The cast and crew of the upcoming full production of a Eugene O'Neill play on the grounds of his former Danville home -- the signature event of the annual festival produced by the foundation named for the famed playwright -- is preparing for opening night, as Tri-Valley residents rapidly snap up tickets.
"Anna Christie" is set to debut to an enthusiastic audience on Saturday (Sept. 9) for a three-weekend run, of which two weekends full of shows are already sold out.
The 1921 play and its namesake protagonist have served as the inspiration for the theme of this year's Eugene O'Neill Festival -- "Having Her Say" -- which has seen a range of women's voices showcased, including dramaturg and Walnut Creek native Beth Wynstra's release and associated discussions of her new book "Vows, Veils, and Masks" that explores the role of marriage in O'Neill's plays, as well as a production of "The Yellow Wallpaper 2.0" by playwright Jennifer Maisel earlier in the festival's run.
"The reason I really like the play so much is because of her big Act 3 scene in which she has her father and her fiance kind of arguing and basically treating her, as she says, like a piece of furniture, and she basically shouts them down," artistic director Eric Fraisher Hayes said of "Anna Christie". "So I locked onto the idea that she really has her say in that scene, so that really became the theme of tying the festival together around making women's voices heard."
As his own take on the play, which Hayes is directing for the first time, the title character's voice is highlighted even further by the addition of a prologue and an ending scene from her perspective, in contrast with the original play, in which her father Christ Christopherson is introduced in the beginning and the focal point of the final scene.
"I knew I was going to make the ending about her, and I thought OK, to track it back I need to make the beginning about her," Hayes said.
With a five-member cast, Hayes also elected to eliminate a number of supporting male characters that he believed were incidental to the overall plot of the play -- and whom he believed were written that way.
"I think that a big part of the theme in the play is her getting to define herself and not letting other people define her," Hayes said.
Lead actress Adrian Deane emphasized the protagonist's trajectory of self-discovery as central to themes and tone of the play.
"Anna is someone who is searching for perhaps the greatest thing someone can search for: more even than a father, another's love and a home where she belongs, Anna is searching for herself," Deane said. "At the end of this play she comes to know as if by better acquaintance that this 'Anna Christie' she used to call herself is an important part of her too -- someone she has grown from yes, but also someone who will always be a part of her and whom she will no longer hide or hide from."
While attendance has been healthy throughout the festival, according to organizers, "Anna Christie" is shaping up to be performed to full houses throughout its run, with few remaining tickets available for its final weekend starting Sept. 22.
The remaining available showtimes for "Anna Christie" are at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 22 and Sept 23, plus a matinee at 2 p.m. on Sept. 24. More information and tickets are available at eugeneoneill.org.