Long Day’s Journey into Night
Nuclear family meltdown
Eclipse Theatre presents
Long Day’s Journey into Night
Review by Lawrence Bommer
Eugene O’Neill twice turned his troubled youth into all-absorbing drama. His family first appeared as a happy tangle of eccentric loved ones in Ah, Wilderness!: Set in 1906, this halcyon comedy, produced earlier by Eclipse Theatre Company in their all-O’Neill season (our review here), revealed no greater family rifts that the generation gap and the father’s worry about the son’s preference for “decadent” poets.
Thirty years later, exorcising old ghosts, O’Neill made them miserable in the well-named Long Day’s Journey, a 220-minute epic that chronicles an appropriately fogbound summer day and night. It takes place on an August day that sinks into a summer night without a smile. For O’Neill, this corrosive look at how four loved ones cannot make a move without hurting each other was an exorcism (that was never meant to be produced).
You may argue that a true dysfunctional family would never open up to each other as the Tyrones do; there would be sullen encounters, nasty but brief exchanges and mutual avoidance but no truth-telling. O’Neill, however, employs alcohol, morphine and the force of our own collective curiosity to unburden this Connecticut clan of seemingly unstoppable secrets. But the truth will never set them free.
As they proved with their earlier O’Neill offerings, the idealistic “Beyond the Horizon” and O’Neill’s only comedy Ah, Wilderness!, (the happier side of a very ambivalent childhood), Eclipse Theatre knows how to trace the crumbs through an O’Neill forest. This summer house festers with toxic believability, non-negotiable revelations about a father’s miserliness, a hophead mother’s return to virginity, a brother’s sabotage of his sibling and the young O’Neill’s symbolic tuberculosis. It’s enshrouded in Kevin Hagan’s recessed set (the same that the theater used for Ah, Wilderness!). Its wooden walls slice into the parlor like a coffin lid over the family’s dank and austere quarters. Chris Corwin’s sepulchral lighting barely charts the day’s progress and the night scenes are as cheaply lit as James Tyrone could desire.
More a series of multiple exposures than conventional action, the “journey” consists of drugged or drunken confessions that create a kind of cumulative curse, with the characters defined as much by the lies they expose as the truths they conceal. Thin and intense, Stephen Dale plays would-be poet Edmund, the author’s sickly surrogate, with a crisp and bracing anger that sets off everyone else’s evasions. James McCauley earns his excesses as Jamie, the boozing, womanizing, prodigal son who hates any success that could confirm his failure. Wisely, Dale also drives home the brother’s need for love: Jamie’s later lacerations against Edmund seem almost selfless.
Best of all here is Susan Monts-Bologna: Devastating as mother Mary, whose slow surrender to morphine returns her to girlhood, she uses her supposedly pain-stricken hands (really an excuse for the narcotic to which a cheap doctor hired by James addicted her) to convey her toxic brew of loneliness, nostalgia and hopelessness. For her this summer house has never been a home and they’ve never been a family.
Because Mary embodies the play’s eventual elegy, it’s imperative that the father convey all the pent-up frustration of a pipe-dreamer gone sour. Though more passive than the role demands, Patrick Blashill contrasts James’ peasant tenacity and stubborn stinginess with an unexpected lyricism as, between 8:30 a.m. and midnight on an August day in 1912, he confronts a lifetime of regrets.
Powerful as it is in parts but never the huge whole, this journey could use a little less day and a little more darkness.
Long Day’s Journey into Night continues through December 9th at the Athenaeum Theatre (map), with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m.. Tickets are $28, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at EclipseTheatre.com.
Photos by Scott Cooper
behind the scenes
Nathaniel Swift (director, co-producer), Chris Corwin (lighting), Susanne Hufnagel (stage manager), Sarah Moeller (dramaturg), JP Pierson (casting), Kevin Scott (co-producer), Katie Vandehey (dramaturg), Angie Campos (props), Kathleen Dickinson (asst. stage manager), Joel Ebarb (costumes), Amos Gillespie (sound design), Kevin Hagan (set design), Rachel Lambert (asst. director), Chad Ramsey (dramaturg), Scott Cooper (photos)