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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. V, No. 2
Summer-Fall 1981


(IN THIS ISSUE)

II. Welded, directed by Jos Quintero: A Review.

There were only twelve of us scattered throughout the theater on a Saturday afternoon to see the Jos Quintero/Columbia University revival of Welded: enough to make up a jury, perhaps, but not truly an audience. Word was out (as Mel Gussow of the New York Times put it) that the play did not warrant exhumation, and true enough, the performance was a dispiriting event. Welded is one of O'Neill's unpolished efforts, but the failure of this production must be attributed as well to the director. We in the scholarly community stand in Quintero's debt for his powerful productions of such important O'Neill plays as Long Day's Journey Into Night, The Iceman Cometh, Desire Under the Elms, Strange Interlude, Anna Christie, A Moon for the Misbegotten, A Touch of the Poet and More Stately Mansions. Through these landmark productions Quintero helped to spark the O'Neill revival of the last three decades. But here it must be said that he has taken one of O'Neill's least imaginative plays and mounted it with deadening fidelity.

Welded ought to seem more than a lover's quarrel between hysterics. In common with his other work of the 1920s, O'Neill was trying here to break the bonds of naturalism, trying to suggest something of the mysterious "behind life" forces urging human beings who are caught in the grip of life's intensities. In this respect Michael and Eleanor Cape are forerunners of Abbie and Eben in Desire Under the Elms. What welds them as lovers is a force beyond verbalization, an impersonal passion that lifts and buffets them, a bond in which they participate despite their petty egotism, jealousy, and self-absorption.

Yet in Welded O'Neill fails to dramatize this bond; instead he talks around it. In Act III the stage directions insist that Michael and Eleanor "act for a moment like two persons of different races, deeply in love but separated by a barrier of language." After an intense embrace, Michael grimly muses: "Thinking explains. It eliminates the unexplainable--by which we live." Paradoxically, Welded is one of O'Neill's most talky plays, and therein lies the challenge for a director. Welded is almost entirely a verbal contraption written at a stage in O'Neill's career when the playwright still had not mastered the intricacies of terseness. That the play is autobiographical is obvious, too, and it is clear that O'Neill was unable to write in a straightforward manner about his own personality until much later in life. But the real issue of the play is passion, and the problem for the director is how to drive across the footlights a sense of "the unexplainable by which we live."

O'Neill made a stab at solving this dilemma through his use of lighting in the play, stipulating that "two circles of light, like auras of egoism, emphasize and intensify Eleanor and Michael throughout the play. There is no other lighting." The overlapping of these beams must have been intended as a visual metaphor. But Mr. Quintero chooses not to avail himself of this device. Instead he sets a barren stage illuminated by an unwavering light bulb fixed to a bar across the ceiling. As a result, Quintero stresses the naturalism of the play, but in doing so, he sinks it utterly in melodrama. The acting is flatfooted and tiresome, the characters petulant rather than grand. They should be tormented, but they only make a fuss.

Philip Anglim, retaining the glow of injured pride that worked so well for him in The Elephant Man, gives an elephantine performance as Michael, O'Neill's earnest and intense persona. His interpretation lacks modulation--something Quintero ought to have corrected. Anglim actually seemed more comfortable as the elephant man, twisted physically in Pomerance's play, than he does as Michael, twisted emotionally in O'Neill's. In fairness to the actor, the part does call for a self-dramatizing young man.

Ellen Tobie (Eleanor) brought a narcissistic glimmer to her part. Dolefully the actress's eyes would wander to the empty seats, stopping at the spectators to inquire who we were, why we had come, and whether we now regretted it. Court Miller as John, Eleanor's old flame, turned in a nicely understated performance, and Laura Gardner as the prostitute was exceptionally strong in a role written with feeling but without much depth.

Yes, Welded has the O'Neill passion, but it cannot be made to flow if the actors simply stand and speak the lines. Perhaps the play might be done as a period piece, but a better suggestion would be to turn away from naturalism altogether and to perform some wild experiment on the text. To Jos Quintero, one of our great directors, we must say: this time--and maybe this time only--less matter and more art. --Michael Hinden

(IN THIS ISSUE)

 

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