By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Lou Contey
Produced by Eclipse Theatre Company
At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago
Beyond the Horizon is a wonderful, well-acted American drama
Eugene O’Neill’s first hit play, written in 1918 and produced in 1920, Beyond the Horizon shifted the focus of America drama from melodrama to psychological realism. It featured truthful characters and uses poetic language as it painted a dark picture of the effects of chasing or not chasing one’s life dreams. Eugene O’Neill (1888 – 1953) was influenced by Henrik Ibsen, Anton Chekhov, and August Strindberg. He wrote in American vernacular about disillusioned folks utilizing poetic language. His sickness and seafaring influenced plays such as Beyond the Horizon.
Director Lou Contey and his cast both understand and respect O’Neill’s work as evidenced by the wonderfully truthful production of the rarely produced early O’Neill drama.
We find Robert Mayo (John Wehrman) as he returns to the family farm in New England in early 1900’s from college. He is greeted by his brother, Andrew (Nathaniel Swift), the family’s true farmer. These two brothers are also best friends. Robert tells Andrew about his quest to go to sea, to explore was is ‘beyond the horizon.’ He plans to sail with Captain Scott (Zach Bloomfield) to Asia and beyond for a three year hitch. Andrew retorts that he is content to be a framer.
When Ruth Atkins (Emily Shain) enters the scene, it is obvious that Andrew loves her yet she loves Robert and she tells him so. This gets Robert to change his mind about sailing since Ruth agrees to marry Robert. When Andrew hears about the marriage, he abruptly decides to go to sea with Captain Scott after a major argument with his father, James (Brian Parry).
Fortunes change over the years Andrew is away and Ruth and Robert are left to run the farm after James dies. Robert is not suited to farming but since his marriage and the arrival of a daughter, he is obligated to try to mike it work. The stress is also fatal to the marriage as Ruth begins to hate Robert and she regrets marrying him.
Things get worse when Andrew arrives home from the sea full of ambition and worldly dreams. He tells Robert and Ruth that never really loved her and he easily ‘got over her’ while at sea. He leaves for Argentina to make money. Robert and Ruth struggle to survive on the farm.
The story covers the discontent and disillusionment and the discovery of who each character really is in a fluid, flowing production. Shattered dreams and unforeseen consequences are powerfully and plausibly dramatized through rich poetic language and deep seeded acting. Beyond the Horizon warns us to be careful what we dream since dreams coming true often have dark consequences.
John Wehrman plays Robert with deep emotions that erupt into melancholy and angst. His dying scenes were heart wrenching. Nate Swift is effective as the pragmatist, Andrew, while Emily Shain is excellent as the subdued wife. Brian Parry and Kate Harris supported with fine work.
Beyond the Horizon still contains messages that still resonate today. Eclipse Theatre continues to shine as one of the finest no-Equity Chicago theatre companies. Their “Year of Eugen O’Neill” is off to a fine start. Catch this early O’Neill gem.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 20, 2012
For more info checkout the Beyond the Horizon page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Athenaeum Theatee, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-935-6860, www.eclipsetheatre.com, tickets $28, Seniors $23, Students $18, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through April 22, 2012