Desire Under the Elms Review - Lust on the Rocks

Eugene O'Neill's DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS at the Goodman until March 1

Director Robert Falls and Set Designer Walt Spangler have redefined stage presence. Huge boulders that could crush everyone on stage create a looming, indomitable environment.  The brothers Cabot are practically reduced to beasts of burden in service of the rocks. Their house, suspended from ropes, threatens to come crashing down on them. And, as if that's not enought, a huge, hanging pig is even gutted before our eyes. And what's for lunch? Bacon! We know. We could smell it. Every detail  is overwhelmingly rocky, depressing and perilous. And not one elm in sight.

The Cabot family says grace

Desire Under the Elms is iconic. A highly passionate, shocking drama of three people tangled in lust and loathing, it's the first great tragedy from the writer who I consider to be the American Shakespeare—our country's greatest and most influential playwright," said Director Robert Falls. "It was necessary for me to reinterpret this play with my longtime collaborator Brian Dennehy—who is considered by many to be one of the great O'Neill interpreters in the world—with two actors of remarkable depth and substance, Carla Gugino and Pablo Schreiber, to complete the devastating love triangle."

Pablo Schreiber and Carla Gugino overcome by desire

The heat between Carla Gugino's Abby Putnam and Pablo Schreiber's Eben Cabot is as intense as it is conflicted.  Though he sees her as the enemy, Eben's passionate attraction to Abby is more than he can bear or control. Sexy young Abby, opportunist, temptress and scheming wife may not have wanted him. But, just to make sure she would, he takes a bath on stage and she (and we!) can compare this handsome, muscular young man to her husband, the hateful, greedy septuagenarian Ephraim Cabot ( Brian Denehy).   

Brian Denehey as Ephriam Cabot

Without a doubt, Brian Denehy is the reason to see Desire Under the Elms. His impressive credits say it all: at the GoodmanHughie (2004), Long Day's Journey Into Night (2002), Death of a Salesman (1998),  A Touch of the Poet (1996), The Iceman Cometh (1992), and Galileo (1986). His Broadway credits include Inherit the Wind (2007), Long Day's Journey Into Night (Tony Award for Best Actor 2003), Death of a Salesman (Tony Award for Best Actor 1999) and Translations (1995). His scowl and growl are legend, as are his ability to communicate tenderness and vulnerability.  But in his opening night performance, he seems to need to grow into this role.  I have no doubt that future audiences will have the pleasure (and pain!) of seeing Denehy at full throttle.  We didn't. 

Eugene O'Neill

A master tragedian and intrepid explorer of the human psyche, Eugene O'Neill is considered one of the greatest American playwrights of the 20th century. His accolades include four Pulitzer Prizes in Drama—more than any other playwright to date—and the  Nobel Prize in Literature. Since O'Neill's death in 1953, his plays have remained popular on American and international stages and have become mainstays in literature courses throughout the world.

  Desire Under the Elms is performed in one act, spanning 100 minutes with no intermission.

Held over until March 1, tickets for Desire Under the Elms are $25 - $82 and may be purchased online at, at the box office (170 North Dearborn) or by phone at 312.443.3800. Mezztix are half-price mezzanine tickets available at 12 noon at the box office, and at 10am online (promo code MEZZTIX) day of performance; Mezztix are not available by telephone. 10Tix are $10 mezzanine tickets for students available at 12 noon at the box office, and at 10am online on the day of performance; 10Tix are not available by telephone. Valid student I.D. must be presented when picking up the tickets. Limit four per student with I.D. All tickets are subject to availability and handling fees apply. Discounted Group Tickets for 10 persons or more are available at 312.443.3820.

Liz Lauren photos courtesy of Goodman Theater

About "A Global Exploration: Eugene O'Neill in the 21st Century"
Goodman Theatre
begins 2009 with an eight-play landmark theatrical event, "A Global Exploration: Eugene O'Neill in the 21st Century" curated by Artistic Director Robert Falls, January 7 through March 8, 2009. More than 100 artists from six theater companies around the world bring their highly contemporary, innovative interpretations of O'Neill's dramas to the Goodman's Exploration-viewing the 20th century "father of the American drama," through a 21st century international lens.

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