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The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill

The New York Neo-Futurists' clever and amusing show is both an homage to and a satire of one of our greatest playwrights. logo
Connor Kalista and Cara Francis in
The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions
of Eugene O'Neill

(© Anton Nickel)
Anyone who has spent some time reading plays by Eugene O'Neill knows that the celebrated writer had a proclivity for detailed and often lengthy stage directions in his scripts. The New York Neo-Futurists are now poking gentle fun at this aspect of the playwright's works with the clever and amusing The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill, Volume 1: Early Plays/Lost Plays, now at the Kraine Theater.

As the subtitle indicates, the O'Neill works tackled here are not the playwright's most famous, but instead are plays with which the majority of audiences are unfamiliar. It starts off with O'Neill's 1913 play, A Wife for a Life, about an older man (Connor Kalista) and a young man named Jack (Brendan Donaldson), who are working a gold mine together.

The stage directions sketch out a basic arc of the story, although there are obviously many things missing, and attendees of the Neo-Futurists' show are not likely to know the contents of the mysterious telegram that is received, or exactly why the older man struggles to control his rage in the face of the young man's exuberance. (In O'Neill's actual play it is because the older man has just discovered that Jack is the man whom he has been hunting for suspected infidelity with his wife).

Additional O'Neill plays included within the NeoFuturists' performance are The Web (1913), Thirst (1913), Bound East for Cardiff (1914), Servitude (1914), Before Breakfast (1916), and Now I Ask You (1916).

Despite the NeoFuturists' title, this is not actually a complete list of early plays, as it does not include the full-length play The Personal Equation (1915), among other early works. In regards to the way the NeoFuturists' piece is condensed, that aspect refers to the fact that adapter/director Christopher Loar has not included every single stage direction, but has edited O'Neill's words down, and in some cases slightly shifted the order of what is said to create a more coherent and/or streamlined narrative.

The performers -- who also include Danny Burham, Cara Francis, Erica Livingston, Lauren Sharpe, and Jacquelyn Landgraf as the narrator -- interpret most of the stage directions in an extremely literal, yet comic manner. Kalista is a particularly strong performer, and his interpretation of the stage direction, "He rises from his chair and gets ready to crush her with the weight of his eloquence" is extremely funny.

Admittedly, the conceit of the piece does get wearisome at times, particularly in the rendition of Before Breakfast, which is lacking in the physical comedy that the troupe employs in much of the rest of the program. But at just under 90 minutes, it's a fun, breezy evening that is both an homage to and a satire of one of our greatest playwrights.

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