More Stately Mansions

In what can only be compared to the unearthing of a rare treasure or the discovery of a unifying principle in science, director Ed Baierlein has dusted off Eugene O'Neill's rarely performed sequel to A Touch of the Poet and reveals it to be a masterpiece of Greek proportions.

Following his stellar helming and performance as Melody in Poet, Baierlein not only produces unprecedented back-to-back productions of the first two of what O'Neill originally planned as an 11-play cycle, but stuns us with rare insight into the playwright's complex, yet brilliant layering of an epic American tale on a classical tragic structure.

L. Corwin Christie as Sara Harford and Lori Hansen as Deborah Harford
(L to R) L. Corwin Christie as Sara Harford
and Lori Hansen as Deborah Harford
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
Baierlein conducts this second installment of his master class entirely in masks—a stunning array of idealized plastic forms, designed by Erica Sarzin-Borrillo, that age and pervert with the characters—with the effect of revealing the archetypal psychological underpinnings of the saga of the Harford family.

Using a refined style of movement reminiscent of his heralded 1999 Japanese Noh interpretation of Tennessee William's Suddenly Last Summer, Baierlein leaves the surface realism of events behind and transports us to the subconscious battleground where the succeeding generation of Harfords wage their struggles for personal and financial domination.

Zachary M. Andrews as Simon Harford and L. Corwin Christie as Sara Harford
Zachary M. Andrews
as Simon Harford
and L. Corwin Christie
as Sara Harford
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
We cannot help but admire O'Neill's subtly executed conceit that ties instinctive and egoistic impulses to the underlying motivations for materialism and economic expansionism. But the playwright's synthesis of the human gestalt does not stop there: at the center of the story he sets a love triangle involving the family matriarch, her son, and his wife.

This is no simple riff on oedipal issues, but an explication of the imperatives of the species homo sapiens itself. On a simple, three-tiered set populated with benches and an arbor that leads to a metaphorically magic door, we observe the unmasked Deborah Harford, recent widow of the late tycoon, Henry, as she waxes poetic on her charms and fantasy as lover to the French king.

Lori Hansen as Deborah Harford and Zachary M. Andrewsas Simon Harford
Lori Hansen as Deborah
Harford and Zachary M. Andrews
as Simon Harford
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
Former ballerina Lori Hansen, as Deborah, enraptures us with ritualized movement while dreamily intoning O'Neill's lyrical overture, setting the tone for an evening rife with such refined pleasures. As her son and her business advisor approach, she dons her mask as the majority shareholder and the game is afoot.

The surreal setting is immediately reinforced by the formally-clad, yet otherworldly presence of Eric Victor, as Nicholas Gadsby, and the dark, brooding detachment of Andrew Schmidt, as Joel Harford. They commence badgering and cajoling Deborah, whom they consider delusional, into relinquishing her control of the company, which has, they announce, fallen into near bankruptcy as a result of Henry's ill-fated land speculations.

Seizing the opportunity to reconcile with her oldest son, Simon, her daughter-in-law, Sara, and her grandchildren, Deborah reveals herself to be a calculating, multi-layered player fully-capable of manipulating others—talents shared equally, we discover, by Simon and Sara.

Though the interrelationships between these three ambitious and wounded protagonists are informed by the prequel, the battle lines are seamlessly redefined in this script, which works perfectly as a standalone production.

In a captivating performance, Zachary M. Andrews, draws a poignant arc for Simon, from a sinuous, good-natured young man having weathered his failure as a poet, to an angular, controlling and greedy Leviathan, consumed by his need to dominate and break business adversaries and family members alike. His love-hate for his mother who nurtured him and for his wife who nursed him is palpable.

Sara's shrewd and confident presence blossoms in L. Corwin Christie's aesthetic blend of mellifluous and seductive persuasions, as she fulfills both her father's dream of a noble's wealth and power and her own, of a temple goddess.

Despite O'Neill's lifelong trials and dark themes, More Stately Mansions culminates in a remarkably honest and healing scene, reconciling universal emotional issues with impressive simplicity.

More remarkable still, Baierlein succeeds grandly where other distinguished directors have failed, making perfect sense of the unfinished play—begging us to wonder where O'Neill felt it lacking. No higher compliment could be paid to both artists.

More Stately Mansions runs at the Germinal Stage Denver through October 7th. 303-455-7108.


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