Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill, New Repertory Theatre, Charles Mosesian Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 4/1/12-4/22/12, http://newrep.org/long_days.php.
Reviewed by Craig Idlebrook
(Watertown, MA) Inconvenient truths sometimes come from the mouth of the mad, from those with the least to lose. From the most hopeless in the New Repertory Theatre’s unflinching drama Long Day’s Journey into Night, we receive the troubling message that you can’t outrun the past. If the past is not dealt with, it can rise from the grave and overtake the present and the future. Along with this, we also learn that perhaps you should ask your doctor about possible side effects before taking any new medication.
In this mostly autobiographical tale from tortured playwright Eugene O’Neill, we watch a family fall to pieces on a long summer day. Addiction, bitterness and recrimination come bubbling to the surface with this loud and brash family, and the real horror is that one gets the feeling this isn’t the first time these folks have cycled through this tragedy.
No character escapes a hit from the pathetic stick in this play. James Tyrone (Will Lyman) is a bitter and alcoholic actor and a malcontented patriarch who loves to berate his grown children. Mary Cavan Tyrone (Karen MacDonald) is a nervous matriarch who is losing another round with morphine addiction. James Jr. (Lewis D. Wheeler) is drinking his way to obscurity rather than shrinking in his father’s shadow, and young Edmund Tyrone (Nicholas Dillenburg) is trying out alcoholism while standing at the edge of a good case of consumption. And that’s just the opening, folks!
The cast all take their roles to heart and keep the play from falling into the easy trap of melodrama that O’Neill has laid out for lesser productions. Karen MacDonald especially should be commended for keeping her performance mainly on the rails while her character skids on and off them. Director Scott Edmiston keeps the pace tight, yet allows for the uncomfortable silences of a group of people who realize that hell is other people.
The music is haunting enough and the set does a fine job in general, providing what at first looks like a nice open and airy space, but on further inspection is a threadbare prison. It should be noted here though that this house doesn’t look sturdy enough for the door-slamming that must occur. It seems incongruous that a household of passionate drunks seem to always be quietly closing the door, but maybe that’s just the way they roll.
If this all seems like damning with faint praise that’s because my fault with this play lies squarely with playwright O’Neill.
(It should be noted that I am fully aware I am probably just not “getting” his writing. After all, the man won a Pulitzer and is considered a great American playwright. I am a freelance reporter who often writes about fishing policy. Judge the messenger and take the next paragraph with a grain of salt.)
Writing this play at a time of extreme hopelessness, while struggling with a debilitating neurological condition and having lost two sons to suicide and disowned a daughter, O’Neill seems out to settle some scores, if not with his family, then with optimists everywhere. He achieves fine realism in this script, but the action is so circular and pitiful that I fail to see the point in inflicting it on others. If I wanted the same ridiculous family arguments and foibles, I could just go to my childhood home in Ohio. Instead, I’m a prisoner in his home, which is far, far worse.
Hey, maybe O’Neill was just out to make us all feel better at our next family reunions. If so, mission accomplished!