‘Miles to Babylon’ redeems Eugene O’Neil’s Mother

Ella ONeill
Ella O’Neill

Eugene O’Neill was not kind to his mother in his memoir drama, “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” depicting her as a hapless morphine addict with no hope of recovery. Fifty years later, Ann Harson presents a gentler portrait punctuated with courage in her play, “Miles to Babylon,” which will premiere at American Theatre of Actors from October 12 to 29, 2006. According to many accounts, Mrs. O’Neill became addicted to morphine following the birth of Eugene, her youngest son, and kicked the habit 25 years later in a convent. Tom Thornton directs.

In Harson’s version, Ella chooses to face her addiction at the Catholic boarding school she had attended as a girl, where she had become close to the head nun. She is shocked to learn that her mentor had died and been replaced by her schoolgirl rival. The new Reverend Mother seems as concerned with extracting money from the wealthy Mrs. O’Neill as helping to fight her disease.

However, Ella submits to incarceration in her bedroom and the convent’s retarded handyman is ordered to prevent her, at any cost, from injecting the morphine she has stashed in her closet. As her withdrawal symptoms increase, Mrs. O’Neill becomes willing to do anything to reach the drug, even seduce her captor. Other characters include a visionary young postulant who befriends Ella and symbolizes the daughter she never had.

“Miles to Babylon” plays October 12 to October 29, 2006 at A.T.A. American Theatre of Actors, Sargent Theatre, 314 W. 54th at 8th Ave. (4th floor theatre). Shows are Tuesday through Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $18. Box office: SMARTTIX (212) 868-4444; www.smarttix.com.

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.