Connect with us

Arts & Entertainment

Dated drama

Decades-spanning O’Neill saga gets fresh but uneven production



Robert Stanton as Charles Marsden and Francesca Faridany as Nina Leeds in the Michael Kahn-helmed Shakespeare Theatre Company production of ‘Strange Interlude,’ by Eugene O’Neill. (Photo courtesy STC)

‘Strange Interlude’
Sidney Harmon Hall
Eugene O’Neill Festival
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Through April 29

This year marks Michael Kahn’s 25th season at the helm of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. As an anniversary present to both himself and the city, Kahn is staging a rarely seen piece of American theatre history: Eugene O’Neill’s “Strange Interlude.”

This Pulitzer Prize-winning play broke all of the theatrical rules at its 1928 premiere. Running more than six hours long (the original production included a dinner break), the play features characters who speak their inner thoughts aloud and explores such previously forbidden topics as homosexuality and female sexuality from the perspective of new sciences such as psychology and eugenics.

This production, however, raises the question of whether a historical artifact such as “Interlude” can come to vivid theatrical life so many years after its shocking debut. The answer is both yes and no. With the permission of O’Neill’s estate, Kahn has cut the play from six hours to just under four hours, but he could easily have cut another hour from the script.

He turns the nine acts of O’Neill’s play into nine scenes presented with two badly needed intermissions. The show spans two decades and focuses on Nina Leeds, the daughter of a New England professor. As the play opens, Nina (Francesca Faridany) is in mourning for her fiancé, golden-boy Gordon Shaw, a pilot who died in World War I. The shattered Nina rebuilds her life through her relationships with the men who are drawn to her likes moths to a flame: novelist and family friend Charles Marsden (Robert Stanton); her husband, businessman Sam Evans (Ted Koch); her lover, doctor Ned Darrell (Baylen Thomas); and, her son Gordon (played by Jake Land as a boy and by Joe Short as a young man) who becomes a golden boy like his namesake.

Over the somewhat melodramatic course of the play, Nina becomes a nurse (who sleeps with the wounded soldiers in her care), learns a terrible family secret from her mother-in-law, has a son by her lover, plays the role of Park Avenue matron when her husband finally becomes a successful businessman, loses control of her son to his fiancée Madeline, and finally, after the death of her husband and the onset of menopause, finds peace in the company of the devoted Marsden.

The actors dive into this material with great commitment, but encounter a few problems along the way. Some are in the script. “Interlude” is famous for O’Neill’s use of spoken inner monologues, ranging from a word or two to short paragraphs. Film and stage directors have tackled these in a variety of ways — voice-overs, masks, freezes. Kahn skillfully guides his cast through these asides in a more naturalistic manner, using shifts in tempo, physical position and visual focus to clearly mark outer dialogue and inner monologue. But while Kahn’s pacing and staging are always masterly, he can’t ultimately hide the problem with O’Neill’s great theatrical experiment — it takes longer to speak subtext than to act it. The spoken asides get repetitive and are often rather obvious.

Another challenge is the design. Kahn cleverly uses projections to cover the set changes (the excellent projection design is by Aaron Rhyne), but when the lights come up, we are left with huge gray walls that dominate the action and dwarf the actors. A final challenge is the character of Nina herself — men can’t seem to tear themselves away from her but we’re never told why. Some of it’s in the writing but though actress Faridany admirably commits to the taxing role, her performance never truly catches fire.

There is, however, one spark of fire in Kahn’s production of this American classic —Robert Stanton’s portrayal of novelist Charles Marsden, one of the first coded gay characters on the American stage. Remarkably, he preserves the essential dignity of the character while not hiding the artistic and personal price of his sexual repression.



PHOTOS: Miss Gay D.C.

Courtney Kelly crowned winner of annual drag competition



Courtney Kelly is crowned Miss Gay D.C. 2023 at The Lodge on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 2023 Miss Gay D.C. competition was held at The Lodge in Boonsboro, Md. on Saturday, Dec. 2. Six contestants vied for the crown, and Courtney Kelly was crowned the winner.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Continue Reading


More queer books we love

Bellies: A Novel, Time Out and more for your gift list



(Book cover images courtesy of the publishers)

For the person on your gift list who’d love a boy-meets-boy story, wrap up “Bellies: A Novel” by Nicola Dinan (Hanover Square Press), the tale of a playwright and the man who loves him wholly, until a transition threatens to change everything.

If there’s a romantic on your list, then you’re in luck: finding a gift is easy when you wrap up “10 Things That never Happened” by Alexis Hall (Sourcebooks), the story of Sam, whose job is OK, and his boss, Jonathan, who should have never hired Sam. Too late now, except for the romance. Wrap it up with “Time Out” by Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner with Carlyn Greenwald (Simon & Schuster), the story of a basketball player who’s newly out of the closet, and a politically minded boy who could easily get his vote.

For the person on your list who likes to read quick, short articles, wrap up “Inverse Cowgirl: A Memoir” by Alicia Roth Weigel (HarperOne). It’s a collection of essays on life as an intersex person, and the necessity for advocating for others who are, too.

Continue Reading


Our favorite books for holiday gifts

Hitchcock, Britney, Barbra, and more!



(Book cover image courtesy of G.P. Putnam's Sons)

When it gets dark early, it’s cold outside and you want to spice up your life, what’s more intriguing than a book? Here are some holiday gift ideas for book lovers of all ages.

Who isn’t fascinated by the dark, twisty, sometimes, mordantly witty, movies of Alfred Hitchcock, or by Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren, Ingrid Bergman and the other actresses in his films? Hitchcock’s Blondes: The Unforgettable Women Behind the Legendary Director’s Dark Obsession by Laurence Leamer, author of “Capote’s Women,” is an engrossing story not only of Hitchcock, but of the iconic “blondes” he cast in some of his most beloved movies from “39 Steps” to “Rear Window” to “Vertigo” to “Psycho.” $29. G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Reading about Hitchcock, no matter how intriguing the book, is never as good as watching his films. Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection (Blu-ray $39.96. DVD: $32.40) features “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest,” “Psycho” and “The Birds.”

Corona/Crown,” by D.C.-based queer poet Kim Roberts in collaboration with photographer Robert Revere, is a fab present for lovers of photography, museums, and poetry. Revere and Roberts were deeply affected by the closure of museums during the COVID pandemic. In this lovely chapbook, they create a new “museum” of their own. “This is what I learned when the pandemic struck,” Roberts writes, “when I couldn’t stop thinking about the artwork in all the museums, bereft of human eyes.” $21.25 WordTech Editions

Few things are as scary and/or captivating as a good ghost story. The Night Side of the River,” by acclaimed lesbian writer Jeanette Winterson, author of “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” and “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,” is a provocative and engrossing collection of ghost stories. These deliciously chilling stories feature spirits, avatars, a haunted estate, AI and, pun intended, lively meetings between the living and the dead. $27. Grove.

Blackouts,” a novel by queer writer Justin Torres that received this year’s National Book Award for fiction, is a breathtaking book about storytelling, queer history, love, art, and erasure. A perfect gift for aficionados of characters that become etched into your DNA. $30. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

The Woman in Me,” the memoir by Britney Spears will be devoured by queers of all ages – from tweens to elders. Much of Spears’s story is known – from her youth in Louisiana to her rapid rise to fame to her conservatorship (when her father controlled her life). Yet the devil, as the saying goes, is in the details. In this riveting memoir, Spears reveals the horrifying and exhilarating aspects of her life: from how her father controlled what she ate and when she took a bath to the restrictions put on her ability to see her sons to her love of singing, dancing, and creating music. Spears writes of the queer community’s “unconditional” love and support for her.  $32.99. Gallery.

Few memoirs have been more eagerly anticipated than Barbra Streisand’s My Name Is Barbra.” In its nearly 1,000 pages, EGOT-winning (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony), divine, queer icon Streisand, 81, tells seemingly everything about her life. She quarreled with Larry Kramer over filming “The Normal Heart.” It didn’t work out: Streisand thought mainstream audiences would be turned off by explicit sex scenes. Marlon Brando and Streisand were good friends, she loves Brazilian coffee ice cream and her mother was a horror show. Contrary to how some lesser mortals see her, she doesn’t see herself as a diva. The print version of “My Name is Barbra” is fab. The audio version, a 48-hour listen, which Streisand narrates, is even better. $47. Viking. $45 on Audible.

Chasing Rembrandt,” by Richard Stevenson is a terrific gift for mystery lovers. Richard Stevenson was the pseudonym for Richard Lipez, the out queer author, who wrote witty, engaging mysteries featuring the openly gay detective Donald Strachey. Sadly, Stevenson died in 2022. But, “Chasing Rembrandt,” a novel featuring Strachey and his romantic partner Timmy, was published this year. The idea for the story was sparked by a real-life incident when paintings were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. “Robbers wreak havoc, smashing the glass covers protecting masterpieces and slicing paintings out of their frames,” Stevenson writes at the beginning of this entertaining story, “They make off with thirteen works, including three Rembrandts and a Vermeer, worth more than half a billion dollars and beloved in the world of art. It is arguably the greatest property theft in human history.”

With the repartee of Nick and Nora and the grit of Philip Marlowe, Strachey works to solve this mystery. $16.95. ReQueered Tales.

Some books never get old. “The Wild Things,” the beloved children’s picture book written and illustrated by acclaimed gay writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak, was published in 1963. Sixty years later, the Caldecott Medal-winning classic is still loved by three to five-year-olds, their parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles. A new digital audio version of “Where the Wild Things Are,” narrated by Michelle Obama, was released this fall. Who can resist the Wild Things, when they plead: “Oh, please don’t go–we’ll eat you up–We love you so!”? Widely available in hard cover, paperback and e-book format. Audio: $5.50.

What’s more fun than playing a festive album while you’re reading during the holidays? Deck the halls! This year, queer icon Cher has released “Christmas,” her first holiday album. Highlights of the album include: Cher singing with Cyndi Lauper on “Put A Little Holiday In Your Heart,” Stevie Wonder on “What Christmas Means to Me” and Darlene Love on “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” and the rapper Tyga on “Drop Top Sleigh Ride.” The perfect gift for Cher aficionados.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade