At the beginning of Beyond the Horizon, the stage was occupied by two brothers: Robert, wearing a knit vest and white shirt, reading poetry, and Andrew, in jeans and suspenders, hoeing the fields. It's a peaceful beginning, but audiences today can sense instantly that the peace will soon be shattered, that the differences between the brothers-so visible in the opening tableau-will generate some kind of conflict. This weak brother/strong brother dichotomy was not such a familiar device, though, when Beyond the Horizon premiered in 1920 and launched the career of Eugene O'Neill.
Today's audiences will spot a number of other themes in Beyond the Horizon-about family, love, ambition, predestination-that have since been replayed again and again by authors of plays, novels, and films and that were reworked by O'Neill himself in his later masterpieces. It was all very ground-breaking, however, in 1920. Beyond the Horizon earned O'Neill the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes and ushered in an era of serious American theater.
The play is worth a look for more than its place in history. Chain Lightning has delivered an estimable production, with a simple set and costumes that help create a melancholy mood, a lovely score (by Bettina Covo) and performances that are effective if not spectacular. As the brothers, Daniel Blinkoff and Tony Ward give performances that could be more intense at times but potently evoke the changes in the men over the years and the consequences of their life-altering decisions. Brandee Graff seemed amateurish in the first scene, when she's a naive farmgirl, but was much stronger and sympathetic in subsequent acts when she has become a disillusioned wife. There was also good work from Michael Shelle as the uncle and John Taylor in a small role as the father, James (a personality that was fleshed out in James Tyrone, the father and main character of Long Day's Journey Into Night). And little Shana Dowdeswell gave a darling and remarkably disciplined performance as Robert's daughter.
Beyond the Horizon is a compelling story of dreams followed and dreams abandoned. The language is beautiful, and it was handled well by the company. The most significant flaw in the production was poor staging of the long, confrontational scene in the third act. Director David Travis positioned Graff in a seat for the duration of the scene, which forced Ward to crouch to look her in the eyes. Then, Ward took a seat too, but downstage of Graff, so he had to converse over his shoulder. Both actors should have been standing and moving around throughout the scene so their posture and gestures reflected the intensity of their emotions.
(Also featuring Dawn Jamieson, Carol Emshoff, Scott McGowan, and Teal Barns. Set and costumes, Meganne George; sound, Randy Morrison; lighting, Scott Clyve.)
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Copyright 1997 Adrienne Onofri