Comedian Wanda Sykes has a stinging, yet accurate observation on the moral high ground the common street thug has over an Enron executive:” The thug, well he just rips you off of what you have on you, maybe an ambitious thug drags you to the cash station and makes you take out the day’s draw. But those Enron f———? They took peoples futures! Their whole futures. Their damned kids futures. Gone.”
Such is the fate of Olson (Roberto Leite), a beaten-down slightly reformed drunken sailor in Brazil’s Companhia Triptal’s Portuguese-language presentation of Eugene O’Neill’s The Long Voyage Home under the direction of Andre Garolli. Olson meets his living damnation in the bosom of a bar fly possessing the heart of curdled arsenic. Olson has never seen better days – matter of fact his days have been a haze of drunkenness and self-destruction, gone for so long from his native Sweden that his planned return is less for leisure and more for seeing his elderly mother before she passes.
Sick from the waves (sailors riding the waves to Perdition is the running theme for O’Neill’s “Sea Plays” series, which the troupe will perform in its entirety for the Goodman run), sick of the pestilence, loneliness and the frittering away of his money to the bottle, Olson dreams of returning to visit his mother one last time, buying some farmland, planting some crops, and sifting the soil through his fingers.
“I don’t like…this place”, his shipmate Ivan (Pepe Ramirez), a drunken Russian bear of man, declares over again between inebriated nod-offs and slobbing up a hooker’s delights. Olson’s comrades-of-the-sea know “this place”, they’ve been here before, knowing shipmates Driscoll (Guilherme Lopes) and Cocky (Bruno Feldman) warn him that drinking the brute barkeep Joe’s fortified swill will surely bring unconsciousness and immediate poverty of one’s soul and wallet.
“You want to see your mother? You want your farm in your homeland”, Driscoll asks. Driscoll and Cocky are vested in Olson’s reconnection with mother and motherland, both struggling with – Corky, the loudest and most melancholy, with “havin’ never had no mother”. To be without parentage, a mother, is an idea of constant voice for O’Neill, the writer having been shipped off to boarding school by his own parents and left to navigate the emotional waves of abandonment and vulnerability to a world devoid of morality.
As Olson’s shipmates buy into drugged-spiked whiskey and booze-spiked hookers in the backroom, Olson rents a seat at the bar, sipping the cup of water that accompanied him on his night out. But Olson’s newfound sobriety and social virtuousness is no match for Joe, a brutal entrepreneur with an employment incentive plan that includes beating the bar flies to “sales” increases for the bar, and taking precious little interest in one of his long time girls as she withers into death’s realm in front of Joe’s very eyes. He looks away, turning his gaze to the deep pouch that keeps his profits.
Joe brutally commissions Miss Freda (Juliana Liegel – a dead ringer for Courtney Love at her worst) to take Olson for all he’s worth. She could offer him a warm place to lay to substitute his new aversion to alcohol. Instead, she saddles up to him like a personal relationship banker, inquisitive, questioning, conversational, and making suggestive add-ons to his dreams of his new life in Sweden. Miss Freda assures and reassures Olson that he’ll return to see his not-long-for-this-world mother once more, and sift the sweet earth of Sweden through his fingers.
But what kind of man would not drink to his new life? Miss Freda uses all of the seller’s terminology and tricks, including a last minute buyer – a ringer to “up” the price, make the loss palpable. After a quick visit from “Mr. Michael Finley”, courtesy of Joe & Ms. Freda’s teamwork, Olson is forever lost– to ship, mates, family and future. His initial sign-on to a simple deal literally spirals into a balloon payment request of his future. A waking ghost, gone. Indeed.
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