Eugene O'Neill's "A Touch of the Poet" is about Irish immigrants in Boston in 1827. It's a story of pride and love. Con Melody is a tavern owner. He was a major in Wellington's army that fought Napoleon at Talavera in Spain. Nineteen years after the battle, he's celebrating the anniversary with his cousin and Corporal Jamie Cregan and their friends at the tavern.

Con was born into wealth, in a castle in Ireland, as he frequently reminds us. He married a servant, Nora, who was the most beautiful girl around, but who has long since lost her beauty. She scrubs floors, cooks, and does all the work in the tavern, along with her daughter, Sara, while Con drinks whiskey and regales his friends and patrons with old war stories. Con has lost all of his money, and he has been reduced to a world of poverty and fantasy "in the hell of his own pride." He treats Nora like a slave, and instead of paying the family's grocery bill, he squanders money on whiskey for his friends, and his beautiful mare. He continuously reminds daughter Sara, that she is better than her mother. She has been educated to be rid of the brogue, and he chastises her when she slips into it. Sara is consumed with her own pride, and her love for her well-to-do Yankee poet Simon. She is ashamed of Con and upbraids him for his vanity. Nora loves Con, unconditionally, no matter how badly he treats her. Her pride is in her love for him.

We have a single set. It's the common room of the inn, with plain tables and chairs, a staircase on the right for the unseen rooms upstairs. There is a door to the unseen bar offstage, where we get the noise of the patrons. There is a full length mirror where Con preens himself. It's a symbol of his vanity and pride and is shattered along with it, as we are swept to the climax. Ken Alber's is a commanding presence as Con. He's big and haughty, but we get the sense that his righteous self-importance is nothing more than a mask. We see this as his hand shakes uncontrollably when he tries to pour his first drink in the morning. We feel it when he ignores Sara's insults and implores her to rise above what he has become. Dee Maaske's Nora is rock solid. No matter how far they sink her unconditional love will provide a pillar of strength for Sara and Con. The patrons and friends all fit perfectly, from their brogue, to the costumes and characters in this compelling production of Eugene O'Neill's "A Touch of the Poet" in the Angus Bowmer Theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland.

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Oregon Shakespeare Festival 98

Henry IV Pt.1 | Cymbeline | Comedy of Errors | Measure for Measure | Touch of the Poet | Sailing to Byzantium
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