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01 May 2009 @ 11:32 pm
Desire Under the Elms - Reviews  
Review time for Desire Under the Elms!

Some extracts of reviews for Desire Under the Elms:

USA Today

Gugino has movingly played bruised women on stage in Arthur Miller's After the Fall and Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer, but nothing will have prepared audiences for the depth and ferocity of her work here. Her Abbie is at once unrelentingly sensual and fiercely practical, a canny seductress and a creature so wounded and desperate that we ache for her. She turns to Pablo Schreiber's strapping, brooding Eben for solace as much as anything, though their sexual chemistry is electric.

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2009/05 USA Today

The New York Times

Portraying a stepmother and stepson doomed to enact a feverish, erotic dance that will ultimately destroy them, Carla Gugino and Pablo Schreiber fight like tigers in a cage over a legacy of land, even as their bodies cleave violently together, aflame with urgent need.
Embracing the florid extremes of the role with a thrilling bravado, Ms. Gugino makes us see with painful clarity how these two conflicting desires corrode Abbie’s psyche so completely that they are finally blended into one consuming need to retain Eben’s love at all cost. It is a brave, luminous, ultimately haunting performance.
With Ms. Gugino, Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Dennehy giving performances of unflagging commitment and exposed feeling, the production manages to transcend the play’s flaws to transmit the penetrating truth of O’Neill’s underlying vision, of the ineradicable human need to possess and be possessed.

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2009/05 New York Times 01 2009/05 New York Times 02


Compared with her costars - particularly two-time Tony winner Brian Dennehy, our generation's foremost interpreter of the plays of Eugene O'Neill - Carla Gugino is a theatrical tenderfoot. She has made as many professional stage experiences as she has Spy Kids movies (three). Yet the minute Gugino's untamed Abbie — the 35-year-old trophy wife of Dennehy's 75-year-old Ephraim Cabot — strides into this steamy if not scorching revival of Desire Under the Elms, she stakes claim to more than just the Cabot farm: ''It's purty — purty! I can't b'lieve it's r'ally mine.'' She owns the show.

The former model is certainly equipped to be an object of ''desire.'' But Gugino also displays a rare combination of motherly warmth and wild-eyed sensuality, not to mention a complete ease with the playwright's extremely stylized dialogue: ''I don't want t' pretend playin' Maw t' ye, Eben,'' Gugino's Abbie says upon first meeting her defensive stepson Eben (Pablo Schreiber). ''Ye're too big an' too strong fur that. I want t' be frens with ye. Mebbe with me fur a fren ye'd find ye'd like livin' here better.''
Actually, that set could crush a lot of Broadway actors. But not Dennehy. And certainly not the marvelous Gugino.

New York Post

You have to accept "Desire Under the Elms" on these terms, which blend tragedy (the Greeks loom large) and the outlandish melodramas of the '40 and '50s. It's hard not to be reminded of films such as "Duel in the Sun" or "Baby Doll" at times, especially when Gugino fully deploys her sultry, bruised sensuality.

There's no better proof of modern Hollywood's artistic bankruptcy than the fact that this actress, as smart as she is beautiful, is stuck in supporting girlfriend parts on-screen. We should count ourselves lucky that following "After the Fall" and "Suddenly, Last Summer," Gugino seems to have made theater a regular part of her life.


The play's liberal doses of psychosexual mayhem, carnality and horror could easily teeter into melodramatic camp, particularly when channeled through such baroque direction. But Gugino's and Schreiber's performances keep it grounded. Both of their impulsive characters require lurching shifts, from wariness and hostility through recklessness and surrender to violent passion, torment and atonement. The actors claw their way through the heightened emotions and idiomatic dialogue without sacrificing dramatic integrity, and the heat between them is palpable. Abbie's suppressed yearning for love and Eben's agonizing hatred for his tyrannical father are conveyed in performances that withhold nothing.


All three leads deliver performances of great power. But Gugino's acting of Abby Putnam brims with passion as she exudes sexual hunger and falls into wrenching tragedy out of her love for Schreiber's towering, sensual, emotionally shifting Eben Cabot.
Perhaps because of his late adored mother, Eben sounds more refined as played by Schreiber as a post-adolescent who succumbs to Abby's blandishments. Gugino, too, speaks in an unmannered way, eschewing O'Neill's verbal tricks — "hum" for home, "yew" for you.

Yet from the moment she sees Eben, she wordlessly communicates her desire for him. Across the increasingly sizzling connection between them, Gugino etches a portrait of a woman swept into a maelstrom of unquenchable ardor.

She sets out a portrait of a woman willing to go to any extreme to keep the younger man. First she boldly seduces him in the parlor haunted by the spirit of his mother, a shrouded place that opens up in the suspended cabin. Then she gives birth to his baby in a graphic scene in her bedroom, with her feet pushing at the bed frame.

At last, she commits the unthinkable act, eliminating the infant that has come between them. After that, they are still in love and follow the sheriff together.


In Gugino's spirited, yet ever so close to the vest performance, one's never quite sure as to Abbie's true motivations, and once the affair has gone awry, Gugino's subtle turn adds another layer of mystery to the whole thing – has Abbie lapsed into a kind of all-consuming madness.


And buoyed, no doubt, by the enthusiastic response to their mutual writhing, Pablo Schreiber and, especially, Carla Gugino have intensified their mad, primal grabs for each other's lithe, sweaty bodies. Gugino's performance is, as it was in Chicago, a work of staggering fortitude, guts and veracity.

New York City Theatre

In spite of the over-the-top emotions, what really keep this production grounded are the cast’s convincing performances Carla Gugino oozes with a Maggie the Cat sexuality that is eventually tempered by guilt and desperateness.


The brightest and most intense dramatic and sexual fireworks are delivered by Gugino. She totally commits to Abbie's objective: to find a home, at first on the farm and then in Eben's arms. Like a rural combination of Medea and Phèdre, she will stop at nothing to achieve her ends.

Daily News

But it's a nakedly emotional Gugino ("After the Fall," "Entourage"), whose raw, sensual performance as the conniving, surviving, slave-to-lust Abbie that gets under your skin.


Gugino’s delicate attitude toward Schreiber’s sculpted body matches his insolent behavior toward her advances, and we cannot wait to see these two wrapped around each other. Gugino plays Abbie with an intensity and iron fragility that flashes between opulence and despair. Schreiber knows Eben’s innocence and has the talent to whip out a violent burst without warning. There are Freudian questions of love and/or manipulation when Abbie draws Eben to his dead mother’s chambers, leading to a steamy transaction. Nine months later a baby boy is born, and Abbie must resort to shedding the burden that has forced her to live a lie.
For example, Dennehy delivers an outstanding monologue explaining his character’s rise to self-made success, while Gugino and Schreiber engage in a symbolic pas des deaux illustrating their longing for each other. With such strong language and simple, direct performances, do we need more visuals to understand? That said, this production moves without a lull and clocks in at 100 minutes. Superb set design, fine acting, and scandalous sex leaves nothing to be desired.


But it's Carla Gugino as Abbie who deserves much of the credit for selling this production. More than her seasoned co-stars she exudes a natural power on stage that even manages to counteract the stagy manipulations.

Note: There is a video review at NY1's website, check it out!

The New Yorker

Schreiber and Gugino are both that rare combination, actors who are stars.
And Gugino, as a Hollywood agent on "Entourage," met a high-powered client’s evasions and narcissism with something harder: a contained, undemonstrative self-interest. But Gugino excels at communicating physical desperation, too. (This was evident in her brilliant portrayal of Maggie in the 2004 Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s "After the Fall," and of Catharine Holly in the 2006 revival of Tennessee Williams’s "Suddenly Last Summer.") Gugino’s Abbie means to make Eben her own. She makes love to him in his mother’s sacred parlor; she even commits murder—less for Eben than in defense of the toxic love that feeds her. She resents Eben for returning her to the world of passion—she wanted domesticity, a home, his mother’s home. And yet she cannot hold back. She hates his male ability to disengage when things get complicated. While watching Gugino’s pretty, deceitful, lonely heroine bring down the house she so longed for, I thought of the imperious and beautiful Carlotta Monterey, O’Neill’s last wife. After he married Monterey, in 1929, O’Neill was no longer the outcast third member of a triangle. Monterey, a former actress, knew how to love and torture and deceive him just enough to keep him writing about the same woman over and over again.

TimeOut New York

Gugino and Schreiber's anguished erotic heat is matched by the hellfire viciousness of Dennehy's patriarchal sadism.
Gugino previously stunned with her emotional nakedness, but the intensity of Abbie's descent into lust and madness surpasses anything before.

The Leader

Gugino brings a Maggie the Cat sexuality to her role, coming across as both a lioness and a victim of her good looks. That she wasn’t nominated for a Tony Award this year is both a shame and a testament to the other worthy work by actresses on the Rialto this season.

Theater News Online

Falls elicits strong performances from all three of his leads. When Schreiber and Gugino first confront each other in that kitchen scene, the electricity is so hot you can almost hear the hum of the power lines.
Gugino, who was a bright spot in the otherwise dull 2004 Broadway revival of After the Fall, infuses Abbie with just the right balance of headstrong wife and passionate lover.

New York Press

Somehow, through sheer charisma and fearlessness, Gugino emerges unscathed, while Schreiber overwhelms his own solid performance by repeatedly flashing an even more solid body.
Mostly it's Gugino that one desires. In an outlandish final scene, Abbie suffers a complete breakdown, and Gugino doesn't shy away from embracing O'Neill's purple dialogue or dated emotionality. Laughing hysterically, she falls to the stage and keens wildly over the massive mistake she's just made for Eben's love. Appropriately enough for their characters and performances, Schreiber and Dennehy fade into the background as Abbie falls apart. In another year, Gugino would have been a shoe-in for a best actress nomination, but she's undone by Falls’ undercooked production. Like Abbie, a woman who hungers for a home of her own with a terrifying intensity, Gugino has been let down by the men around her, wasting a memorable performance in an unmemorable production.

I also recommend to watch this: Video review Words of mouth and this Dark Desire Lights Broadway

Edit: Many thanks for the scans to Elektra Luxx