Remy Bumppo Brings a Good Mourning to Chicago's Greenhouse Theater.

Remy Bumppo Brings a Good Mourning to Chicago's Greenhouse Theater.
L to R: Orin Mannon (Scott Stangland), overwhelmed by destiny and remorse, is chastized by his more stoic sister Lavinia (Kelsey Brennan). Photo credit: Johnny Knight.

Chicago, Friday, September 30, 2011. Remy Bumppo Theatre Company kicked off their 2011/2012 season Monday at the Greenhouse Theater Center with Eugene O’Neill’s epic drama Mourning Becomes Electra.  It’s the inaugural season for Remy Bumppo’s new Artistic Director Timothy Douglas who jumps into the mix fearlessly with this epic production–trimmed from its original six hours to a slimmer but still hefty three hours (plus two 15 minute intermissions)–by adapter Gordon Edelstein.

Mourning Becomes Electra has been though many revivals from high school stages to Broadway and film–both good mournings and bad.  The classic Eugene O’Neill drama (1931) that upends the Greek tragedy Aeschylus’ The Oresteia (458 BC) into a post-Civil War drama, moves it to the west side of the Atlantic Ocean in a leafy New England village, over 2000 years later–is truly a classic–and well worth this newest revival.   The story weaves a web of jealousy, tragedy, incest and deceit that ensues as the powerful Mannon family evolves and dissolves.

If you ever thought that your family was dysfunctional–banish the thought.  Meet the Mannons who put the fun into disFUNctional.  First there’s Christine Mannon, (Annabel Armour), the mom of Lavinia and Orin and wife of Ezra.  While her distinguished husband Brigadier-General Ezra Mannon (David Darlow) is fighting in the Civil War as one of Grant’s generals, Christine is at home praying for him–that is, praying that he will die (in the war).  While Dad is away at war, the war at home between Lavinia (Kelsey Brennan) and her mother grows more vicious.  Lavinia (Vinnie as most know her), who’s deep feelings for her father Ezra border on incestuous, is jealous of her father’s love for her mother.  Christine hates Vinnie, always has, and tells her so to her face.  She adores Vinnie’s weak-willed younger brother Orin (Scott Stangland), who loves his mother back, passionately and co-dependently.  Enter: Adam Brant (Nick Sandys) born out of an illicit relationship between David Mannon and a French Canadian serving girl named Marie Brantôme, and banished from the family at birth.  Adam, bent on revenge, secretly infiltrates the Mannon family wooing daughter Vinnie at the same time he is having an affair with her mother.  And this is just the beginning of Act I “The Homecoming”.  Act II “The Hunted”, and Act III “The Haunted” escalate the madness, mayhem, murder and tragedy.

In stark contrast to the dysfunctional Mannons are neighbors Peter Niles (Luke Daigle), Orin’s childhood friend who courts Vinnie and Helen Niles (Stephanie Chavara), Peter’s sister who is Vinnie’s childhood friend and is in love with Orin.

The Remy Bumppo production of Mourning Becomes Electra is near perfect:  standouts include Remy Bumppo Artistic Associate, Annabel Armour who plays Christine with a dash of Helen Mirren and a large helping of Annabel; Artistic Associate David Darlow as Ezra is compelling, endearing, vulnerable yet in keeping with the character. The shorten version of the epic story removes peripheral characters that filled the role of the Greek chorus–the chorus being replaced by the very talented and haunting, Veronda G. Carey as Seth, the gardener–while concentrating on Fate’s influence putting the consequences directly into the hands of the protagonists.

The setting is stark with several white classical Greek columns at the end of a long stage, strategically placed chairs at stage center and the large family portrait of Erza Mannon hanging at one end, always on view and foreshadowing the action. The audience is set back, sitting on both sides of the stage, with the action taking place down the middle. The design works beautifully for this show, letting the actors do their job without unnecessary distractions.

Don’t let the length of the show or its connection to Aeschylus’ The Oresteia scare you away–even if you are not a regular theater-goer and majored in business or engineering.  This show is a production worth seeing and can be enjoyed on many levels.

The Chicago premiere production of Mourning Becomes Electra runs now through October 30, 2011 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue.

Regular Run: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday $40 – $45;  Saturday and Sunday $45 – $55. Student Tickets: $20 in advance for all performances by phone and in person. $15 student rush tickets are subject to availability and may be purchased one hour prior to curtain in person only. Students must have valid student I.D.  Group discounts of 20% are available for parties of 10 or more. For group information and reservations call 773-244-8119. Tickets at 773-404-7336 or

Discounted parking is available for $6 on weekends and weekdays after 5:00 p.m. at the Children’s Memorial Hospital Garage located ½ block north of the theater on Lincoln Ave.

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