I looked down at my hands, finally, away from the stage as the play ended — and realized I had crushed my flimsy, disposable cup between my fingers until it was just twisted plastic in my bare hand.
It was this visceral reaction that carried me through Act One and Act Two of Firehouse Theatre’s Desire Under the Elms this past Saturday. Eugene O’ Neill’s 20th-century play is a tale of love, lust, madness, and desperation, and I felt each separate emotion move through me as the story progressed.
Landon Nagel and Amber Martinez were heart-wrenching in their portrayal of Eben and Abbie — the twisted love and chemistry between the two was enough to make the audience audibly gasp, time and time again.
Nagel, in particular, was extraordinarily skilled at slipping from anger and violence, to love and joy as he struggled with his attraction to Abbie, his father’s new wife, and her initial covetousness for the farm that once belonged to his late mother.
Martinez played the manipulative, complicated Abbie effortlessly. There wasn’t a single point in the play where she was an actress playing a character. She was Abbie, even when Abbie lied to her husband, seduced Eben, even when she killed her own child.
The director, Josh Chenard, wanted the audience to not only watch and hear the play, but also to feel it. I can confidently say that he succeeded in doing just that. The insanity, the bitterness, the lust — it was all tangible, it all simmered right at the surface of the story.
Chenard’s decision to move the play from the late 19th century to the Great Depression was highlighted beautifully by the music he chose for the performance. The timeline of events, however, was a bit difficult to follow. Time passed by without any mention in the play — in one scene Abbie had just moved in, and in the next, she was pregnant. These jumps made the play a bit hard to follow at times.
Nevertheless, the raw emotion and the wonderful dynamic between every single character was always present. The relationship between Eben and his gruff father, Ephraim, played passionately by the stately Alan Sader, was strained and fearful.
Eben’s relationship with his two brothers, Peter and Simeon, portrayed by Adam Turck and Chandler Hubbard was also twisted in its own right. Still, the three brothers succeeded in communicating the love between them despite their harsh circumstances.
To be frank, the Firehouse Theatre’s production of Desire Under the Elms is not for the light-hearted. But if you’re looking to experience and feel drama, not just observe it, then this play is worth a watch.
Photo Credits: Bill Sigafoos