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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. VIII, No. 1
Spring, 1984



5. THE GREAT GOD BROWN, directed by David Wheeler. Laurie Theatre, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, April 11-15, 1984.

Director David Wheeler writes, in the program notes for this Brandeis University Department of Theater Arts venture, "We have experimented in tonight's production by substituting two more actors for the 'Dion' mask and the 'Brown' mask in order to make more visible (and more variable) the divided spirit O'Neill gave his characters."

Four actors to play two men--Dion Anthony and William Brown--was a little like calling the Marines out to rescue a treed cat! The increased visibility gained by dispensing with masks and having two more actors on stage did little, unfortunately, to help this strange and very O'Neillian play come across. Eliminating the masks seemed, in fact, to eliminate much of the play's dramatic potential.

Maskless, The Great God Brown is ponderous. Dion and Billy Brown appear pathetically schizophrenic. And the whole idea of people being unable to show their real faces to each other is decidedly less poignant without the eerie physical presence of the masks them-selves on stage. The stabbing treacherous quality of a character suddenly assuming a false face is lost.

Billy Brown (Christopher Scheithe) watches as his "mask" (Bump Heeter) grabs Margaret (Gayle Keller). (Photo courtesy of Spingold Theater, Brandeis Univ.)

Billy Brown (Christopher Scheithe) resists the attack of his "mask" (Bump Heeter) on Dion's "mask" (Norm Silver).

Despite all, the actors in this Brandeis production held fast in their respective roles, or valiantly tried to. Bump Heeter, who played Bill Brown's mask, was well-cast as the ingratiating third-rate architect side of Brown. Wendy Feder was a likable Cybel, naturally all-knowing about the games people play.

But the stage itself was bad news--a long strip of space, with the audience on either side of it in bleachers as at a football field. One constantly had to twist neck and body to follow--or try to--the action. For a play that is inherently difficult to follow, such awkward staging was truly disappointing.

The production, if nothing else, underscored O'Neill's insight into drama, despite all the faults of the play as it is written. Not only can the use of masks--not actor masks--communicate something about people's hidden selves and therefore be of psychological importance; it can be an effective dramatic device as well, providing pivots upon which a play's action can turn. In The Great God Brown the use of actual masks is crucial to keeping the play on the rails, or as close to being on the rails as possible. O'Neill was right in realizing this.

--Marshall Brooks



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