O’Neill’s Ghosts

Did the esteemed playwright Eugene O'Neill suffer pangs of conscience while using his family's troubled history as plot fodder? Scribe Jovanka Bach imagines O'Neill struggling with his latest legiter while bombarded by the specters of his alcoholic son, career-plagued father, substance-dependent mother and dissolute older brother. Bach offers some interesting suppositions, but fails to develop them into meaningful drama.

This article was corrected on June 17, 2003.

Did the esteemed Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill suffer any pangs of conscience while ravaging his family’s troubled history as plot fodder for such notable works as “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and “A Moon for the Misbegotten”? Scribe Jovanka Bach imagines an angst-plagued O’Neill (Dana Kelly) struggling with his latest legiter while being bombarded by the specters of his alcoholic son, Bud (Stephen Marshall); his career-plagued father, James (Timothy O’Hare); his substance-dependent mother, Ella; and dissolute older brother Jamie (Ron Bottitta). Bach offers some interesting suppositions concerning the O’Neill family dynamic, but fails to develop them into meaningful drama. A woefully uneven ensemble does not get much help from helmer John Stark, who is much too satisfied to allow Bach’s text to ramble on without any clarifying subtext or meaningful character enhancement.

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Set in Eugene’s New England coastal home at no specified date, the action centers on the playwright’s labored efforts to concentrate on his latest work while his long-suffering but dutiful wife, Carlotta (Jean Gilpin), struggles to safeguard his privacy. The interruptions include a series of frantic calls from the family attorney concerning Eugene’s eldest son, Eugene O’Neill Jr. (referred to by nickname Bud), and Carlotta’s overwrought concern for their ailing Dalmatian. Of little help to the proceedings is the family’s surly Irish maid, Maude (Karen James).

Bach focuses primarily on O’Neill’s years of paternal neglect toward Bud and manages to chronicle the whole history of the father-son relationship. Then again, O’Neill’s interactions with father James, mother Ella and brother Jamie is a feeble Cliff’s Notes rehash of the main plot points of “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” — without the dramatic flair.

Kelly possesses the craggy countenance of the playwright but struggles to establish himself within the persona of O’Neill. He appears more concerned with getting all the dialogue out correctly than with developing his character, especially in a difficult second act.

Gilpin’s Carlotta would be more at home in a 19th-century melodrama. Every line of dialogue is projected as a laser beam of angst without subtlety or variation. James, who alternates in the role of Maud, is uncomfortable in a role she clearly hasn’t mastered.

The other cast members fare much better. In the early scenes, Marshall exudes Bud’s appealingly exuberant boyish desire to gain his father’s approval. As the play progresses, he impressively demonstrates the slow deterioration of Bud’s spirit as it becomes evident that his father never will accept him totally into his life.

Bottitta brings much-needed pizzazz into the proceedings as rampantly unapologetic hedonist Jamie. O’Hare projects the proper haughtiness as James O’Neill, the noted 19th century thespian who never lived up to his early promise as an actor. Leslie has little to do but wander the stage silently as Eugene’s pitifully debilitated mother, but she does it very well.

The production designs of Jaret Sacrey (sets), Joe Morrissey (lights), Zale Morris (costumes) and Anthony Sherritt (sound) quite adequately communicate the somber environment of O’Neill’s world.

O’Neill’s Ghosts

Odyssey Theater Ensemble; 99 seats; $22 top

  • Production: John Stark Prods. presents a play in two acts by Jovanka Bach. Directed by John Stark.
  • Crew: Sets, Jaret Sacrey; lights, Joe Morrisey; sound, Anthony Sherritt; Zale Morris. Opened June 13, 2003; reviewed June 14; closes Aug. 3. Running time: 2 HOURS.
  • Cast: Eugene O'Neill - Dana Kelly Carlotta - Jean Gilpin Eugene "Bud" O'Neill Jr. - . Stephen Marshall Jamie - Ron Bottitta James - Timothy O'Hare Ella - Sue Leslie Maud - Karen James
  • Music By: