Portrait of the artists as a lost soul

The Great God Brown

By Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Kricker James
Chain Lightning Theatre Company
One Dream Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Attanas

Premiered in 1926, Eugene O'Neill's The Great God Brown is a complex and thought-provoking work. Covering a period of 18 years, it concerns the rivalry between boyhood friends Billy Brown and Dion Anthony over success in the business world, and the love of the same woman. The play begins when Billy and Dion graduate from prep school. As their fathers are partners in a contracting business, there is a small rivalry already. Billy then attempts to romance the beautiful Margaret, but she is enraptured by Dion, who she says ``understands what I'm like inside.'' She does though allow Billy a brotherly kiss on the cheek -- one that ``doesn't count.''

Billy then goes off to college to become an architect. When his father and Dion's both die, he buys Dion out and takes over the firm. Meanwhile, Dion and Margaret marry, and travel in Europe, where Dion drinks a great deal and paints without success. When they return, almost penniless, Margaret asks Billy to give her drunken, resentful husband a job as a draftsman.

The Great God Brown is one of O'Neill's lesser-known works. This is unfortunate, because much of the writing is excellent. The relationship between the two antagonists is very well-drawn throughout the piece. While they clearly have an affection for each other, they are basically set up as rivals from day one by their parents in the best naturalistic way. Margaret is also

wonderfully drawn. She is passionately in love with a troubled lout, and (again in true naturalistic style) is trapped by her desires, unable to see a different path.

The production by the Chain Lightning Theatre was quite good all around. Lyle Walford was suitably well-meaning in Act One as Billy. He then did a fine job in Act Two, descending into madness. However, a little foreshadowing of Billy's resentments in Act One would have been appreciated. David Aston-Reese was very good as the troubled Dion, a man who wistfully recalls, to a prostitute, wishing to paint ``the wind on the sea''; she is the only person he seems to find peace with. Cheryl Horne was also very good as Cybel, the tough, although not stereotypical, whore. However, the standout performance of the evening was by Brandee Graff, as the sweet, strong, and somewhat foolish Margaret.

The direction by Kricker James was straightforward and correct. Especially interesting was his staging certain scenes behind a large screen hung parallel to the audience. The sets, costumes, and lights, by Bill Kneissl, Eden S. Miller, and Randy Glickman, respectively, were all simple and well done. (Also featuring Dawn Jamieson, Roland Sands, Carol Emshoff, Frank Nastasi, Billy Prahin, Devon Michaels, and George Henderson. Sound design, Randy Morrison; mask design, Katerina Fiore.)

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 1
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1997 John Attanas

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