The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill, Volume 2. Theater for the New City (see Off-Off Broadway). By Eugene O'Neill. Adapted and directed by Christopher Loar. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill, Volume 2: In brief
The New York Neo-Futurists enact the control-freakish stage directs of Eugene O'Neill's early plays in a comedy adapted and directed by Christopher Loar.
The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill, Volume 2: Stage directions by Helen Shaw
It is about 8:00 of a spring evening. The time is the present. We are in one of the cavernous concrete venues at Theater for the New City. Bits and bobs of furniture are everywhere, ready to be pressed into action. Surrounding the playing space, a clothesline makes three “walls” on which pictures and window frames may hang. On the floor are several white tape outlines, showing us where bodies may (or rather will) fall. We are in a playroom for a company dedicated to frolic and mess.
The lights go up. Sitting at a table stage left, the READER (our programs tell us he is Cecil Baldwin) murmurs reassuringly into a microphone. His reading is dispassionate. Rallying ’round him are his companions—a portion of that nutty troupe THE NEW YORK NEO-FUTURISTS, who wear trousers, suspenders and earnest expressions.
Sound up: The AUDIENCE titters, exquisitely prepared by the title The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill, Volume 2. O'Neill, we discover, was a gloomy cuss who liked to micromanage, and the stage directions for these brief plays seem adorable by mere virtue of their quantity and detail. THE READER's soothing voice intones: “The floor is of a polished hard wood.” Actors bustle over with a small square of parquet; one spritzes it with Pledge. The plays, such as 1913's cost-of-poverty weepie Warnings, aren't laugh riots, so the performers mine giggles from taking O'Neill literally. If our READER tells us that a character's face flushes with rage, an actor will bop herself in the face with a beet-red cloth. A character “murmurs a protest,” so A NEO-FUTURIST (Dylan Marron) squeaks, “We are the 99 percent.” The jokes are cheap; we can afford a lot of them.
Perhaps we recognize the cast—such as madcap, mad-eyed Cara Francis—from the group's widely seen Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Or perhaps our actors surprise us with their deadpan earnestness, their ferocious commitment to idiocy, silliness and fun. The watcher's joy may gradually diminish over the piece's short duration, despite director-deviser Christopher Loar's pivot toward a genuinely moving sequence in The Sniper. Frothy, foamy works like this don't survive turbulent emotion too well, but our night has been diverted. Sound up: applause. The curtain (there is no curtain) falls. End of Play. Fin.—Stage directions by Helen Shaw