Desire: Cold Comfort Farm
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Ada Calhoun, Fri., Dec. 3, 1999
Desire: Cold Comfort Farm
Mark Addison's Farm,
"You are feeling as cold as the emotional landscape of this play," a wisecracking actor announced during one of the two intermissions for desire. He wasn't kidding. Mother Nature stole many a scene in this three-hour "reconsideration" of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms, but it wasn't only the cold. A turkey that survived Thanksgiving made a cameo atop the barn behind the stage. Dogs barked. Some goats ran past bleating and ended up having sex behind the Porta Potti. With the lights of Austin twinkling in the distance, the audience bundled up in blankets against the night wind and sipped volumes of free cocoa and coffee under a zillion stars. A frequent refrain in the play was "That sure is purdy," and, despite the chill, truer words were never spoken.
Desire Under the Elms, written in 1924, is a tragedy that unfolds in a small New England town, and it epitomizes the way tragedy generally unfolds before a community: Everyone knows something bad is going to happen; it happens; and then everyone shakes their heads, self-righteously tsk-tsking. In this case, the formula for disaster is one hard-working father plus three bitter sons (by two wives). The sons are all waiting for their father to die so they can inherit the farm. The elder two brothers, Simeon and Peter, are coarse; the younger, Eben, is passionate and out to avenge his mother, whom he is convinced his father worked to death. When the old man brings home a new, young wife, later nicknamed "Wicked Abbie" by the townsfolk, the older sons abandon all hope of owning the farm themselves and leave town. Eben stews over this further obstacle to his inheritance, but sees revenge potential in the sexual attentions of his new stepmother. Abbie has ulterior motives, too, of course, but love blossoms amid the slew of manipulations.
Recent New York transplant Laura Somers is definitely a director to watch, and not just because she was nice enough to come into the audience during intermission (just when the chill winds were picking up) to bring more blankets and tuck people in. In updating this piece, she added a modern-day documentary camera crew to film interviews with various characters and to insinuate itself, boom-mike and all, into emotionally intense scenes. This is, after all, the nature of modern voyeurism, and it parallels the petty gossip-mongering of yore. A few modern elements seemed gratuitous (e.g., a hidden credit card substituted for hidden cash), but others played extremely well, especially the idiot brothers' laughing hysterically as they popped bubble wrap and singing "Hooray for Hollywood" as they headed West to find fame and fortune.
Judson L. Jones and Corey Gagne looked eerily similar as the dumb and vaguely menacing brothers. Chris Meister played the smarmy director of the documentary, which he refers to as "Sling Blade meets Days of Our Lives," with appropriate smarminess. And the stars of the show were truly stellar. Christa Kimlicko Jones was every bit the conniving yet sympathetic sorceress Abbie. She looked the part (i.e., gorgeous), and both seduced and fell to pieces with just the right mix of cruelty and desperation. Clad in overalls, Greg Gondek (Eben) was the epitome of heartbreakingly confused young manhood. Joe Walling was blustery and believable as the "old coot" father, Cabot.
At once a fitting tribute to Eugene O'Neill, to the unconventional stage, and to the art of "reconsideration," Somers and company's desire was a true theatrical experience, made all the more an experience by virtue of its being many miles away and outside in the freezing cold. And now that we've all survived it, wouldn't it be nice to do something equally terrific come spring?