(Maya Phillips’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/30; Photo: Robert Cuccioli as a Massachusetts pub owner who fancies himself more in Eugene O’Neill’s “A Touch of the Poet.”Credit…via Irish Rep.)
Irish Repertory Theater’s ambitious virtual rendition of the O’Neill drama finds a family trapped by a father’s grandiose illusions.
It’s all Byron’s fault. Before James Dean and Gary Cooper and Heathcliff and Rochester — all the real and fictional men lounging at the center of the Venn diagram of “bad boys” and “sad boys” — Byron made such a career of drinking, lusting and gallivanting that he became a type. The Byronic hero: temperamental, hedonistic and romantic. “I am such a strange mélange of good and evil,” the poet once wrote of himself, “that it would be difficult to describe me.” Save it for your Tinder profile, bro.
Byron also embodied a masculine ideal defined by paradoxes. A man of society who scorns status. A virile lover made impotent by ennui. A dreamer plagued by disillusionment.
These contradictions sit at the heart of Eugene O’Neill’s 1942 play “A Touch of the Poet.” Irish Repertory Theater’s new online production, with its cunning use of technology and design — each actor filmed separately but sharing the same virtually rendered set — provides a hearty serving of digital theater that nearly matches the real thing.
But first, back to the sad boys. O’Neill wasn’t exactly known for happy plays, and “A Touch of the Poet,” one of his later works, bears that signature. A lengthy domestic tragedy about toxic pride and futile posturing in an American society that won’t validate delusions of grandeur, the play makes Byron its patron saint, heralded and prayed to and emulated as the “poet and nobleman who made of disdain immortal music.”
Visit Irish Rep for tickets.