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Native Tragedy

BY Arthur Gelb
FROM The New York Times, October 26, 1962

'Beyond the Horizon' Given in Milwaukee

The Fred Miller Theater, which recently acquired a permanent artistic director and a cushioning Ford Foundation grant, opened its season here last night with a sensitively staged production of Eugene O'Neill's 42-year-old play, "Beyond the Horizon."

The first O'Neill play produced on Broadway, it depicts the tragedy of two brothers—one an idealist who scraps his dream of adventure for marriage and life on a farm, to which he is unsuited; and the other a farmer attuned to the soil, who exiles himself when his brother wins the
girl he loves.

Perhaps the impact of "Beyond the Horizon" was not quite so epochal an event last night as it was in New York in 1920. But a number of significant parallels can be drawn between the two occasions.

Regional theater, as represented by the 346-seat Fred Miller, is just beginning to realize its potential; cities like Milwaukee, not notably theater-conscious in the past, are now deemed "ready" to accept and support serious drama. Broadway in 1920, notoriously frivolous-minded, was "ready" to be set on its ear by a native American tragedy, and receptive, from then on, to the body of theatrical literature that was to follow.

Like the 1920 Broadway production, last night's performance rose above limitations of budget, casting, scenic difficulties, and an audience not yet quite at home with the sort of stark drama represented by O'Neill.

But once again, the poignant tragedy of the thwarted dreamer—the valiant defeat of the poet waylaid by an unworthy idea—became vibrantly and affectingly alive.

The original production was thrown together from the two casts of two other Broadway plays; its producer, unwilling to risk his money, gave it a makeshift matinee, with garish, second-hand scenery.

Paul Shyre, artistic director of the Fred Miller, has been unable to lure experienced Broadway actors to Wisconsin with the limited funds at his disposal. And instead of O'Neill's poetically conceived horizon and hills, difficult to convey even on a proscenium stage, Mr. Shyre has had to make do on his open platform with a few papier-mâché hummocks and a cardboard tree or two.

The results, however, are all to the good. With a minimum of scenery, and an audience intimately surrounding the stage, Mr. Shyre has been forced to evoke the shifting moods of the play with skillful groupings of his actors and delicate nuances of lighting.

And his young players, particularly those in the character parts, have been obliged to make up in sincerity what they lack in experience.

They do remarkably well. When Anne Lynn, as the shallow, disillusioned girl who has inadvertently wrecked her husband's and her own life, weeps with frustration, genuine tears spring from her eyes. Her bitterness and despair are touchingly real.

Michael Ebert, as the thwarted hero, Robert Mayo, grows gaunt and hollow-eyed within inches of the audience, until his suffering is almost
too much to bear. If a reservation. must be made about his generally convincing performance, it is that he lacks the vigor of the idealist in
his early scenes, before circumstances have crushed him, and that he relies a bit too heavily on the business of coughing and gasping in his
dying scene.

James Broderick, as the older brother, Andrew, who barters his soul for success, strikes a nice balance between the gruff and the tender.

As the quartet of older people, George Vogel, Sylvia Gassel, John Leighton and Margaret Fitzgerald manage, despite their youth, to be convincing at close quarters.

While their powdered heads are a bit obviously theatricalthey range too carefully from yellowish to blue-gray to look real—their walks, gestures and vocal inflections unfalteringly convey crotchety and hard-bitten old age.

The productionbudget conscious and starless as it isis a tribute both to the enduring universality of the play, and to the resourcefulness of Milwaukee's newly reorganized civic theater.


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