Eugene O’Neill’s Bay Area creation, Hughie, receives brilliant revitalization at the Tao House in Danville, where it was originally written!
Once again, the Eugene O’Neill Foundation and the National Park service have served up a totally satisfying production of Eugene O’Neill’s somber masterpiece, Hughie, written in 1942 while he was still resident in his beautiful home on the hillside above Danville. I am pleased to report that this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, in that director Eric Fraisher Hayes has taken a unique, and perhaps brilliant new approach to presenting this production that literally saved the Eugene O’Neill estate. With only one weekend left to see this production, I will strongly recommend you consider it after reading my review.
The Hughie story takes place in 1928, late at night in a third class hotel in midtown New York City. A tired desk clerk (Dorian Lockett, described simply as man #2) warily rises up on aching feet behind the hotel’s minuscule lobby counter, just as a bleary-eyed, somewhat disheveled, small-time hustler bursts into the lobby seeking long-overdue rest and recovery from a four day drinking binge. Erie (Aaron Murphy) approaches the counter, leans forward on somewhat unsteady legs, and with both arms and hands extended to steady his body, he warily requests the key to his room. “492 – -” almost uncertainly rolls out of his mouth! The desk clerk searches the cubbyholes behind him looking for the appropriate key, lingering a bit, as if it’s missing. Again, more assertively, and with his own eyes searching the boxes, Erie repeats the number “492”. As he snatches the key from the desk clerk’s hand and begins the assent up the non-descript staircase, Erie pauses, turns to the desk clerk, and begins his arduous inquisition and explanation of how the death of his friend, Hughie, the previous desk clerk in the same hotel, has inadvertently affected his life. He then returns down the stairs and expands into a more intense and detailed conversation, artfully written by O’Neill, which touches on how the lives of other people affect us even though we don’t realize how they are affecting us at the time; how he even came to believe that the death of this desk clerk may well have caused his “good luck” to mysteriously fade away. Thus begins a play that has been described for years as a very long monologue, but is now reborn, this time with lighter touch of comedy interjected into the pathos by director Hayes. A third unnamed character, described simply as man #3 (Clive Worsley) is now introduced.
O’Neill has been recognized for years as a playwright who wrote notes giving in-depth play directions as to how he wanted actors to portray his actors on stage. He also wanted each production’s staging to be detailed just as he intended and wanted it, even down to naming the titles of the books that he wanted displayed on the stage shelves in his plays. Now for the first time, you will be able to envision the characters just as O’Neill saw them, to more fully appreciate the soul that he wrote into each character. O’Neill is considered by many as America’s greatest playwright because he is the only American playwright who ever won a Nobel Prize for Literature and in addition, won three Pulitzer prizes.
This play particularly resonates for me, as approximately 60 years ago, a former compatriot in my US Navy Beach Jumpers unit, whom I had great respect for, became an addict to horserace gambling after one visit to Tijuana’s Caliente race track, where he lost the big prize by one single number. It was sad for me to see this man a few year later, who by that time, had not only destroyed his life, but his parent’s life and business as well, entirely due to his obsession to win “The Big One”, which he never did.
I find this to be a powerful story well written by the hand of a great artist with words. I now encourage you to share this poignant story, pleasingly presented by this terrific cast. Further, this will be presented as an ensemble piece, as each actor will play all three parts in turn at each future night’s performance, as they occur.
Hughie continues this week with performances in the Eugene O’Neill play house barn at the Eugene O’Neill National Park, with performances this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm with the final Sunday performance at 2pm on the 30th. Admission to the Eugene O’Neill National Park and the Old Barn Theater at the Tao House, is only available by one of the several shuttles which are provided by the National Park Service, with departures in front of the Danville Train Station at 205 Railroad Avenue in Danville, approximately an hour and a half before each production’s performance time. For more information about the 19th annual Eugene O’Neill Festival currently running full steam in Danville and continuing next month in New Ross, Ireland, beginning on October 9th (where you could also see another production of this company’s Hughie), please visit www.villagetheatreshows.com or www.eugeneoneill.org or call (925) 314-3400 to purchase your tickets or gather more information. Tickets are a very reasonable $40 each. I should also warn you to wear warm clothing in layers as it sometimes can be very chilly in the evening performances in the Old Barn Theater. The theater seating has just been totally reconfigured and is much more comfortable than in prior shows.