Presented by Fort Point Theatre Channel
Written by Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Audrey Seraphin
Music Composed by Akili Jamal Haynes
Critique by Kitty Drexel
ZOOM — Theatre created in corona-times is theatre that can be preserved for future generations. Those generations will look back on our work and express amazement at the simplicity of our tech and the universality of the human condition. Fancypants stage technology can embellish a performance, but it isn’t necessary when the foundational elements of a performance are of superior quality. Fort Point Theatre Channel’s Zoom reading of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night captures both the rigidity of Zoom’s limitations while highlighting the subtle creativity of Fort Point Theatre Channel’s artists.
Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical play discusses the ever topical subjects of toxic masculinity, addiction, mental health, and family dysfunction. The Tyrones are a family suffering from the denial of their own mental illnesses. Mr. James Tyrone (Paul Benford-Bruce) is a miserly, emotionally abusive husband and father who drinks too much. Mrs. Mary Tyrone (Dayenne CB Walters) is a passive-aggressive morphine addict suffering from extreme loneliness.
Their son Jamie Tyrone (Dominic Carter) is an alcoholic shrinking under the shadow of his father’s acting career who also has a predilection for sex workers. His brother Edmund Tyrone (Zair Silva), the only sympathetic character in the play, is wasting away from an illness that won’t heal. Long Day’s Journey Into Night captures a day in their lives when all of their past trespasses come to a head. Ciera-Sade Wade rounds out the cast as the maid Cathleen who is just trying to get through the day.
Black Lives Matter. Black Trans Lives Matter. BIPOC Lives Matter. This recording of Long Day’s Journey Into Night is performed by an all-Black cast. It’s theatre in the traditional European style through the lens of the Black, American experience. Black people are people. It shouldn’t be extraordinary for Black people to be seen doing the same things that white people do in 2020. And yet, here we are.
Per the Fort Point Theatre Channel website, we are told that the production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night was originally scheduled to appear at Hibernian Hall in March. All performances were justifiably canceled due to the COVID-19 plague. The actors reprised their roles for this Zoom recording. While the site tells us that this is a reading, the recording is of such good quality that it could be described as a performance instead. With the exception of Wade*, the actors were off-book. The cast turned out great performances with high energy. It’s time to stop apologizing for Zoom theatre.
One of the best parts of acting with Zoom is its limitations. No, actors aren’t in the same room as their colleagues. Yes, that makes it more difficult to create an on-screen dynamic. Yes, the rectangle space of a computer screen is limiting. But! Once an actor defines their limitations, those limitations can provide an excess of freedom.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night’s cast played the majority of O’Neill’s script seated. They couldn’t use staging or props as crutches. They had to rely on their muscle memory from rehearsals, training, and technique to propel the show to its end. Their voices are poetic and strong. Their faces are expressive. When they are seated, their energy draws upward through their sternums into the screen.
Again, the exception to this is Wade* who was using a script. Holding a script in one’s hand draws an actor’s energy and voice down into their crotch. Should the cast perform Long Day’s Journey Into Night on Zoom in the future, we suggest that actors needing to read the script view it directly off their monitor. When an image or text is pulled up to the top, an actor appears to be off-book. Getting the visual correct requires another person to confirm if it looks right. It takes seconds to do this in rehearsal.
Unlike a movie with a professional editing team and cinematographer, this recording has unhidden seams. It’s a point-and-shoot production. Actors set up their computers, turned on their cameras, and got on with it.
The editing is raw. It is obvious where the editor made cuts to delete or insert footage in the recording. While this is distracting, it doesn’t take away from the actors’ work. It’s a fact of the recording. People for whom this is a deal-breaker need to get over themselves. It’s more important to preserve this work than it is for it to conform to your standards.
In these, the days of corona-theatre, fringe theatre companies use what they and their actors have. In the case of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the actors used the mics and cameras that were available to them. Sometimes, the actors were muffled. This is a microphone issue and not an actor issue. Their performances were still good.
The at-home lighting occasionally washed out an actor. Their performance was still good.
We would expect more from an in-theatre performance. But, Long Day’s Journey Into Night wasn’t performed in a theatre. Those standards are moot. The actors did an excellent job with what they had and that’s the point. Theatre is still theatre regardless of the medium; we are still telling and receiving stories. Our perception of theatre must adapt during these unprecedented times, too.
Please wear your mask. Keep six feet away. Wash your damn hands like they’ll fall off if you don’t. Doing these things is good for you and others. I’m not going to explain why it’s important to care about others. Black Lives Matter. Fuck the police.
*Wade is a lovely actress. We wish her many paid gigs.