Playwright: Eugene O'Neill. At: Artistic Home at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Phone: 773-327-5252; $28-$32. Runs through: Nov. 6
Class warfare is never pleasant to witness, but a far sorrier sight when occurring within a lone individual. Eugene O'Neill's 1957 play captures the Irish immigrant experience in America and the price of upward mobility through the microcosm of a single family at the dawn of our country's promise to eradicate social barriers for all posterity.
Irish-born Cornelius "Con" Melody's father, by means of various shady practices, amassed a fortune sufficient to give his son a gentleman's upbringing. Flushed with the romantic fervor popularized by Lord Byron, the lad enlisted in the United States army to spite the English for the War of 1812, only to be discharged for his rakish off-duty behavior. Our story finds him in 1828, his estate now reduced to a shabby inn in a derelict suburb of Boston, lost in an alcoholic fog permitting him to mythologize his memories of better days. Melody's country-bred wifetheir alliance precipitated by her untimely pregnancydoggedly devotes herself to the husband who alternately cherishes and abuses her, but his headstrong daughter sees an escape from her ill-tempered Da in seducing the rich Thoreau-wannabe boy next door. Hey, isn't this the American dream?
Though far from his lengthiest drama, O'Neill's domestic tragedy is, nevertheless, clearly the product of a time when a greater volume of words were necessary to propel actors over the spacious stages engendered by huge auditoriums housing audiences averaging in larger numbers than today. The players assembled by director Kathy Scambiatterra for this two hours-plus production, however, have been rigorously drilled in the diverse aspects of their craft, endowing them with a physical and vocal stamina rarely seen in young companies today.
Elizabeth Argus delivers a marathon-paced performance in the role of young Sara Melody, navigating O'Neill's protracted speeches with the modulated ease of an opera diva, as does Frank Nall's intense Cornelius Melody, whose immersion in his character's conflicted poetry-quoting psyche remains undiminished right up to the final resolution. The remainder of the cast also reflects Artistic Home's high standards of expertise in Stage 773's intimate Black Box theater, but special mention is due Katherine Swan's chillingly candid portrait of Sara's potential mother-in-law as the embodiment of the Byronic female counterpart to the masculine ideal that so eludes the envious Melody.