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Long Day's Journey Into Night

Long Day's Journey Into Night

Photo - Joan Marcus


Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

 

British director Jonathan Kent is at the helm of the current production of Eugene O'Neill's epic of a doomed family. The Roundabout Theater Company's exceptional revival of A Long Day's Journey Into Night reminds us of the prominence theater can achieve in the arts.

The three and three-quarter hour semi-biographical play follows a long day from morning to midnight, a harrowing and riveting focus on the epic artistic Tyrone family and its fatal flaws. Kent evokes the essence of its characters and the life of desolation they all live, engrossed and repelled by each other.

They are spending the summer at Monte Cristo seaside cottage in Connecticut. We hear Clive Goodwin's sound effects of the ocean's perdurable ebb and flow and the night's haunting foghorn that is especially disturbing to Mary Tyrone, the morphine-addicted mother played radiantly by Jessica Lange. She recently returned home from her latest stay at a sanatorium due to effects of her addiction. Morphine has been a part of her life since she gave birth to her younger son, Edmund, over 20 years ago.

Mary looks lovely but the family is worried, watching her closely, suspicious that she may again be slipping into her habit. She pokes nervously at her white hair piled on her head and wears lace gloves to cover her fluttering hands, distorted with rheumatism. She uses the pain of rheumatism as an excuse for medicating. Today is particularly stressful with her fear that ailing Edmund has tuberculosis, the deadly disease that had killed her father.

When life closes in on her, Mary returns to the past, moving upstairs to her medication and into a mythical past, reliving dreams and denying truth that is often too painful to face. Lange manages this balance gracefully and her final monologue reflects a euphoric era of lost possibilities. Immersing herself in O'Neill's language, she is heartbreaking and tragic.

Gabriel Byrnes plays Mary's husband, James, a fading Broadway actor, flashed with defensiveness and Irish sentimentality and wrapping himself in dreams of commanding Shakespearean performances that never reached success. Byrne's dramatic vocal tone spiced with a brogue adds an earthy layer to James, who remains close to his Irish roots. Byrne's accusations against his wastrel eldest son, Jamie, ring with disappointment. Toward his wife, he shows a melancholy closeness despite his despair with her lingering addiction.

Jamie (Michael Shannon), sounds snide and looks inflexible. He is a profligate actor and like his father, he is fueled by alcohol, needing to drink as much as his mother needs morphine. It is only after he has consumed enough booze that he can finally talk truthfully to his brother, Edmund. He castigates his father's penny-pinching ways, accusing him for wasting time getting Edmund better medical care. Even right now, James Sr. hesitates to raise the house lights as night falls yet he harshly denies the complaints of miserliness.

Edmund (John Gallagher) evokes a resemblance to his mother. He is a writer, more fragile than his father and brother, and today he will visit the family doctor about a relentless cough that everyone fears is tuberculosis. He recognizes the possibility of consumption but also talks of an upcoming trip on the sea. Lean and sporting a mustache, Edmund reflects O'Neil in his younger days. The playwright himself spent time on a merchant ship and had tuberculosis.

Mary's long gowns were designed by Jane Greenwood and Tom Watson lends the white wig that she constantly fusses over. Designer Tom Pye created a well-worn living room, with windows for Natasha Katz's morning sunshine and shadows of night to mirror the darkening moods blanketing the family.

There is just enough humor for a slight break from the full-out painful verbal battle this family inflicts on each other. Memorable in language and performance, this production presents a rich, riveting, theatrical feast as a finale to Roundabout Theater Company's 50th Anniversary Season.

Also seen in TotalTheater.

Long Day's Journey Into Night
American Airlines Theater
227 -West 42nd Street
Opened: April 27, 2016. Closes: June 26, 2016
3 hours, 45 minutes. Intermission
Playwright: Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Jonathan Kent
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors