Long Day’s Journey is an exhausting theatrical experience. Not just for its length (three and three-quarter hours which, in this incarnation, represent the single, eruptive day), but because we’re inextricably drawn into the Tyrone’s almost unremittingly angry, guilt ridden, depressive, wounding, alcohol and morphine riddled world. That O’Neill manages to portray an undercurrent of deep love and inject unexpected humor is a testament to his mastery of the medium; literary quotes are immensely apt. The show is a glass mountain for both actors and the director, its scaling always something of a miracle.
James and Mary O’Neill, Eugene’s parents
Semi-autobiographical, the play must have be an exorcism for its author. Though completed in the early 1940s, he sealed the work in a Random House vault with stipulation it not be opened till 25 years after his death. Third wife Carlotta Monterey disinterred the play and offered its publication to benefit Yale University.
John Gallagher, Jr. and Jessica Lange
Parallels to O’Neill’s life include the summer cottage, its location, and the Irish American family it concerns. Characters are the ages they would have been in 1912. The playwright’s father, James O’Neill, was, in fact, an actor who played with Edwin Booth and was criticized for riding the wave of commercial success repeating his role as The Count of Mont Cristo for years. His mother, Mary, did attend a Midwest Catholic school. Eugene, like Edmund here, spent time at sea, wrote for a newspaper, stayed in a sanatorium for tuberculosis and suffered from depression and alcoholism his entire life. Jamie, who keeps his brother’s name in the play, died of alcoholism before it was written.
John Gallagher, Jr. and Michael Shannon
Tom Pye’s spare, evocative Set (emphasis on the stairs and the porch are particularly effective), Natasha Katz’s haunting Lighting Design, and Clive Goodwin’s evocative Sound Design create a ghostly, expectant atmosphere before we hear a word. Cosymes by Jane Greenwood fit each character like a glove.
Gabriel Bryne manifests James Tyrone’s volatility, stubbornness, ego, and monstrous love with grave and surety. That which is kingly makes it easy to imagine James on stage. Bryne’s natural accent and Irish roots add color and, one can’t help but conjecture, pith.
Michael Shannon (Jamie) solidly delivers, but could use a touch of familial poetry in inflection and gesture to feel more a Tyrone. His drunk scene, however, is a gorgeous model of plastered restraint and darkly comic physical acting.
John Gallagher Jr. (Edmund) sustains less truth than his fellows. The actor does bring painful impatience and vulnerability to the role.
Let us now praise Jessica Lange who has here written the dictionary on various forms of nuanced, nervous laughter, fluttering hands, darting eyes, and erratic vocal change. The actress embodies power, desperation, and fragility with equal conviction as mother, wife, and tender young woman. Perhaps not since her role as Frances Farmer in the 1982 biopic has Lange has the opportunity to theatrically go mad.
Because Mary has begun shooting up again the night before we meet, Lange must come on stage as if she was high. This robs us of watching her “get there,” a journey which might make the character’s tensile presence more acceptable. (We are privy to further sinking and, finally, drowning.)
It’s palpably stressful to spend so much time with a woman who’s rarely clearheaded and often mentally elsewhere. There’s a colossal amount of technique on this stage. The line between it and inhabiting Mary Tyrone is fine and sometimes crossed. How much is a matter of opinion. A muscular portrayal.
As Irish maid, Kathleen, Colby Minifie is utterly charming and credible.
Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne
Director Jonathan Kent does a superb job of organically utilizing the space. That which is glimpsed through windows works wonderfully, especially a moment Jamie comes up the front steps to stage level. (We don’t see the steps.) Another jewel-like moment is James’s turning away to reach into his pocket and give Edmund money so his son doesn’t see what he has.
Despite its characters’ pontificating, inebriated/high states, much of this play has the Tyrone family staring at each other or brooding in a corner. There’s also a great deal of anxious, aimless walking and hapless gesturing. Kent successfully holds tension and guides focus during these evocative parentheses.
Plan to drink directly after curtain.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Gabriel Byrne, Jessica Lange
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Jonathan Kent
American Airlines Theater
227 West 42nd Street
Through June 26, 2016