at the Metropolitan Playhouse
The first image in The Pioneer, five Eugene O'Neill one-acts, is, fittingly, a slattern sneaking a snort of booze. Before Breakfast is the monologue of Mrs. Rowland (Sidney Fortner), a disappointed hausfrau who's in for a shock. She's ranting at her wastrel spouse offstage, an unfaithful, unemployed, alcoholic Harvard man. Straightaway we know we're in O'Neill territory: downtrodden, disillusioned, and drinking. The anguish here (and in the other early one-acts) isn't as eloquent as in better-known O'Neill, and Fortner's nattering delivery is a bit surfacey. But with its pipe dreams, lyricism, and hovering specter of death, Before Breakfast recognizably presages The Iceman Cometh and other classics.
Not that the swiftly paced evening is unrelieved despair—or all typical O'Neill. The Movie Man is a wry satire, with a Hollywood camera crew interfering in a Mexican revolution. Who knew O'Neill could indulge in such rowdy, politically incorrect comedy, or concoct lines like "She had the swellest lamps I ever seen on a dame"?
Ile (as in oil pronounced with a severe Irish accent) has brutal Captain Keeney (Andrew Firda) prolonging a miserable whaling voyage, tempting mutiny, and driving his gentle wife (Keri Setaro) mad. It may remind you of Jack London, Herman Melville, or even O'Neill's sea plays. The Web is reminiscent of early '30s Warner Bros.—a tubercular prostitute (Setaro) is rescued from her abusive pimp (Firda) by a softhearted crook (David Patrick Ford)—evoking sympathy for characters most circa-1916 theatregoers would have shunned. Most surprising is The Last Will and Testament of Silverdene Emblem O'Neill, in which the author imagines the will of a late, beloved family Dalmatian (Alex Roe). Whimsical and tender, it lets O'Neill riff on death and human folly in a most uncharacteristic, Twain-like manner.
Smoothly directed by Mark Harborth, this quintet offers plenty of juicy acting opportunities, with Ford and Setaro coming off best. If it's not as full a meal as Long Day's Journey Into Night, it's a welcome sampler of a genius developing his voice.
> Presented by and at the Metropolitan Playhouse,
> 220A E. Fourth St., NYC.
> Nov. 16–Dec. 9. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Additional performance Sat., Dec. 8, 2 p.m.
> (212) 995-5302 or www.metropolitanplayhouse.org.
Reviewed by Marc Miller