Beyond the Horizon at Eclipse Theatre Company | Theater review
This early O’Neill shows signs of the playwright’s future themes, but it’s otherwise hemmed in.
Eclipse Theatre launches its 20th season by dusting off this seldom-performed 1920 milquetoast melodrama by Eugene O’Neill. Centered on a love triangle between two Massachusetts brothers and Ruth (Emily Shain), the shrill object of their mutual affection, this first full-length effort is noteworthy for landing O’Neill his first Pulitzer Prize for drama—and by today’s dramatic standards, beyond academic curiosity, not much else.
Given an opportunity to leave his insular life on the farm to sail the world alongside his uncle, Robert (John Wehrman) comes down with a last-minute case of romantic whimsy aimed at his brother Andrew’s (Nathaniel Swift) unhappily betrothed. Choosing passion over duty, Robert runs off with Ruth and rejects the chance to satiate his itchy feet, forfeiting his sea post to his scorned homebody brother. Festering grudges follow, as well as O’Neill’s budding signature disillusionment with American ideals.
Missing is the four-time Pulitzer winner’s nuanced sense of tragic fatalism. The trouble inherent in Beyond the Horizon is that both the root of its family’s unhappiness and its underlying message are obvious: Turning down your dreams in favor of boning your brother’s girlfriend is a bad idea. Matters aren’t helped here by Lou Contey’s anemic, breathy, all-around miscast production. The family never congeals, and years elapse with no character development or so much as change in set dressing; equally static are the show’s stakes.