Long Day's Journey Into Night
nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
May 29, 2010
Eugene O'Neill's autobiographical, Pulitzer Prize-winning Long Day's Journey Into Night is arguably one of America's finest plays. Examining a family that shares equally strong love and hate for each other, blaming and excusing each other in the same breath, round and round the same arguments, the same bitterness, the same forgiveness, the play depicts an emotional Ping-Pong match during one very long day, until we in the audience are ready to drop from sheer exhaustion, the empathy felt for this family as some members come to terms with who and what they are, and others fade into the fog of their past.
York Shakespeare Company, led by director Seth Duerr, plow straight through the three-and-a-half hour show. Barely pausing to take a deep breath, the characters flip back and forth emotionally, now bitter, now sweet, furiously resentful, then limp and crumpled. Knocking each other down as they offer a hand up, they have a firm grasp of the internal contradictions that imprison this family. While bound together, they are horribly lonely.
While the company is a strong, talented bunch, for me the production doesn't delve deep enough into their desperate struggles to be understood, but rather focused on their surface level interactions.
As the miserly patriarch Tyrone, Bill Fairbairn is every bit the handsome former matinee idol, drowning his disappointment in life in whiskey. The extent of his emotional crippling is beautifully realized as he shares the truth of his childhood poverty, the miserable conditions he overcame as he struggled for his family; and yet his anger seems to be only skin deep. The rage at his failure, the injustice of how his life and his family turned out, seems to have petered out.
Rebecca Street is sweet, furious, and broken as Mary. Someone still bursting with yearning for life, but unable to reach out and grab it since she is too busy blaming herself and everyone around her for her failures. Her Mary is lost from the moment we meet her.
The charming Alexander Harvey makes the most of Edmund's petulant teenage qualities. Harvey does a lovely job expressing the poetry and beauty Edmund finds in nature. His depth of feeling and sense of possibility light up every scene.
Julie Jesneck as Cathleen is a bit of a puzzle. Sporting the thickest Irish brogue I've heard outside of a Lucky Charms commercial, playing her drunk enough to be stumbling around and flirting with the boss in front of his wife, it seemed odd that her diction remained so precise. Still, she is interesting to watch.
The talented Seth Duerr looks nothing like the rest of his cast, so he seems miscast as Jamie from the get-go. His bitterness and anger are clear, but the hope that needs to be glimmering before being cruelly extinguished is all but invisible. The hatred and bitterness are palpable, the love and joy not so much. Still, he is a riveting performer.
The design elements both add to and detract from the production. The set by Stephen K. Dobay is claustrophobic, gray and cramped, but I really wished for a larger playing space so these caged animals could pace a little more freely around their cell. Detracting from the lovely Mary is an unfortunately bushy and false-looking wig. Since so much is made of Mary's formerly gorgeous hair, the wig is constantly being referenced and is very distracting.
On the positive side, late in Act 4, while Tyrone reminisces about a past glory on stage, we hear his remembered applause, see his spotlight, which then both fade into the plaintive call of the foghorn and the soft mist from the sea. A surprising, beautiful moment.
While I appreciate the brisk pace set by Duerr, the play suffers some for the lack of connection between the actors. I wanted desperately for them to really look at each other instead of playing so many moments straight out to the audience, each lost in their private prison. And although the play deals with people not connecting, I needed to see them try, needed to feel that loss of hope for it to sting as it should in this wonderfully tragic play.