Anna Christie's mannerly doppelganger, starring as the same character in "Chris Christophersen," fittingly ends this year's Eugene O'Neill festival by checking into Danville's Tao House this weekend.
The play, which O'Neill eventually worked into the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Anna Christie," came alive in the Old Barn at the former O'Neill estate, a fitting place to exorcise some of the ghosts in the playwright's past. Although not exactly a ghost, "Chris Christophersen" is an all-but-forgotten first version of the much better known "Anna Christie," and features a similar story and many of the same characters.
Although written only a couple of years apart in the early 1920s, "Chris" has the feel of a much older play, with many of the melodramatic trappings that had characterized American drama from the 19th century, and at least lip service to the notion that stage heroines of the era were pure as the driven snow.
At the time, though, O'Neill was bristling at that notion, and made Anna (Eden Neuendorf) her own woman, bent on making her own decisions, to the dismay of her father, Chris (John Hale), and new suitor, Paul Anderson (Josh Schell).
All three actors played fairly similar roles in the recent production of "Anna" by Danville's Role Players Ensemble, although the characters are tweaked a bit. Chris is a bit softer, Paul is a little harder and Anna, in the words once uttered by Tallulah Bankhead, is pure as the driven slush.
Of the two shows, "Anna," at least to the ears of contemporary audiences, is the better work. In fact, despite successful and critically acclaimed tryout runs on the road, "Chris" never opened on Broadway. There is no record as to why this is the case, but there is speculation that O'Neill had more important matters on his plate or that he had already decided to turn "Chris" into "Anna."
But, in many ways, producing the two plays, one right after the other, amounts to the most important event the now 14-year-old O'Neill Festival has seen to date, especially since full-scale productions of "Chris" are rare. Director Eric Fraisher Hayes announced the staging of "Chris" at this year's festival marked the first time it had been revived since the original production in 1920.
"Chris" in the Tao House's Old Barn gets an attractive production with minimal sets by Robert Bo Golden, and lavish costumes by Lisa Danz.
The full cast, which was previously seen in "Anna," seemed to enjoy the opportunity to perform the similar shows, one after another, admitting the similarity between the scripts made preserving their differences -- in the lines and locations their characters are given -- a difficult challenge.
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Eugene O'Neill, presented by Eugene O'Neill Festival
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 27-28, 3 p.m. Sept. 29
Where: Tao House, the O'Neill residence in Danville, reached by shuttle from the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, 205 Railroad Ave., Danville
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Tickets: $28, 925-820-1818, www. www.eugeneoneill.org.