Chicago Theater Review: MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at Greenhouse Theater in Chicago)

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by Molly Woulfe on October 11, 2011

in Theater-Chicago

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO DYSFUNCTION

What becomes a new artistic director? Ambition, with a two-fisted delivery.

Timothy Douglas, the new chief of the Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, bravely goes bare-knuckles as the director of Mourning Becomes Electra. The production is Gordon Edelstein’s adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play, which updates the story of Orestes by following the Greek saga of the family of Atreus.

Mourning Becomes Electra – Chicago Theater Review by Molly Woulfe – Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at Greenhouse Theater in ChicagoSet in the post-Civil War on a minimalistic “alley” stage, the unhappy members of the Mannon clan bicker, scheme, and shift alliances in a vain attempt to outrun doom. Unfortunately, the attempt is futile. You see, they are cursed, their house is cursed, and we have a ringside seat in the intimate 130-seat space, close enough to detect every whiff of Oedipal incest. The scent begins subtly, then grows potent as this fast-paced revival progresses.

Frankly, even Freud might flinch at this tale of familial betrayal. Brigadier-General Ezra Mannon (David Darlow) returns from the war to woo his curiously estranged wife Christine (Annabel Armour). Meanwhile, daddy’s girl Lavinia (Kelsey Brennan) is cool but clingy, seething over mama’s sexual hold on every manjack in the family. That includes Lavinia’s potential suitor, handsome sea captain Adam (Nick Sandys), a long-banished cousin who falls for Lavinia’s mother, and dreams of whisking her off  to the “Blessed Islands.” Alas, it seems every Mannon yearns for the sanctuary of the islands (read sexual bliss and freedom), including mama’s boy Orin (Scott Stangland).

Mourning Becomes Electra – Chicago Theater Review by Molly Woulfe – Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at Greenhouse Theater in ChicagoThe gloves come off, and fast. By the end of the barnburner, the red-headed Mannon women — always up for a catfight — have executed or goaded their men into two murders and three suicides. The dead are among them; their manor is a tomb.

Darlow and Armour are sublime as the elder Mannons, both longing for love yet incapable of moving beyond cryptic wrongs of the past. It’s a testament to these actors that their characters are sympathetic; the bearded Darlow embodies dignity, while Armour shrinks in his company and blossoms around the younger men.

Mourning Becomes Electra – Chicago Theater Review by Molly Woulfe – Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at Greenhouse Theater in ChicagoFor her part, Brennan is brittle and salty as Lavinia, until mama is down for the count, allowing Lavinia to usurp her wardrobe, jewels, and affection for little brother. The Mannons are so dysfunctional that next door neighbor siblings Peter and Hazel (Luke Daigle and Stephanie Chavara) seem too bland as potential partners for the Mannon sibs; neither would last a round.

Veronda G. Carey gives an excellent performance as Seth, the all-seeing servant who withholds judgment. After over three hours of accelerating madness, Seth is the only one left standing. Despite a long running time, the show packs a punch as the energetic actors sustain a relentless pace. One ends up invested in the outcome of their fictitious counterparts as each goes down swinging.

molly @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Johnny Knight

Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O’ Neill
Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at Greenhouse Theater in Chicago
scheduled to end on October 30
for tickets, visit http://www.remybumppo.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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