"The Web," the first of three one-act plays being presented by the Eugene O'Neill Foundation, premiered last Saturday to an audience enjoying the production from home.
At promptly 5 p.m., the session opened to theater-goers at 87 different locations via Zoom, and director Eric Fraisher Hayes made opening remarks.
"Perhaps this is the largest group of O'Neillians that has gathered this year," he said. "I encourage you to have a good time."
He said he'd found a way to present and record these plays at Tao House -- while practicing social distancing -- because he didn't want its performances "to come to a screeching halt." At this time, visitors are not allowed at Tao House due to COVID-19.
Normally each year plays are given at Eugene O'Neill's 1937-44 residence in Danville in the Old Barn, which has been converted into a theater. These three one-act plays were recorded there recently using the set from last year's production of "Long Day's Journey into Night," which was still in place.
"The Web," written in 1913 when O'Neill was recovering from tuberculosis, is the painful story of a young woman, Rose, who is trapped in a brutal relationship with her boyfriend, who forces her into street-walking to provide for her baby.
It stars Emily Keyishian as Rose; Charles Woodson Parker as Steve; Ryan Hayes as Tim; and Will Long, John Hale and John Tessmer as the three policemen. Sound design is by Rob Evans.
The play is 23 minutes long and performed "script in hand," meaning scripts rest on stands for the actors to read from or refer to. After the premiere Saturday, the actors appeared in their Zoom squares to discuss the play with director Hayes, who noted that the dialog was very "hard-boiled."
"I felt that made it easier -- it shaped the character before we knew where she was from," said Keyishian.
"The language is baked in, it creates a feeling," agreed Ryan Hayes. "Eugene O'Neill was trying to demonstrate the slang of the day. We were trying to capture that, to make it sound authentic."
For these plays, director Hayes tweaked the action to keep social distancing.
"Keeping the intention of violence is hard to do when you are not able to interact with the person you are supposed to be hurting," said actor Ryan Hayes.
He also mentioned that the original script called for kissing.
"We had to figure out a way from 8 feet apart to show their affection for each other," he said. "As an actor, it stinks not be able to be close to another actor."
The director noted that although some lines were eliminated, nothing was added.
These three early plays of O'Neill's, all written more than 100 years ago, delve into the heroics of women trying to change their lives for the better despite the odds stacked against them. "Recklessness" is about a wife trapped in a loveless marriage and looking to escape with the family chauffeur, premiering on Oct. 10; "Abortion," which explores the dire decisions at the intersection of social class and women's reproductive rights, will debut Oct. 17.
To sign up to see the next two premieres, visit www.eugeneoneill.org. Each of the plays also will be available for viewing 48 hours after its initial showing.
Watching this video of "The Web" brings fans on a welcome visit to the inside of the Old Barn again. The production was intensely O'Neill, and viewing it on a personal computer screen gives it an intimacy that the playwright might have embraced.