I caught up with A Noise Within’s second production of the Fall, their second in their new Pasadena home, Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms on Sunday. It’s a very good production of a 20th-century play that isn’t the kind of thing that most contemporary audiences quickly gravitate to. It’s filled with the kind of overt psychoanalytic thinking and references to Greek tragedy that can come off heavy-handed. Recent productions of Desire Under the Elms like the one Robert Falls recently took to New York, have dealt with this by running with the outlandish aspects of the story and doubling-down on them with surrealism. Perhaps the greatest achievement of director Dámaso Rodriguez in his staging for A Noise Within is his ability to keep the play relevant despite taking a far more naturalistic approach to the material.
Rodriguez also takes a traditional tack with the material, focusing heavily on the relationship between elderly Ephraim Cabot’s son, Eben, and Ephraim’s very young, brand-new wife, Abbie Putnam. Eben’s long standing desire to inherit the family farm is soon challenged by his new-stepmother’s plans until it is supplanted (and conflicted) by their desire for one another. Before you can say Oedipus, tragedy ensues. But this central relationship works with two young increasingly well known local faces, Monette Magrath as Abbie and Jason Dechert as Eben. Magrath strikes just the right tone of menace and desperation in Abbie while Dechert comes off as beautifully bruised in as believable a way as possible given the circumstances. William Dennis Hunt portrays an Ephraim more damaged than deadly here, but the combination of these three occupying the majority of the play’s action works quite well.
Better yet, the production itself suggested ANW’s continued adjustment to their new surroundings. John Lacovilli’s two story set, the Cabot family farm, expands to fill the available space more naturally than the concurrently running Twelfth Night. The overall feels was more relaxed and intimate, drawing the audience in from a greater distance into the thrust stage area. Sightlines at the Pasadena space are greatly improved and the cast is far more exposed from every angle demanding more from everyone. The cast and crew delivered all this on Sunday. Luckily, you’ve got two more chances to see Desire Under the Elms this weekend before it and Twelfth Night close for the holidays with the company returning in January with a short revival of their hugely successful production of Noises Off.