Directed by Kathy Scambiatterra
Produced by The Artistic Home
At Stage 773, Chicago
Irish family’s dysfunctional attitudes fueled by whiskey come alive in O’ Neill’s saga
Written in 1942 but not produced until 1958, Eugene O’ Neill’s A Touch of the Poet and it’s sequel, More Stately Mansions were intended to be part of a nine-play cycle entitled A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed. Only those two plays were every written bu O’ Neill. The Touch is a saga of the Major Cornelius (“Con”) Melody (Frank Nall) and his family now living in outside Boston in 1828.
We meet the low-life poverty-stricken and drunken Irish working class as they swell whiskey at the Melody tavern. Sara Melody (Elizabeth Argus), the daughter, and Nora Melody (Sally Eames) together with barkeeper Micky Malory (Joseph Weins) run the tavern. But Con Melody, a drunken ex-Irish gentry and disgraced Major in Wellington’s British Army, is so caught up in the past that he only drinks and keeps up his ‘gentlemanly manners’ despite being almost destitute. Con’s self-delusion is constantly being fought by his realistic daughter Sara.
Nora is the too-much-in-love wife who feeds Con’s fantasy out of love. When the tavern is about to become insolvent, both Sara and Con have a plan to revive the business. Unable to cope with his loss of prestige and honor, Con strides about the tavern in his bright red major’s uniform, pompously confusing his dreams of the past with the sad facts that define the present. Unable to show any love for Nora, his doting supportive hard-working peasant wife, he instead constantly assails her. Nora blames the ‘drink’ not Con for the harsh treatment and verbal assault.
Sara constantly berates her father for his self-delusions as she plans her escape from poverty and the good life as a married American patron of means. But Con’s pride and stubbornness places Sara’s plans in jeopardy. When Sara falls for Simon (unseen wealthy American), Simon’s family offers $3,000 to the Major to stop the affair. This event sends the Major into a rage toward Simon’s Father’s house in Boston.
The action builds up as the blarney proliferates and the love-hate relationship between Sara and the Major and the Irish and the American gentry are vividly presented with some humorous and poignant moments mixed together. O’ Neill fully develops the struggles of Major Melody as well as his wife Nora and the ambitiously determined Sara to live a happy life.
Frank Nall is the larger-than-life Con Melody hopelessly stuck in the past whose present troubles are dimmed by whiskey. Elizabeth Argus, as Sara and Sally Eames, as Nora, complete the tragic Melody family. O’Neill sure has a handle on the trials of the Irish struggle for acceptance in America. He also depicts how past glories can overwhelm a person. The plague of whiskey in life both fuels and dims the tough life of the Irish. Fear, bitterness and poverty inhibit social growth in 19th Century America. O’ Neill’s high drama explores one family’s struggle. Kathy Scambiatterra’s direction is strong and their new digs at the remolded Stage 773 are a first-class improvement.
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Date Reviewed: October 6, 2011
At Stage 77e, 1225 W. Belmont ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, www.stage773.com, tickets $28 – $32, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through November 6, 2011