Electricity in Pasadena:
A Noise Within’s “Desire Under The Elms”
Leticia Marie Sanchez
For those in Los Angeles without power, head straight to A Noise Within’s “Desire Under The Elms,” the riveting production has all the electricity you need, and then some.
Pasadena is no stranger to the works of Nobel Prize-winning American playwright Eugene O’ Neil. In 1928, the Pasadena Community Playhouse staged the world premiere of O’ Neil’s Lazarus Laughed. Directed by Dámaso Rodriguez, A Noise Within’s current, explosive production of Eugene O’ Neil’s Desire Under The Elms brings rawness to a narrative rooted in the myth of Euripides’ Hippolytus. It is a story steeped in ego, revenge, desire and the nature of human beings themselves.
The strength of this production lies in the talent of its cast.
William Dennis Hunt powerfully interprets the role of “tough as hickory” septuagenarian patriarch Ephraim Cabot. His physically and emotionally intimidating presence can be seen in his interaction with his children, particularly his youngest son, Eben. Jason Dechert successfully captures the complex spirit of Eben Cabot, a boyish youth simultaneously filled with hopeful integrity and intense edginess. When Eben steps away from the menacing figure of his decades older father, we feel him flinch at his shadow.
At the end of Act II, Scene II, when Ephraim pulls his young bride Abbie to the ground to pray for offspring, he intones, “An’God hearkend unto Rachel! An’ God Harkened unto Abbie.” Hunt’s forceful and moving interpretation of these lines render them chilling, to the point where we believe that he has the power to defy earth itself.
Eben’s older half-brothers, portrayed by Stephen Rockwell and Christopher Fairbanks, infuse comedy into the play’s serious overtones. “We’re aimin’t start bein’ lilies of the field,” the rustic Simeon quips about their desire to quit back-braking labor on their father’s farm.
Monette Magrath adroitly navigates the gray area with her nuanced portrayal of Eprhaim’s new bride Abbie Putnam. Not an overt seductress, she carries herself with the icy blond dignity of a 1940’s femme fatale, managing to elicit empathy for her character, a hardened orphan with the chance to gain a home for herself through marriage to an elderly man. Magrath successfully portrays the vulnerable cracks under Abbie’s cold, calculating surface; we get the sense that her passionate love for Eben is the only love she has ever known. Like Eben, who does not know what to believe from her conflicting behavior, neither do we. After a heinous murderous act, we somehow feel sympathy for the star-crossed lovers, like an 1850’s New England Romeo and Juliet, a testament to skill of Dechert and Magrath.
The original music composed for this production by violinist Endre Balogh (who also performed the pieces) adds a haunting element of foreshadowing to the tragedy, like that of a Greek chorus. The mid-nineteenth century New England dialect adds an immediacy and vibrant realism to the play, making the ancient myth come alive on the Eastern frontier.
Philosopher Frederich Nietzche deeply impacted the work of Eugene O’Neil, particularly his notion of Amor Fati: the acceptance of one’s fate in the world. A Noise Within’s electrifying production depicts three protagonists struggling against their natures on John Ioacovilli’s sparse set: Eben’s desire to revenge his deceased mother, Abbie’s desire for security, and Ephraim’s desire for immortality by creating an heir. The electrifying clash of these desires makes A Noise Within’s production one not to be missed.
Performances: Dec 17th 2pm, 8pm; Dec 18th, 2pm
A Noise Within. 3352 East Foothill Blvd. Pasadena, CA 91107