Stephen Buck Memorial Theatre
New Hope, Pennsylvania
July 8-17, 1999
by Patrick Nolan
Daniel A. Drew Eugene O'Neill - Russ Widdall
The Morning Call,
July 10, 1999
Despite Flaws, "Midnight
Rainbows" Will Fascinate O'Neill
With the revival of Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh," starring
Kevin Spacey on Broadway, the timing couldn't be betterfor "Midnight Rainbows," which opened the 13th annual New
Hope Performing Arts Festival Thursday night.
Emmy-winning playwright Patrick Nolan's one-man show starring Russ Widdall as O'Neill is a major work that theserious theater-goer should not avoid. While "Rainbows" at
times has all the charm of cod liver oil, it is good medicine.
The play's title refers to O'Neill's sense of loss as he looks back
on his life in a conversation with God at the moment after hisdeath.
Of course, in O'Neill's time period, God is dead, too. O'Neill's
ruminations on relationships: God and man, O'Neill and his ownpsyche, and the playwright and his three children become the
leitmotif of the 90-minute play (presented with no intermission).
There's "no illusion; only the truth works here," O'Neill is told
and relates thusly to the audience. As might be expected withsuch a weighty pronouncement, the play is heavy going, laden
with a dictionary-thick list of "big issues": instinct, the soul,
thenature of pain, the desire to live in
the moment, and those moments of "wild joy," to name a few.
"Rainbows" has its lighter moments. "Isn't
'simply relate' an
oxymoron?" we're asked. Or this, regarding Honduras, where "thebugs have PhD.s in human anatomy." The humor is often at the
expense of the Irish, O'Neill's heritage, as in: "Irish actor: Acontradiction or redundancy?"
Nolan has a gift for the incisive: "Einstein's most important
question was 'Is the world a friendly place?' " -- more importantthan one of Einstein's better-known answers, E=MC2).
There are a few lapses into the mundane: a reference to one who has
"the spine of a chocolate éclair, for example.
But there's a deeper problem, one that Nolan couldn't avoid, given
the play's subject and methodology. When are werehearing Nolan's voice and when are we hearing O'Neill's
voice? More often than not, Nolan stays true to the spirit of
O'Neilland, for the most part, "Rainbows"
resonates with the recognition of truth.
Widdall gives a consummate performance in an extremely demanding
role, fairly capturing the emotionally wounded,cauterized but not healed, troubled, alcohol-addicted
Director Daniel A. Drew seems to have helped shape the material and
Widdall's performance successfully. However, whetherit was his sole decision or not, the play's staging leaves
much to be desired.
While the new auditorium is lovely for a high school, it lacks the
steamy confines of previous festival venues, such as theprivate Solebury School and (going way back) the dance studio
at Phillips Mill. The stage and hall are too large for theintimacies of a one-man show, through Widdal strives mightily
to occupy them.
Going with a semi-representational set (mother's living room to the
audience left, bar to the audience right, and heaven'scourtroom railing centerstage) limits the play's power. A
stark setting, a la "Waiting for Godot," in all black, gray or
white,would have been more effective.
The use of projected slides of O'Neill's children works the first
time but not the third or fourth. The lighting is minimal, withfloods of white here and there.
Still, "Midnight Rainbows" is worth seeing. The play needs a trim
here and there, some rearranging, perhaps an intermission,and more artistic staging. O'Neill fans especially will find
it fascinating and illuminating.