Long Day's Journey Into Night

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

The Mad Tyrones are at it again. Drinking, fighting, shooting up, and tearing into each other with the expert ferocity that can only come from a family’s twisted intimacy. Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night has long fascinated audiences with its brutal honesty and barely concealed autobiography.

For the Tyrones are unabashedly O’Neill’s family: his father, the famous actor; his mother, the secret dope fiend; his brother, the hard-drinking wastrel; and O’Neill himself, the tubercular poet in love with the sea. O’Neill was certainly exorcising demons with the writing of the play which he did not intend for performance. He instructed his publishers that it was to be published 25 years after his death. His widow countermanded those wishes and published the play three years after his death. Productions followed soon after, and O’Neill was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the play.

The current revival of the play at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is a production first mounted by the Bristol Old Vic. Its starry cast includes Jeremy Irons as James Tyrone and Lesley Manville as Mary Tyrone, the ill-fated parents of the O’Neill stand-in, Edmund (Matthew Beard) and his errant brother Jamie (Rory Keenan).

Director Richard Eyre has brought the play into the 21st Century without subverting the text. The play encourages a grand style of performance, even offering the male cast members near arias when the booze really flows in the final act. But Eyre undercuts the grandstanding with swift tempos and overlapping dialog. The result is a more contemporary sound to the dialog and a noticeably brisker running time.

The plot of Long Day’s Journey Into Night is negligible, the play being more a character study and a merciless dissection of the love/hate relationships in this tortured family. Eyre’s concept makes Mary the driving force in the production. Manville’s compelling and layered performance makes this work, despite the fact that she is offstage for most of the final act. Manville’s Mary makes it quite clear that part of the attraction the drugs she takes is that they lower her inhibitions enough to lash out at the men in her life for their many betrayals. Irons matches her in commanding the stage, but he remains a team player wisely steering clear of the many temptations to chew the scenery. The disappointment Iron’s James feels in his work, his family and, most particularly, his bank account, is palpable in every weary gesture.

Keenan has the charismatic smile and the easy swagger of Jamie. He never overplays the drunkenness, but the character’s emotional life feels a bit sketchy. Beard’s gangly Edmund perfectly fits the role’s physical requirements, and he has no problem accessing his emotions, but hints of the poet to come are less apparent.

None of this diminishes the power of the play nor the strength of this production. The ability to see Irons and Manville on a local stage is quite enough to make this show a must-see.

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts    June 8 – July 1, 2018    TheWallis.com/LongDays