i - The two elder brothers enter plowing a
field and complaining about their hard lot and mistreatment at
the hands of their father.
ii - Eben enters on horseback and tells of
their father's taking a young bride who is likely to take their
inheritance. Eben offers money to buy the brothers' share of the
iii - Abbie is carried on in a sedan chair with
great fanfare, followed by the proud husband, the 76-year-old
Ephram Cabot. She sings of the beauty of "her" new farm.
iv - Eben returns and encounters Abbie for the
first time. There is a strong attraction between them which Eben
resists as Abbie teases him. In a long aria, she tells him that
she is now in control and he should give in and be her friend.
They argue about the ownership of the farm. Eben claims that it
belonged to his dead mother and thus is rightly his.
v - The father returns and father and son
continue the argument.
II Another Part of the Farmyard
i - Eben is trying to read but cannot
concentrate because of his conflicting feelings toward Abbie. He
sings of dreaming of her.
ii - Abbie enters and continues her
flirtation. He tells her he is going to the village to see a
prostitute. When she berates him he responds that she is no
better than a whore for marrying to gain a farm.
iii - Ephraim returns. Abbie, angry with Eben,
accuses him of cursing the father and trying to seduce her.
Ephraim is infuriated and says he will kill Eben. This, however,
is more of a reaction than Abbie wants and she tries to calm him
down. Abbie tells Ephram that they can get back at Eben by
having a son who would be the sole heir. This flatters the old
man's ego and calms his temper.
III Interior of the Farmhouse Showing
Eben's Bedroom Next to That of Abbie
i - Eben, in his room, and Abbie with Ephram
in the other, feel desire for each other even through the walls.
She convinces the old man to leave. They sing of their love,
separated by the wall. Eben is drawn to her room and they meet
and embrace. Eben resists but Abbie tells him she will wait for
him in the mother's room—a shrine which holds her spirit.
IV The Mother's Room
i - At first Eben fears he will offend his
mother's spirit, but finally they are convinced that they have
his dead mother's blessing and their love is consummated.
In February of 2001, Sandy Moffett, Consulting Director at the
Grinnell College Department of Theatre, received an email from his friend and
fellow O'Neill scholar from Nanjing University, Liu Haiping, telling him that a
provincial opera company in central China was producing an adaptation of
O'Neill's play, Desire Under the Elms, in the style of the Chu Opera, one of the
several styles of classical opera in China. Liu Haiping wrote that the company
was interested in some critical input on their work and asked Moffett if he
would be interested in traveling to Zhengzhou in Henan Province to see a
performance. Moffett made two trips to Zhengzhou during the spring and summer of
2001, first to see the production, and then to work with the company in
rehearsal with a possible trip to the U.S. in mind.
Plans were initially made for the company to travel to Grinnell
during the first week in October, 2001. The events of September 11th forced the
postponement of those plans. However, the Zhengzhou Chu Opera Company did indeed
perform "Old House Under the Elms" on the
Grinnell campus in September of 2002.