Mourning Becomes Electra-Feb 2009

Another cold windy day in late February, I’m standing in the platform waiting room of the Long Island Railroad trying to warm up with some coffee as I wait for my train. I wish I had the sense to bring some tissues or a pocket handkerchief as I slowly get rid of a head cold that had me home sick in bed three days ago. I look over at a woman in her mid-fifties but decide not to ask her for tissues, strangely though we strike up a conversation anyway, chatting about the trains and I take the opportunity to pitch the Electronic Cigarette to her ( a new way to enjoy nicotine without the cancer risks) that I have started to sell as a side income. So far only my Dad has bought one and that was a major triumph for me, to get him to come aboard after a heart attack and two strokes is probably too little too late but at least I tried. Still, many people who I thought would jump at it haven’t as of yet. Maybe their waiting for the stimulus check that will make all the difference in our lives, anyone who believes that stand on your head!

We sit down to continue our conversation across from each other and Virginia tells me she is a licensed massage therapist and practices living life to the fullest. We talk about diet and health, the care of older family members and an Indian way of life called Ayurveda, a balanced approach to life and health, and the idea of eating in reverse, having dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner. She is very interesting but I don’t know if I could stomach dinner in the morning.  All too soon we arrive at Jamaica Station and Virginia gets off to go to work, I wish her well and were off again on a bumpy ride while a man behind me snores like a buzz saw. I’m going in today to see Mourning Becomes Electra, my second Eugene O’Neill play and at four hours long with two intermissions it promises to be an experience. If I feel up to it I’ll go to the Village afterwards for dinner, I am dying to try a Greek place I read about on Menu Pages dot com, right now we are hurtling through the tunnel at break neck speed making writing impossible…

I make it topside after the usual cattle drive to get upstairs and on the surface again, it’s cold and I’m glad of the grey sweater my mom got me for xmas. I have it on under my overcoat on top of a longsleeve knit shirt and I’m still chilly, I can’t imagine how the homeless people survive the winter. I start walking to the theater district in the cold sunshine – it’s a beautiful day, people jostle each other as they cross the streets and vie for position at the street corners waiting for the lights to change. Suddenly an old Asian woman stops me and hands me an envelope with an address on it, she can only speak a few words but she can’t find this doctors office. I look at the numbers, she’s on the right street but I don’t see it either, I wave her to follow me and I see that the entrance is actually around the corner on a side street! I direct her to go upstairs with a pat on the shoulder for good luck, she thanks me and goes inside to get the elevator. That woman never would have found that entrance without help, so I feel good now. I made a difference for someone today, I just hope she’s not too sick.

I continue on my way but now I’m getting a little lost, I thought it was on a certain street and it isn’t there, I went to this theatre once at night ( which is documented in my post Mouth To Mouth) in the rain and now I feel stupid because I obviously transposed the numbers in my head and my subscription letter doesn’t have the address on it. I didn’t follow my own advice from a previous post to always know where your going and have phone numbers and addresses in pocket. So now I wander, I stop in a theater store selling theater district souvenir’s and they tell me to go to 43 rd St but it’s not there. I’m starting to panic, if I don’t find it soon I will have to wait till the 7:00 pm performance, I don’t want to have to kill six hours, but after a while I stop in the Lyceum Theater box office and am helped by Jennifer, a thirty-something cute woman who makes two calls for me and gives me directions how to get there from her, I promise her a drink in the future and off I go, I’ve got thirty minutes before the show starts.

Thankfully, I’ve got strong legs and I make the 3 city blocks and 4 Avenues over in about twenty minutes, I’m in now and take my seat in the next to last row. This is good for me in this small theater which seats about 250 people, the set is once again minimal but effective. There are black crepe curtains that hang over the walls and the rear of the stage which cover gilt framed portraits of the deceased family members from the past. The center stage has a few wicker chairs and a desk, while the back center stage has double doors with Roman columns on either side in between the aforementioned portraits. There are exitways stage left and right which allow the actors to give the illusion of movement, by exiting and then reappearing through the doors, this gives the actors the ability to appear to be going inside the house and back outside, the use of back lighting and also colored lights give this a Kabuki feel as well as the suspension of dis-belief when they walk in the aisle’s behind and on either side of us to add to the feeling of distance travelled.

The large cast is very good and hats off to the players who only have a few lines, they do an excellent job. But the stellar performance of Jena Malone as Livinia is what you’re paying for here. She is stretched tight as a drum in this demanding role, she has the most lines and is on stage for most of the production. The role of Christine, played by Lili Taylor is also moving and demanding, she is brilliant. This must be exhausting for all of them to do this twice a day. But I think special mention should also be given to Joseph Cross as Orin, the battle scarred brother to Livinia who’s love for his mother borders on obsession. This play is  O’Neill’s re-imagining of  The Oresteia, a Greek tragedy written by Aeschylus, but I can easily see a recurrence of themes from his Long Days Journey into Night and Moon For The Misbegotten. The loveless marriage, clinging mother,the price children pay when duty to a parent has them taking the place of a disappointing spouse. This story clearly shows how love taken to obsessive lengths can lead to hate and possession and ultimately destroy the things we meant to preserve. I leave the show a little tired, like many O’Neill plays it’s not uplifting, and four hours is long to sit in one place. I wait in the lobby and manage to get an autograph from Joseph Cross and then from Jena Malone, I spend a few moments talking with her about the production and her performance, she is off qiuckly to eat and rest, she’s got to do this all again in two and a half hours! I begin to walk back to Penn station now, I  walk in a zig-zag fashion down unfamiliar streets stopping to look at shops and to see menus in the windows of restaurants. But I’m really not feeling a sit down meal, I need a nap and a shower and a change of clothes before I do that so I walk to Penn to save cab fare and descend to find quick eats before boarding my train. I’ve been on a cheese-steak kick lately so I try the new sandwich place Charley’s for a three cheese meaty surprise on a soft roll with a beer, it’s fast food but not too bad I think as we start moving out of the station. I regret not being able to eat dinner in the village but it’s been a long winter, and I’ve been sick so I’ll treat myself another time. I wonder when I will get to see another Eugene O’Neill play and which one will be revived, I munch my sandwich and speculate about the tragedy of his life that made the writing of Mourning Becomes Electra possible as we cruise slowly down the tracks in the fading light of day.

Peace

Glen
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Filed under Eugene O'Neil, Fast Food, New York City, Off Broadway, Plays, The New Group, Theater

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