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More Stately Mansions is a play by Eugene O'Neill. Originally intended to be part of a nine-play cycle entitled A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed.
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The fact is that this unfinished play did accidentally escape being shredded along with the other unfinished segments in the 9-play A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed cycle.

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It's a case of the old saw that says you can't close the barn door after the cow has gotten out. What's more, since the only American production failed despite a stellar cast, there seems little reason to bring back a "typical" psycho-realist revival. Thus it makes sense to give theater goers a chance to see the much acclaimed deconstructionist version directed by Ivo von Hove, Wunderkind of Dutch cutting edge theater.

The always adventurous New York Theatre Workshop with its hip, open-minded young membership is the perfect place to see if what soared in Holland will gather altitude in New York. Whether or not you like the show based on the Gierow adaptation -- and a show is what von Hove dishes up - - it at least provides an opportunity to consider whether the play's accidental survival was a blessing in disguise or a disservice to O'Neill's memory.

Falling into the category of O'Neill fan, I was disappointed that I was out of town during the first nights open to reviewers and rushed to see this rare and controversial production as soon as I got back. As the play's plot swivels around the question of whether the wife or the mother will gain the upper hand in the oedipal struggle for control of the mansion of the heart and soul of the man they love, it also leaves you wondering whether van Hove's interpretation of O'Neill's story is synergetic or a completely rebuilt mansion that bears his stamp more than the playwright's.

According to a recent interview van Hove doesn't think this should matter since like other European colleagues he views a theatrical text as "the fuel that drives the car. It's still O'Neill's story but it's van Hove's Mansion -- completely torn apart and rebuilt as a piece of abstract modern architecture. The playwright's text is indeed merely the fuel for the director's vision.

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In many ways it could work since O'Neill's drama with its Greek tragedy elements of a mother gone mad and a son having to revert to the infant state in order to cut the oedipal strings lends itself to this sort of dance macabre surrealism. In some scenes it almost does.

I liked the way the actors walk slowly on stage Greek chorus-like at the beginning of each act. I also liked their taking a bow at the end of each act, as the performers do in an opera.

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I could live with the battle-like minimalist set-- four strategically placed metal poles and a fewchairs--and quite liked the symbolic changing backdrop shifts from black smokestack, the creeping industrialism and Simon's move towards its worst elements m to an assemblage of sewing machines, the ascendancy of female power. I liked Sara's simple black dancer's dress and the several poses reminiscent of a Soyer painting.

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I was also taken with Deborah's stark plaster-cast whiteness--the Diana Vreeland-like groteque makeup, the white gown with its clever bib and removable top for the breast-baring scene. Those towering white shoes a metaphor for the toppling of her towering strength? Unfortunately, there's more that didn't than did work. Van Hove's vision is so unremittingly stylized and heavy-handed, that it defeats his stated vision of theater as something that "should rise above reality" and "become poetry".

Even the most dramatic and likely to be remembered nude scenes--the mother baring her breast, husband and wife completely naked and crawling all over the floor and each other-- bear this heavy-handed touch, which robs them of their intended eroticism. The repeated masturbatory clutching at breasts and crotches is again less erotic than reminiscent of a Liza Minelli or Michael Jackson performance.

Aaron Douglas

More on Genius. Release Date May 7, More Stately Mansions Charlie Barnes. More Stately Mansions. Easy, Kid.