1/2 solid hours of drug addiction, alcoholism, chronic illness and family dysfunction is a tough gig. Fortunately, for this production, Artists Rep has teamed up with Australia's Sydney Theatre Company—one of the oldest and most respected companies in the country, currently under the artistic direction of Cate Blanchett and her husband, director Andew Upton—and if you're ever going to digest this shocking depiction of the playwright's tragic home life, this is the version to see. The production reflects the strengths of both companies, with an accomplished cast and impeccable staging courtesy of some of the most acclaimed names in Australian theater, guided by Upton's experienced hand.
Veteran Australian actor Robyn Nevin steals the show. Her portrayal of O'Neill's loving but lonely, morphine-addicted mother, Mary, is so believable it's uncomfortable. The opportunity to see one of Australia's greatest living actresses perform live is worth the price of admission alone. William Hurt's performance as the family's miserly, once-famous Irish-immigrant father, James Tyrone, is less consistent. In his hands, the hyper-articulate character is transformed into a far gruffer and grizzlier old man. His rambling, ranting monologues run between utterly gripping and completely incomprehensible. Nevertheless, the pair shares convincing chemistry as a loving husband and wife whose lives and relationship have been long eroded.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast doesn't feel quite so familial. Local actor Todd Van Voris is utterly charming in his larger-than-life characterization of the ne'er-do-well eldest son, James Jr., but it's a stretch to see this bawdy buffoon as the protégé of the understated Hurt. Likewise, the sickly, neurotic youngest son, Edmund (based on O'Neill himself), is ably performed by Australian Luke Mullins, but it's a struggle to see the pair as brothers. Still, with two legendary actors in one of the classic plays of the 20th century, you'd be, as Hurt's Tyrone would mumble, a "damnedfool" to miss this show.
Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 248-4335. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Sundays, 2 pm Wednesdays and Sundays. Closes Sept. 5. $50-$75+ (Ticketmaster), $25 students.