Written by Eugene O'Neill; Directed by Jonathan Kent
Reviewed by Michele Willens
Theatre Reviews Limited
I confess that my mind started wandering about three hours into this one, but soon enough, the words, and those reciting them, pulled me back in. “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is arguably Eugene O’Neill’s most famous– and most harrowing– work. Unlike Arthur Miller, whose family angst was often searinglyrepressed or unspoken, O’Neill put it all out there. In this revival, a Roundabout production at the American Airlines Theatre, a quartet of excellent actors is bringing the Tyrone family to vivid life.
Here is the morphine-addicted mother, Mary, just back from a visit to rehab. Whoops, the story takes place in 1912, so the sanitarium. She remains on shaky ground and her frequent trips up the staircase clearly worry the men in the family. Mary is a fragile woman and the drugs obviously have made her a paranoid one as well. (”You must not watch me all the time”! “What is it? Is it my hair?”)
Those who are doing that watching include: her husband, James Tyrone, a drinker and a miser, once a serious stage actor who hates himself for moving to more commercial fare; Their older son, Jamie, who is all about lost potential and alcoholic truth telling;And younger son, Edmund–based on the playwright, apparently—the dreamy and, unfortunately, ailing one, having just been diagnosed with consumption. Hovering over it all is a lost child, conveniently named Eugene.
This is a clan that says loving things one minute and hurls the cruelest insults in the next. (“Here’s to health and happiness. That’s a joke,” “I was a damn fool to believe in you”) Is this the way most people talk? Probably not…but obviously, it was they way they did in the O’Neill house. Harsh as they are, so many of the words are memorable. (“Every woman who isn’t a whore is a fool,” “you made him old before his time,” “hot sun will melt some of that booze off your middle.”)
If the dialogue hits home, it is appropriate, since the play is ultimately about a woman’s hopeless search for one. (“You havenever wanted a home,” “this never has been and never will be.” ”In a real home, one is never lonely.”) The only domestic constant has been a summer place, which is where this long day in the journeyof the Tyrone family is set. (Designed by Tom Pye)
As exhausting as this almost four-hour production is to watch, I can only imagine what it is like to enact. Jessica Lange, as Mary,and Gabriel Byrne, as James, are outstanding and the ones who most remain with you. James Gallagher, Jr. as Edmund, does well,and Michael Shannon has the difficult task of playing drunk much of the time. They each have their big monologues, and handle them well: most especially Byrne, who does not go for the bombast although he certainly could have. Are these histrionic, old-fashioned performances in which you see the acting? Of course, but for a show about a big man and his loud and dramatic family, it seems right.
Jonathan Kent does a trick-free job of directing. There are essentially four mini-acts, indicated by a passing curtain blowing in the breeze. Clearly, this is not a show for the curious tourist who remembers Jessica Lange from “King Kong” or “Tootsie.” This is tough going, but when it’s over, you will feel either that you have been beaten up but survived, need to call your mother, or go out for a very stiff drink.