×

Bread and Butter

Playwrights Theatre of New York has made a significant historical statement with the premiere of "Bread and Butter," the first full-length play that Eugene O'Neill wrote. The notable oddity, which was written in 1914 when the dramatist was only 26 years old, is a crudely structured and often unwieldy play. Despite its abundance of over-wrought language and melodramatic devices, however, there are a few genuine moments of high voltage drama, heightened here by two illuminating performances.

With:
Harry .....Chris Brady Steve Harrington .....Bradford Brown Helene .....Jody Carlson Mr. Brown .....Stan Carp Steele .....Bob Heitman Mrs. Brown .....Judette Jones Ted .....Ben Killberg Bessie .....Stacie Lents Edward .....Avram Ludwig Mr. Garment .....Salem Ludwig Mary Brown .....Mara McEwin John Brown .....Kristoffer Polaha Maude Steele .....Paulette O'Dow Babe .....Brent Vimtrup

Playwrights Theatre of New York has made a significant historical statement with the premiere of “Bread and Butter,” the first full-length play that Eugene O’Neill wrote. The notable oddity, which was written in 1914 when the dramatist was only 26 years old, is a crudely structured and often unwieldy play. Despite its abundance of over-wrought language and melodramatic devices, however, there are a few genuine moments of high voltage drama, heightened here by two illuminating performances.

Autobiographical in tone, with strands of family life that surface frequently in the O’Neill canon, the drama focuses upon a young Princeton grad, a painter who refuses his father’s plea to study law and retreats to the Bohemian city life of the struggling artist. John Brown (Kristoffer Polaha) is encouraged by a kindly art teacher (Salem Ludwig) to pursue his dreams and nurture a promising talent.

Popular on Variety

When his son fails to establish a professional career in art after one year, the father withdraws financial support for his studies. Disillusioned, Brown observes the edging success of his creative friends and opts to return to a small New England community, marry Maude (Paulette O’Dow), the daughter of a prosperous businessman, and begin a mundane existence as a shopkeeper.

But John — who is badgered by his successful brother, Harry (Chris Brady), a young politico running for town mayor, and who sours on his marriage to the tempestuous, nagging Maude — soon finds solace in whiskey and womanizing.

“Everything about my life is unbearable,” the failed artist laments, and the familiar demons of an O’Neill terrain appear with flights of cringing despair, agony and rage.

O’Neill had destroyed his only copy of this play — which was not authorized for production — but, fortunately, a copyright had been taken out on it and the surviving text had been filed with the Library of Congress. In respect to the Nobel Prize-winning dramatist, artistic director Stephen Kennedy Murphy and the Playwrights Theatre — who plan to present all 49 O’Neill plays within the next decade — have staged “Bread and Butter” as a rehearsal and the original rambling and lengthy four-acter has been pruned to an acceptable running time.

With the exception of a few scattered stools on a bare stage, there is no set , props nor costumes. The actors appear in casual everyday dress, creating a varied canvas of character models which O’Neill would develop nearly 15 years later, following his initial full-fledged triumph in 1929 with “Beyond the Horizon,” the first of his three Pulitzer Prize-winning dramas.

The acting drifts from uncomfortably tentative and sloppy to genuinely electric tandem turns by Polaha and O’Dow. As the doomed hero, Polaha captures the brooding despair and required intensity. The assured young actor, who appeared last month as the playwright in the experimental “Eugene O’Neill Ragtime Revue,” invests his character with lanky fervor, and the play with the much needed energy.

The raven-haired O’Dow makes a keen transformation from a fetching small town tease to a shrewish vixen. Together, Polaha and O’Dow weld the tension and tragedy of the long and turbulent final scene with stark numbing depth and insight.

Bread and Butter

(DRAMA; PROVINCETOWN PLAYHOUSE; 132 SEATS; $ 12 TOP)

Production: A Playwrights Theatre of New York presentation of a play in two acts by Eugene O'Neill. Directed by Stephen Kennedy Murphy.

Crew: Lighting, Matthew E. Adelson; stage manager, Jennifer Pesce. Artistic director, Murphy. Opened and reviewed at the Provincetown Playhouse, Sept. 2, 1998. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

With: Harry .....Chris Brady Steve Harrington .....Bradford Brown Helene .....Jody Carlson Mr. Brown .....Stan Carp Steele .....Bob Heitman Mrs. Brown .....Judette Jones Ted .....Ben Killberg Bessie .....Stacie Lents Edward .....Avram Ludwig Mr. Garment .....Salem Ludwig Mary Brown .....Mara McEwin John Brown .....Kristoffer Polaha Maude Steele .....Paulette O'Dow Babe .....Brent Vimtrup

More Film

  • Kajillionaire

    'Kajillionaire': Film Review

    The world is a weird place. Miranda July knows that, but the rest of us sometimes forget. Or maybe we just don’t want to admit how bizarre it is that society more or less agrees that back rubs and hot tubs and flavored chips and McRibs are an appropriate reward for a bazillion years of [...]

  • Stellan Skarsgard

    Göteborg Listens to Stellan according to Skarsgård

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden — Laughs were aplenty at the Stora Theatern, where Göteborg Film Festival artistic director Jonas Holmberg welcomed the recipient of the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award, fresh off his Golden Globe win for HBO’s “Chernobyl”. “It wasn’t planned. I thought that will be my only award this year, that’s why I said yes!” – joked Skarsgård, [...]

  • Promising Young Woman

    'Promising Young Woman': Film Review

    Given that the entertainment industry is pretty much the center of the #MeToo universe in terms of generating its most public effects — and, needless to say, causes — probably no Sundance film this year will be as hot a conversation topic as “Promising Young Woman.” Emerald Fennell’s first directorial feature is a female revenge [...]

  • Little Women Movie

    'Little Women,' 'Fleabag' Win USC Scripter Awards

    Greta Gerwig’s script for “Little Women” has won the USC Libraries Scripter Award for best movie adaptation and “Fleabag” has taken the television award. The winners were announced Saturday night at USC’s Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library. “Little Women” topped “Dark Waters,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” and “The Two Popes.” All but environmental drama [...]

  • Four Good Days

    'Four Good Days': Film Review

    Addiction, you could say (and I would), has become the central demon that plagues Americans. We’re addicted to everything: alcohol, illegal drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, psychotropic drugs, sugar-bomb soft drinks, processed food, video screens…you name it. In theory, addiction was made for drama, because it rips up the fabric of people’s lives, and that’s intensely dramatic. [...]

  • Netflix backed animated films “Klaus,” left,

    'Klaus,' 'I Lost My Body' Top 47th Annie Awards as Netflix Dominates

    Netflix dominated the 47th Annie Awards on Saturday, Jan. 25, picking up 19 trophies, including the top prizes of best feature (“Klaus”), best feature-independent (“I Lost My Body”), best TV/media production for preschool children (“Ask the Storybots”) and best general audience TV/media production (“BoJack Horseman”). Disney TV Animation’s “Disney Mickey Mouse” won best TV/media production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content