By Holli Harms

Trapped under his own disappointment. Living out glory days gone by. THAT drink that first steadies the unsteady, and then quickly becomes a hammer of destruction to self-discipline and love. The alcoholic attacks, apologizes, then attacks again. And not just to those around them, but piled on excuses to themselves as well. Born into wealth and comfort and now finding himself scrapping an existence out of nothing, and all the while telling anyone who will listen how important he is. That is the life of Major Cornelius Melody in Eugene O’Neill’s A Touch Of The Poet an Irish Repertory Theatre@ Home production that is not to be missed.

It is 1828, a small village outside of Boston, in the tavern/inn of Cornelius (Con) Melody (played with vicious intensity by Robert Cuccioli). Con recites poetry to himself and to others to remind always what a refined, noble man he truly is. Drunk or not he is a poet of life. Or so he believes.

It opens on the morning after another drunken night of the Major’s and his doting servant wife Nora (heartbreakingly played by the lovely Kate Forbes) is trying to get some food into her husband’s empty self and help stop his shakes. But the only remedy for that is more of the same, and so Con starts his drinking straight away. He remembers today is the anniversary of the Battle of Talavera, the first important victory of Arthur Wellesley the Duke Of Wellington. Major Melody was by Wellesley’s side during the battle. Melody was awarded medals for that battle and it is the day he lives over and over, anniversary or not. Those were his glory years before he came to the states and attempted life as an innkeeper but he drinks more than he makes and the servants are his wife (Forbes) and daughter Sara ( the excellent Belle Aykroyd).

Sara hates her boasting abusive father and wants a life out from under his hell. It just so happens that upstairs in a guest room is a young man of wealth that Sara is nursing back to health and working to make hers. She is in love with him. Or is she? It’s not clear if she is truly in love with the man or the possibilities of his wealth. It’s not clear what is truth and what is desired to be the truth. Desperation can drive us to necessary lies. Lies that spoken enough become truths. Even a devoted wife to an abusive spouse is there because of the lie she tells herself.

The mother of the young man, Deborah Harford (Mary McCann), has come to see how her son is recovering and to make sure that he does not marry the innkeeper’s daughter, a young woman whose status is beneath her precious boy. We are told she is not mentally steady, but she appears to have all her faculties until she says she doesn’t. Her lie of instability, is it hers, or was she told this and now believes it? Or is she using this label to drive a knife into the family without any personal guilt or ownership?

O’Neill writes about our self-deception and need to be important. How we find ways to belittle others to keep ourselves on our proverbial pedestal. The abysmal tactics we use to dehumanize the other. The demoralization of each other is more about what is truth and what is fiction. Those stories we tell ourselves enough times that we eventually believe to be facts.
The entire cast is spot on and breaking through the flat screen. Their director Ciarán O’Reilly has created a Virtual masterpiece.

The production of this powerful play and Ciarán O’Reilly’s directing are magnificent. What they were able to do in the virtual world where not one cast member is in the same room with the other and some not even in this country is astonishing. The actors acting, reacting, moving in unison. They are three dimensional. Costumed with backdrops and set pieces. This virtual production magic.  Standing ovation to Mr. O’Reilly and his gang of theatre outlaws!

With Belle Aykroyd, Ciaran Byrne, Robert Cuccioli, Kate Forbes, Mary McCann, Andy Murray, David O’Hara, Tim Ruddy, David Sitler, and John C. Vennema

Written by Eugene O’Neill, Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, Set Design by Charlie Corcoran
Costume Design by Alejo Vietti, Lighting Design by Michael Gottlieb, Sound Design and Mix by M. Florian Staab, Original Music by Ryan Rumery, Video Editing by Sarah Nichols, Hair and Wig Design by Robert Charles Vallance, Makeup Artist: Joe Dulude, Production Coordinator: April Ann Kline, Production Assistant: Simon Geaney, Dialect Coach: Amanda Quaid, Casting: Deborah Brown, Assistant Director: Liam Prendergast, Associate Costume Designer: Gale Baldoni

The creative team for the postponed on-stage production of A Touch of the Poet includes the digital creative team as well as properties by Sven Nelson, Associate Stage Manager Sara Baughman, and Fight Direction by Rick Sordolet.

January 30, February 4*, 12, and 16*, 2021

Reservations are free but required to access this digital event. A donation of $25 for the show, or $100 for the Festival, is suggested for those who can afford to give. Irish Repertory Theatre@ Home