But there's nothing melodramatic or phony about this intense, sizzling revival. Falls wisely eschews naturalism and sets the play on a desolate rock-strewn heath. A triangle of greed and sexual rivalry is played out in this forbidding environment under an enormous suspended farmhouse, which hangs over the action like a crushing weight ready to drop at any moment. Designer Walt Spangler deserves full marks for creating a hellish setting that works as both a metaphor for the characters' struggles and the world in which they eat, sleep, and—to put it delicately—fornicate. That last-named activity is the driving force here, defying O'Neill's reputation for writing too many long monologues. The running time is a swift 100 minutes, and many of the passions are conveyed without words.
Brian Dennehy, who starred as Willy Loman in Falls' heartbreaking Death of a Salesman, plays Ephraim Cabot, the hard-bitten patriarch tenaciously clinging to his land and life. Locked in a death struggle with his youngest son, Eben (Pablo Schreiber), for possession of the farm, Ephraim marries Abbie (Carla Gugino), a much younger woman with designs of her own on the property. When Abbie falls in love—and lust—with Eben, events take a tragic turn. Played too realistically, this could seem like an episode of Desperate Housewives. Fortunately, all three leads give larger-than-life performances to match the outsized, fantastic setting.
The brightest and most intense dramatic and sexual fireworks are delivered by Gugino. She totally commits to Abbie's objective: to find a home, at first on the farm and then in Eben's arms. Like a rural combination of Medea and Phèdre, she will stop at nothing to achieve her ends.
Daniel Stewart Sherman and Boris McGiver effectively play Eben's mouth-breathing stepbrothers, completing this blazing and revitalized Desire Under the Elms.
Presented by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Steve Traxler, Bat-Barry Productions, Ronald Frankel, Norton Herrick, Judith Resnick, Daryl Roth, the Weinstein Company, Scott M. Delman/Alan D. Marks, Mark Johannes & Amy Danis/Jack Thomas, Mort Swinksy/Michael Fuchs/Cindy & Jay Gutterman, and Morris Berchard/Eric Falkenstein, in association with Terri & Timothy Childs, Jam Theatricals, Jamie deRoy, and Jujamcyn Theaters
at the St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St., NYC.
April 27–July 5. Tue., 7 p.m.; Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed. and Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (No performance Tue., April 28.)
(212) 239-6200, (800) 432-7250, or www.telecharge.com.
Casting by Telsey + Company.