I caught the B’way production of Eugene O’Neil’s Desire Under The Elms last night, and was 90% floored. For me, Carla Gugino‘s Abbie seems like a revelation because she’s never had a role as searing in a film. She’s eye-popping, breathtaking. I know she has a fair amount of stage experience but it still felt like one of those “where did this come from?” performances.

Carla Gugino, Pablo Schreiber.

Actors are generally ill-served by Hollywood in that their the roles often seem limited and familiar, and the kind of acting they’re asked to deliver is limited and familiar. A good Broadway play, however, lets them expand their souls and really rip into things and show what they’re made of. This is what’s happened between Gugino and O’Neil and director Robert Falls.

Gugino has been fine in numerous films (I especially liked her in American Gangster ) but she’s awesome in Desire — on fire, earthy, heavy-breathing, planted, a backbone of iron. I feel as if I’ve seen her work for the first time. I’ve told the show’s publicist I’d like to interview her before leaving for France on Monday…silence. Whatever.

The play, I’ve read, began as part of an O’Neil series at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. The amazing production design is by Walt Spangler. Gugino’s costars are Pablo Schreiber, Brian Dennehy, Boris McGiver and Daniel Stewart. McGiver and Stewart’s performances as a couple of grimy and smelly Clem Kadiddlehopper work animals seemed too broad. I kept wishing they would get off the stage, which is why I said my reaction was 90% positive.