Quintessence Theatre Group in Mt. Airy celebrated its 4th anniversary on Saturday April 5th with opening night of it’s first American classic piece, Eugene O’Neill’s MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA. Adapted from Aeschylus’ THE ORESTEIA, O’Neill crafted a trilogy of 3 shorter plays that follow a single story line, and are usually (as they are in this production) performed in one night. HOMECOMING, the first play, introduces us to the Mannon family and friends…Lavinia, also known as Vinnie (Mattie Hawkinson), the daughter of the family who is deeply devoted to her father Ezra (Robert Jason Jackson), a stern and unrelenting husband and father. Also living in the house is Christine (Janis Dardaris), Ezra’s wife, who does not get along with Vinnie at all, but is devoted to Orin (Josh Carpenter), Vinnie’s younger brother who is returning from the war with Ezra. We also meet Peter (Alan Brincks) who is in love with Vinnie, his sister Hazel (Erin Mulgrew), Vinnie’s friend and in love with Orin, and Adam Brant (Andrew Breving), a sea captain who is very charismatic, and around whom many secrets revolve. Seth Beckwith (Terence Gleeson), the handyman, appears often to give Vinnie news and advice and try to provide some stability to this unsettled family. The subsequent plays within this trilogy, The HUNTED and THE HAUNTED, carry the story forward from it’s shocking beginnings. As is the case with Greek tragedy, the family has many secrets…murders, adultery, incestuous love, revenge…and through each of the plays, we find more madness and tragedy within.
Director Alexander Burns has crafted a brilliant interpretation of this classic. The set (which he also designed) is Spartan yet very functional, transporting the audience to a mansion in 19th century America. The characters all maintain their “proper” manners, even in the midst of the most intense of arguments. The pace moves briskly from scene to scene, not allowing the audience to fall behind or lose their focus on what is happening. Extra thought had to have gone into how to lay out the evening, and it was worth the time and effort.
The performances in this production were all spot-on. Hawkinson sparkled as Lavinia, her devotion to her father showing through as well as her contempt for her mother. Dardaris was equally impressive as Christine…I found myself alternately hating and pitying her character, and marveling at her performance. Breving was appropriately slimy as Brant, Brinks was a wonderful foil for everyone, and Mulgrew was solid in her performance as well. Jackson did great justice to Ezra, and also played a couple smaller parts beautifully. Carpenter kept his character in control, playing a man teetering on the edge of madness. And, Gleeson was a joy each time he appeared.
The structure of the play (and of this production) leaves very little room for the audience to sit back and take a breath. The intensity of the characters, the melancholia bordering on despair in several scenes, and the intense arguments make for a roller coaster of an evening. There are a couple small scenes to break the tension, but for the most part it is a ride through a very dark side of the human experience.
One word of caution…the production is about 4 hours, including 2 intermissions. However, each short play is very well done and does not seem overly long. I have followed Quintessence Theatre Group from very early in their beginnings, and have enjoyed the growth in the skill of the productions, and have been happy to see the audiences grow with the group. Opening night was nearly full…I would recommend making reservations.
MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA
Drama in 3 short plays by Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Alexander Burns
April 2 – 27, 2014
Quintessence Theatre Group
7137 Germantown Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19119