The ghost of a Nobel and Pulitzer prizewinning playwright has been appearing in the mortal world at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre in Pasadena this month to explain the inspiration of his life-long achievements, many of which resulted from deep personal pain and alcohol abuse.
FOR THE RECORD: This corrects an earlier version that mispelled Eugene O'Neill's name.
Actor-writer James Cady bravely takes the stage alone and gives a raw performance, starring in the work of fiction he crafted around the great playwright Eugene O’Neill, who is searching for meaning in his afterlife, while sharing pivotal memories.
Cady, also a veteran director, first became interested with O’Neill in 1975, when he studied under U.C. Berkeley professor and O’Neill expert, Travis Bogard. Back then, Cady complained to Bogard that he had nothing in common with O’Neil, but Bogard assured him that if he lived long enough, it would all make sense one day. That truth manifested as Cady’s passionate and somewhat dark, nearly 90-minute play.
This is a play that will be fully appreciated with those familiar with the many works of O’Neill such as “Long Day's Journey Into Night” and “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” which reflect on the author’s familiarity with depression and alcoholism.
Cady’s performance is excellent, as he strikes a balance between searching for answers and explaining his discoveries with irreverence for the conventional, tied-up-with-a-bow, happy ending.
There are some touching moments, especially when we realize that the only true memory of receiving unconditional love O’Neill had was from his beloved dog —who meets him in the afterlife — and a few comedic anecdotes to break the dark, gloomy spell of one sad event after another.
At the end of the day, the trials, tribulations and sorrowful moments of O’Neill’s life were fuel for the fire of his creativity. It becomes clear through the play, he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The set is stark and black, with very few props, as you might expect O’Neill to portray the purgatory he has landed in. Cady wears the suit he was buried in throughout the play, which is appropriate, as we journey through the shadows and highlights of O’Neill’s life.
“The Unauthorized Afterlife of Eugene O’Neill” started Sept. 15 and ends with a 2 p.m. matinee show on Sunday (Sept. 25), at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre, located above The Pasadena Playhouse at 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena 91101. Ticket prices are $30 for general admission. Student tickets are $15.
CASSANDRA M. BELLANTONI is a freelance reporter and producer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.