‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ puts Greek tragedy in modern times
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org November 5, 2012 7:19PM
James (Patrick Blashill) and Mary (Susan Monts-Bologna) are in a guilt-ridden marriage in “Long Day’s Journey into Night.”
‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’
When: Through Dec. 9
Where: Eclipse Theatre at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport
Info: (773) 935-6875; www.eclipsetheatre.com.com
Updated: December 7, 2012 6:08AM
‘None of us can help the things life does to us,” says Mary Tyrone, the desperately unhappy wife, mother and morphine addict in Eugene O’Neill’s epic family drama “Long Day’s Journey into Night.” The play, now in an impressively well-acted production by Eclipse Theatre, is the final entry in the company’s season devoted to O’Neill’s work, including “Beyond the Horizon” and “Ah, Wilderness!”
Mary Tyrone’s view of the human condition is as fatalistic as any you might find in an ancient Greek tragedy in which the calamities that afflict mortals are wholly predestined and inescapable. And of course O’Neill, lapsed Irish-Catholic though he might have been, was in many ways fully aligned with that Greek notion of existence.
Yet while Greek tragedy is the guiding philosophical force in this work — one of O’Neill’s “epic” plays in terms of both emotion and duration — there are many moments during the course of its nearly four-hour running time that you might also think: This is like grand opera.
Every character in “A Long Day’s Journey into Night” has at least one extended “aria,” and also engages in several superbly orchestrated duets over the course of the play’s three acts. And in a sense, the music comes in the form of foghorns that wail mournfully just beyond the Tyrones’ Connecticut summer home, in the many alcohol-and-drug-induced rants, and in bursts of poetry (from Shakespeare and Baudelaire, to Ernest Dowson, the late 19th century English poet who observed “They are not long, the days of wine and roses”).
Although this quasi-autobiographical play, sensitively directed by Nathaniel Swift, unfolds over the course of one long day into the darkness of existence, it is the culmination of several generations of hardship, disappointment, misbegotten dreams, squandered opportunities and more.
The patriarch here is 65-year-old James Tyrone (Patrick Blashill, young for the role, but solid). The son of impoverished Irish immigrants, his father fled the family when he was only a child, leaving him to support his abandoned mother and several siblings. He eventually fell in love with the theater and became a famous actor (as well as a penny-pincher who repeatedly made bad real estate deals), but he settled into playing one financially secure role for years, essentially killing the true artist in himself.
Meanwhile, he had married Mary (Susan Monts-Bologna in a haunting, supremely volatile turn that also is a powerhouse showcase of her talents). Initially a spoiled, naive, coquettish beauty barely out of a convent school, over the course of their 35-year marriage she grew into an ever more lonely and isolated woman, accompanying her husband “on the road,” giving birth to three sons and becoming addicted to morphine prescribed by a second-rate doctor. Only the most intense mix of love, resentment, pain and guilt have kept them locked together.
The couple’s two surviving sons are, not surprisingly, damaged. James Tyrone Jr. (the very natural Joe McCauley) is a self-destructive, ne’er-do-well Broadway actor who spends his time drinking and whoring. His younger brother, Edmond (Stephen Dale, who handles O’Neill’s language with great skill), is a writer and rebellious soul plagued by a case of consumption that might be fatal.
As the hours unfold, and the whiskey and morphine take hold, the Tyrones (plus their fesity maid, played by Jamielyn Gray, who serves as Mary’s confidante) engage in endless bouts of denial and confession, delving into the past even as they try to manage the present. To be sure, O’Neill’s plays make serious demands on both his actors and his audience, but there are rewards for those who ride the waves with him.