Happy families are all alike. But every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Anna Karenina, By Leo Tolstoy
Eugene O’Neill may have been one of the founders of modern American theater but tonally he had an awful lot in common with the Russian masters in his bleak outlook on the human condition. Saying that A Long Day’s Journey Into Night is grim is a little like saying the ocean is deep. Just in case you were ever tempted to wax nostalgic for a by-gone era of “family values” remember; Ah, Wilderness! was Eugene O’Neill’s vision of family life as he wanted it to be while A Long Day’s Journey was his memory of what it really was.
O’Neill essentially bared all his own family’s dirty laundry on stage and it is a sight to see. All four members of the Tyrone family have substance abuse issues; three to the Irish favorite, booze, and mother (the only non-Irish family member), is constantly flirting about with an opiate haze. One son is terminally ill, and the other son chronically unemployable. Dad’s miserable at his job and mom, as she casually announces, has always, “hated this town and everyone in it.” Each has managed to take the art of tearing into each other to new levels. Hovering over it all is the ghost of baby Eugene (what to make that O’Neill named a dead infant after himself?!?) whose premature death sent Mother Mary into a tailspin that she never recovered from.
The main cast members are all spectacular. Peter Michael Goetz as James Sr. looks like Mark Twain and has the world weariness of someone who’s walked a thousand miles through a wasteland. Nathan Darrow is sensitive and contemplative as the doomed Edmund. Andy Bean is fantastic as the dissipated James Jr., teetering between crippling despair and a malevolent anger that is terrifying. Helen Hedman has fun playing the insouciant maid Cathleen.
But the play begins and ends with Mary as the focal point of the family’s pain and luckily we’ve got local favorite Helen Carey in the role. Still lovely even in the twilight of life with dimples and bright eyes, Carey’s Mary is heartbreaking, infuriating, compassionate, selfish, maternal, and cruel all at once. I will be very surprised if Helen doesn’t get another Helen Hayes nomination for her work here.
In deference to its grim subject material, Set Designer Hirsham Ali creates a setting done entirely in shades of grey and dingy browns where no hint of color exists. This is echoed in Susan Benson’s costume designs. All the men and maid Cathleen are dressed in shades of white during the day; the sole exception is Mary whose lavender gown makes her seem out of place in her surroundings, which is exactly the point. Under Robin Phillip’s direction the whole play seems figuratively and literally enveloped in fog through which no light ever enters. Just as the title suggests we are irrevocably steamrolled into total darkness.
Photo by Scott Suchman, from top:
1.(L to R) Andy Bean as James Tyrone, Jr., Nathan Darrow as Edmund Tyrone and Helen Carey as Mary Tyrone.
2.Nathan Darrow as Edmund Tyrone.
3. (L to R) Peter Michael Goetz as James Tyrone, Sr. and Helen Carey as Mary Tyrone.
4. Helen Carey as Mary Tyrone.
5. (L to R) Nathan Darrow as Edmund Tyrone and Peter Michael Goetz as James Tyrone, Sr.
A Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Arena Stage at the Mead Center
1101 Sixth Street, SW