Rod Brogan, Wrenn Schmidt, and Lucas Hall
in Beyond the Horizon
(© Carol Rosegg)
Rod Brogan, Wrenn Schmidt, and Lucas Hall
in Beyond the Horizon
(© Carol Rosegg)
As Eugene O'Neill advocates know well, his 1920 work Beyond the Horizon, now being presented by the Irish Repertory Theatre, is the play that both shook up American theater and which triggered a more mature approach to domestic dramatic writing. But it's hardly surprising that Ciaran O'Reilly's not entirely successful production impresses more as melodrama than as drama.

While reflecting O'Neill's passions and inconsolable beliefs in life's enduring hardships -- including his love of the sea and the six checkered years he spent on it -- his first full-length play also reveals the awkwardness of his structuring. It's a problem he never entirely overcame, but for which he later refined mitigating elements.

The mounting misery in Beyond the Horizon begins when Robert Mayo (Lucas Hall), a reader of poetry who's dreamed of adventurous seagoing, decides to abandon his longing and marry local girl Ruth (Wrenn Schmidt) for whom he has late-adolescent feelings.

In response to the couple's decision, Robert's brother Andrew (Rod Brogan), whose love of the Mayo farm has always been uppermost, chooses to ship off for parts unknown. It turns out he's also in love with Ruth and now can't abide watching her allied to the brother he also venerates.

Oh, the suffering to which their choices lead right from the outset! While the boys' father James (David Sitler) can't be stopped by his wife Kate (Johanna Leister) from cursing his sons for their disregard of the Mayo farm's needs, everything James fears comes to pass with the years. Robert proves a woefully inept farmer, even as Ruth realizes within months of the wedding that it's Andy whom she really loves -- a fact not changed by the arrival of daughter Mary (Aimee Laurence).

Despair mounts when four years later, Andy returns for a brief stay, and -- during a discussion with Robert that Ruth overhears -- admits that while he'd thought he was in love with Ruth, he'd gotten over the feeling within months of leaving home. Having hoped that Andy's homecoming might lead to a renewed liaison with him, as well as needed improvements on the farm's compromised position, Ruth is now plunged into despair that heightens the debilitating three-way angst.

In his desire to demonstrate just how rotten existence can be, O'Neill continues to pile on the tribulations -- there are several deaths over the nine years the play covers -- and O'Reilly doesn't minimize the play's pitfalls. True, his cast members throw themselves into the overblown emotions and occasionally rise to the peaks required, but too often their abilities don't include finding the redeeming depths in their characters.