Eugene O’Neill’s controversial play, Desire Under The Elms, will be presented by The Sol III Company early next month. This is O’Neill’s great American tragedy and it is one that Sol III founder, and this play’s director and producer, Andrei Schiller-Chan, is extremely proud to be presenting. Read on as Schiller-Chan expands on O’Neill’s themes, intentions and history, finding correlations in his own life. Schiller-Chan also shares the wonderful benevolent work that The Sol III Company does in the areas of Social and Environmental Sustainability.
About The Play:
When you read and absorb Eugene’s prose for the first time, the sincerity and uncompromising atonement for the fallibility of the most basic human needs, creates an unbridled pathway to your own very most core and reflection. It cost’s you [emotionally] to read Eugene works; but the price for self-understanding and purification of the spirit is insignificant to the greater unity and belonging that Eugene can create in his Tragedies. It is this very Katharsis [Purification] that made it significant for me. Through his unabashed introduction of his personal life into the words, I felt I found a friend who could give me understanding of the human condition, and like Virgil guiding Dante in the Inferno, so too is O’Neill a guide, illuminating the reasons for things happened in the past, and to prepare me for what may come in the future. This is the hallmark of the great tragedians and is a quality rarely seen. They bring people together, in unity, and this is what my company stands for: to influence positive social and environmental sustainability.
This was the play that first influenced me into the realm of theatre and gave me the confidence to take up the mantle of where I saw myself headed. In effect it is homage to the choices that we all make to pursue the direction of our individual responsibilities to what we want to bring and improve to the world. I decided to put it on at this definitive point in time, as it is a story about Love, and there are certain things in your own personal life that must happen first before you can begin to understand the human complexities relevant in the play. I’d like to be clear that it is masterfully simple for any audience to comprehend, but the simplicity presented is only through microscopic attention to detail and many months of preparation.
Desire Under The Elms touches me on a personal level as I had a similar childhood to O’Neill. This gives me merit to understand and interpret his vision with commitment, experience and truthfulness. But as you grow older you find different accents of the story that touch you in ways unexpected. At this time of writing the strongest sense in the story is my relationship to Love – it’s importance, it’s abundance in myself for another & the struggle to either accept it or let it go. I can understand why tragedy unfolds from the great need for love, I have seen it in myself and the mistakes I have made.
As with all great Tragedy, as explored by Aristotle, it contains the reversal of family order and ultimate recognition of that reversal. It reveals the themes of responsibility and validation, desire and love, greed and childhood. The story arch uses a simple New England family to demonstrate the lengths and depravity we’ll go for validation and love, mostly ignorant of the fact that it drives most of our actions. Because it’s centred on family, it allows the audience to subject themselves into the respective roles without friction, as it is relatable on every facet of ‘normal’ life. The characters portrayed are all archetypes and imitations of us universally; only the actions carried through in the plot is what makes the play Tragic to the heights of Greek Tragedy. In my direction however, and in understanding Eugene on a personal level, this is a play about Childhood, and how the needs of the child tragically never leave the foundations of the adult. The play however reveals the relinquishment of the “child” through the value of Responsibility.
Eugene was one of the pioneers of writing dialogue in a regions vernacular speech. So the dialogue and their way of speaking haven’t changed dramatically from what we are used to now – except for the cursive words. The themes and characters are universal and could be placed at any time, their motives and actions still relevant to what human beings do today. You only have to open a newspaper and the same mistakes made in the play reach across the double pages of the standard Australian paper. The difference being is that we are allowed to explore it together, immersed in the experience of it, interact with it, and hopefully come to an understanding of why we do the things we do. Audiences must understand why artistic tragedy has remained for thousands of years and I’d say its due to the fact there is a great necessity for tragedy within a societal culture; I could put it no better than F. Nietzsche:
“With sublime gestures it reveals to us how the whole world of torment is necessary so that the individual can create the redeeming vision, and then, immersed in contemplation of it, sit peacefully in his tossing boat amid the waves.” (The Birth of Tragedy)
Every sentence has been carefully formulated by Eugene, every period & every pause. It’s what won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. Work of this magnitude requires dedication that a Fighter would give in preparation for a title fight. My style is Unorthodox in the sense that I come from a martial arts background, and began interweaving the two art forms of Directing and Boxing, exploring this methodology in our play ‘The Exonerated’. We received 5 star reviews and great acclaim and I have been working on making it stronger, more unified & relatable. For instance, breathing, presence, feet, posture, & mindset are honed and specifically trained in Boxing. It is or should be the same for Acting, and so I begin each rehearsal, applying to maybe one or two of these concepts. The Neck and the Feet have been something we’ve spent a lot of time on, but more importantly the breathing. Almost every breath the actor makes in this play has been marked out in our scripts to breathe at that specific point. The purpose of this is so you have enough breath to carry to the end of the thought, and allows the actor to tap into the rhythm of the writer. When you can understand Rhythm it becomes musical in a sense and is very freeing for the actor. We call it the “zone” in Boxing. It is unusual to go to this technical degree in such effort but the play and its message is entirely worth it. Our measure of specificity is unusual, due to my experience in the ring, but also the amount of time we have to prepare compared to other companies that try and churn out as many productions as they can. We focus on one play for an entire year before releasing it out into the public; so time and dedication becomes the sculptor of our quality.
Desire Under The Elms is a play that will stay with you long after the curtains fall. It caresses the inner child in all of us and exemplifies the finer conflicts of our families before our eyes. Desire reveals the dangers of possession and greed and the violent blistering of all human connections in search of them. Our characters redemption, and that of humanity, rests in our ability to accept ownership & responsibility for our actions and perhaps for others.
About The Sol III Company
The Sol III Company is an ensemble of Melbourne Actors and Designers dedicated to Social and Environmental Sustainability. We use Theatre as a medium to invigorate collective unity, a force majeure to bring humanity together, and raise funds for different socially active organisations. The company was born from Andrei Schiller-Chan’s efforts with Rubin Hurricane Carter and the wrongful incarceration of David McCallum. Their first production of The Exonerated was in tribute of David’s exoneration and also the stance against the death penalty. Sponsored by Amnesty International, Liberation Prison Yoga and Innocence International, The Sol III Company is recognised as company that gives back to the whole whilst providing a quality and memorable experience. The production of Desire Under The Elms is raising money for the Australian Conservation Foundation and the protection of The Great Barrier Reef. The sustainability of our environment and respect for her worth lies at the heart of the company’s values, as the truthful imitation of Nature is to what all artists aspire.
The relevance of this play in regards to Nature is that the conflicts we have within ourselves forms our landscape, our environment, and the way we treat the fields, forests, and reefs is merely a personification of the finer inner workings within. We hope a play like this will show the dangers of possession, greed and desire.
Link to Desire Under The Elms Trailer: https://vimeo.com/170781306
Desire Under The Elms
July 7 – 24