San Jose Repertory Theatre opens Eugene O'Neill's controversial Desire Under the Elms Oct. 29 in an expressionistic staging by director Michael Butler that sets the work among rocks, earth, sky and trees.
Giulio Cesare Perrone's scenic design offers thematic imagery for the tale of a son named Eben, his father, Ephraim, and the father's lusty new wife, Abbie. The fate of the family farm shifts throughout the play. In an effort to lift the work out of the naturalistic, the stage is covered with dirt and there is only the suggestion of a farmhouse. The major image of the design, according to spokesperson Hope Towner, is a giant tree trunk that rises to the ceiling, with twisted roots in the ground.
Previews began Oct. 23 and performances continue to Nov. 21.
Set in New England in the 19th century and punctuated with a style of speech that has challenged actors for decades, the play's sexual passions and Greek-tragedy references (including infanticide) shocked some theatregoers in 1924.
Says Butler in productions notes: "What attracted me to the play first was the title, with its carnal promise. It is a story of desire and its consequences that still plays like a chemistry experiment gone terribly wrong. There were a lot of interesting things going on in the world in the '20s -- Freud was being widely read, surrealism was being created -- making the play very open to a visual and psychological interpretation." Butler's previous credits include San Jose Rep's Nixon's Nixon and Twelfth Night.The San Jose cast includes Gerry Bamman as father Ephraim, Matthew Miller as Eben, Kimiko Gelman as Abbie, Brian Keith Russell, Michael Ray Wisely, Morgan Fichter and Bruce Elsberger.
Designers are B. Modern (costumes), Peter Maradudin (lighting) and Jeff Mockus (sound).
Tickets are $17-$35. San Jose Rep performs in the Sobrato Auditorium, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, between Second and Third Streets in downtown San Jose. Call (408) 367-7255 for information.
-- By Kenneth Jones