Review: Strange Interlude
SYDNEY: Strange Interlude was written by a drunkard who turned the American theatre scene on its head in the first half of the last century. He could think and drink.
Born in 1888 in a hotel on New York’s Times Square, Eugene O’Neill wrote some fabulously gloomy, serious dramas before his death in 1953.
It's 24 hours since I took in Simon Stone’s rewrite and I’m still not sure if I was watching a pisstake. I would have thought Groucho Marx got there first in the 1930 film Animal Crackers. But if that’s Stone’s intention, well, what can I say; O’Neill’s the one with the Nobel Prize for Literature.
It’s more likely, in an effort to make a statement about the times we live in, Stone has attempted to distil the play’s big themes but unfortunately what we’re left with is little more than a string of tragic-comic sketches.
Perhaps a fellow theatre-goer on opening night nailed it when he labelled the original play an extraordinary if unplayable tragedy. Written in 1923 it was deemed very controversial when it premiered on Broadway in 1928 because it dealt openly with topics like adultery and abortion. It was epic in length – running over five hours – and had more melodramatic plot twists than a hundred soap operas. It broke new ground in more ways than one with O’Neill having his characters speak aloud, in audience asides, their private thoughts.
One of my biggest issues with this production is that we are denied a detailed portrait of the deeply complicated central character, Nina Leeds. This is a woman who for 25 years tries to move on after losing the great love of her life. The fault lies with the text but I also found Emily Barclay slightly underwhelming in the role. Her thin voice takes away from some of the more interesting things she is doing. As for the men Nina is trying to keep in her life and bend to her will, Toby Schmitz, Mitchell Butel and Toby Truslove fare much better.
The foyer was buzzing after the show so if I am somewhat indifferent to what I saw I would have to say I was in the minority.
Strange Interlude, Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills. Until 17 June. Bookings: (02) 9698 3344