By: Bernard Carragher
March 19, 2022: “A Touch of the Poet” is not one of Eugene O’Neill’s best dramas yet it does have some memorable characters and some sharp honest theatrical scenes. One of the reasons its flawed is O’Neill’s insistence of dragging out every scene beyond a reasonable length. The play lasts for two hours and forty minutes. O’Neill is one of the few writers that can be easily edited. I recently saw a production of “Long Day’s Journey into Night” which usually runs four hours and the director cut it down to two hours and it was just as effective.
“A Touch of a Poet” is O’Neill’s account of how Cornelius Melody discovered the truth about his own fraudulence. The bitter and brutal way in which he reacted is stirring and impressive in the play’s ultimate scenes. The principal players are Robert Cuccioli as Con Melody, his proud daughter Sara, Belle Aykroyd and his beleaguered wife Nora, Kate Forbes.
O’Neill wrote this grimly ironic drama as one of a series of nine, to tell the story of a fictional American family from post-Colonial time until 1932. Of the nine, this one the only finished. One other, ” More Stately Mansions,” was left in a clumsy manuscript was published by Yale University Press. It was first produced in Sweden and on Broadway in 1967 with Ingrid Bergman and Colleen Dewhurst for 142 performances.
Con Melody dominates “A Touch of a Poet” is a braggart Irishman living as his wife says, “all alone in the hell of his pride.”The year is 1828. In America Con runs a tavern in a small village near Boston. Con lives on his past which he celebrates in drink and full of foolish boasting while his wife cooks in the tavern’s kitchen, waits on his requests, suffers his abuses, though she forgives everything.
Once Con had been in the British Army as a major in the Majesty’s Seventh Dragon, a officer and a gentleman. Now once a year he puts on his red, gold, white uniform and celebrates with his cronies on the anniversary of the Battle of Talavera at which the the Duke of Wellington commended him for gallantry.
Around the tavern, he struts and poses before mirrors in and out of uniform, recites quotes from Lord Byron’s poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.” He pretends to face all obvious truths to be a gentlemen right up to the time when pride and alcoholism betray him into a monstrous folly. This is one of O’Neill’s greatest scenes, Con Melody recognizes the truth and decides to “kill” the strutting major. In so doing this he moves from one pose to another which is just as false, just as bogus and just as self-indulgent. Con is incapable of simple truth, of honest behavior, of living with the truth or with kindness for anything
but himself. O’Neill knows this blowhard will never change.
In 1977, I saw Jason Robards play Con Melody and it became one of his landmark performances. Of course, Robards had a long history of doing O’Neill’s characters. The Irish Rep cast has not mastered all of the nuances of the play. Mr. Cuccioli has not not learned how to turn as swiftly as Con does from raging accusations against his humble wife or his fiercely proud daughter to sudden brief remorse. Nevertheless, he gets most of Con Melody on the stage as does the rest of the cast acting the shriveled souls of O’Neill’s dark world.
A Touch of the Poet
Irish Repertory Theatre
Francis J. Greenburger Main Stage
132 W. 22nd Street, NYC, NY 10011
Wednesdays at 3pm & 8pm, Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm & 8pm, Sundays at 3pm
Run Time: 2 hours and 40 mins, with a 15 minute intermission
Feb 26, 2022 – April 17, 2022
Photography: Carol Rosegg