Farmhouse blues

Beyond the Horizon

By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Cailin Heffernan
Equity showcase (closes Sept. 26)
Boomerang Theatre Company
Center Stage, 48 W. 21st St (212/352-3101)
Review by Seth Bisen-Hersh

Eugene O’Neill is considered one of America’s best playwrights for a reason. His play Beyond the Horizon is brilliant -- it is filled with so much emotion, angst, and insight as it explores a typical farm family’s woes and sufferings. Unfortunately, though, this production never managed to reveal the play’s brilliance.

The play takes place on a farm; there are two brothers, Rob (Peter O’Connor) and Andy (Justin G. Krauss). As the play opens, they are conversing about their futures. Rob, who has been babied because of a sickness he’s had all his life, wants to see and write about the world and go out on adventures with his uncle, Dick (Peter Morr); Andy wants to stay at home, run the farm and marry Ruth (Jennifer Larkin). But Ruth confesses her love for Rob right before he is about to depart, and he realizes he loves her as well. This throws off everyone’s plans, and Andy flees with Dick in a rage, having a big fight with his father (Ron Sanborn) over abandoning the farm, while Rob stays home and marries Ruth.

As the play continues, circumstances get worse and worse for the family over the years. Rob cannot run the farm like Andy or his father (who dies without ever forgiving Andy). He and Ruth end up living with her cranky mother, Mrs. Atkins (Dolores McDougal) and have a child, Mary (Emma Devine Warman). As the show goes on, more and more goes wrong with the farm and their health and Andy comes back unhappy with the life Rob still wants, but neither can change their fate, for it is too late.

Beyond the Horizon is O’Neill’s first full-length play. It is undeniably a seminal work of American theatre. O’Neill takes the audience on an intense journey with ordinary people -- delving into their hopes and dreams and sorrow. The language is beautiful and poetic; the dialog is witty and realistic.

It is sad, then, that this production failed to live up to its potential. The actors ranged from adequate to barely passable; sometimes it was painful to hear O’Neill’s ingeniousness diluted. The sole exception was Ron Sanborn, who made the part of the father come to life; his pain and passion felt grounded and genuine. His performance was splendid and real. Also, in the small role of Mary, Emma Devine Warman, who was cute and animated, showed promise.

The director did not help the actors emote or evolve into the parts. Also, the staging felt unrealistic and a tad presentational at times; finally, the pacing and energy were way too slow and low, respectively. Harlan Penn’s cumbersome set made the set changes drag incessantly; Cheryl McCarron’s period costumes were convincing; Carrie Wood’s lighting created the ambience of the farm aptly.

Beyond the Horizon is one of last century’s most daring, intimate plays. It is admirable that Boomerang Theatre Company revived this classic; furthermore, it is always great to see one in performance. But the production failed to even reach the horizon, let alone get beyond it.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2004 Seth Bisen-Hersh