Casting is everything. Well, maybe not everything, but nabbing movie star Gabriel Byrne for this solid revival of a lesser-known Eugene O’Neill period piece was a damn smart move. At 55, Byrne is as dashing (and menacing) as ever and cuts quite a figure in his blood-red army coat and knee-high leather boots. And that’s key, because his character, Cornelius Melody — a down-on-his-luck Irish immigrant innkeeper and alcoholic patriarch — lives in the supposed glories of his aristocratic and military past.
As a play, A Touch of the Poet seems like the blueprint for A Long Day’s Journey Into Night (although the two were written pretty much concurrently). All the action occurs in one grueling 24-hour period and by the end everything — yet nothing — has changed. Cornelius and his much- abused but still devoted wife Nora (Dearbhla Molloy) prepare to celebrate the anniversary of one of his great battles while his daughter Sara (Emily Bergl) embarks on a love affair with an unseen Yankee border. But the plot is just an excuse for O’Neill to do what he does best: render a heartrending portrait of a dysfunctional family.