- OnStage New York Critic
I don’t know where to begin my praise of Roundabout’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. The quality of production is exquisite, the play by Eugene O’Neil is a masterpiece, and the performances are at the top of the theater Olympus. It was nominated for 7 Tony awards this year and even though it only won two, Long Day’s Journey into Night is a central gem in the crown of the Roundabout’s anniversary 50th season and arguably the best play currently running on Broadway.
Long Day’s Journey into Night is a semi-biographical play by American classic Eugene O’Neil written in 1941-42, first published and performed in 1956. It tells the story of the Tyrone family and takes place on a single day in August 1912. A 3 hour 45 minute play drags us through numerous miseries of one family.
James Tyrone, the patriarch, is an aging actor who killed his dramatic talent and professional opportunities by performing a romantic character in a “vehicle” play. This part brought him money but because of his miserliness, his family is unable to enjoy a comfortable life. The well fitted but stained suit designed by Jane Greenwood says it all: the man is a penny pincher. Gabriel Byrne, nominated for Tony Award as the best lead actor for this part, plays on a quieter side, the expression of tiredness never leaves his face.
Jessica Lange portraying Mary Tyrone won a well-deserved Tony as best leading actress for her performance in this production of Long Day’s Journey into Night. Her unsettling nervousness, even in the beginning of the play when she tries to appear cheerful and flirty, conveys a deep discomfort that she ties to their nomadic life.
Set design by Tom Pye features a faded interior with a dining room behind the glass doors in the back of the stage and an exit to the porch. Plenty of sky, visible through the windows, allows for observing the changing light throughout the day, orchestrated by Natasha Katz (Tony award for the best lighting design). However the openness of the space doesn’t leave an impression of lightness. The fog, constantly talked about in the play, finally appears towards the end, filling not only the porch but also the dining room with its greenish poisonous clouds.
Trying to escape the unwelcoming outside world, Marry prefers to fog her head with morphine. As we find out in the beginning of the play, she is a recovering addict. The entire family is worried that she will start taking the drug again. This becomes a very realistic prospect after she finds out that her younger son, Edmund (John Gallagher, Jr.), is sick. Even though his doctor recommends that he not drink, he can’t resist whiskey, to which the entire family is addicted, including the older brother, James (Michael Shannon), the bitter cynic and brothel frequenter.
As the day moves inevitably towards the night, we see how four members of Tyrone family are embarking on a journey of blame, self-pity and resentment. They are trying to support each other in their miseries yet they can’t resist blaming each other for their own disappointments. A hug is immediately followed by a slap, figuratively speaking. This is how O’Neil’s text is built and this is greatly emphasized by director Jonathan Kent, especially in his work with actors. The love-hate seesaw takes swings of a grand range within a sentence, keeping you on the edge of your seat for all 3 hours and 45 minutes.
The atmosphere is charged to the highest extent, you can almost hear the pluck of the taut nerves. Though each of the four family members contributes evenly to the sadomasochistic misery they are going through collectively, the play swirls around Mary, mainly because of the strong performance of Jessica Lange. From the restless fingers to the nuanced mimic, her performance engages every single muscle in her body. Her voice travels from high to low and back, breathing meaning and power to the words.
Pastel pallet dresses by Jane Greenwood match Lange’s pale skin and gray wig. When she reappears from upstairs to deliver her last powerful monologue, Lange is dressed in a light blue-grayish robe, her hair braided loosely. As the orange light above the table fades out, leaving James Tyrone and his two sons in the darkness, the cold stream of white moonlight focuses on Mary, making her look like a ghost. She is drifting on the waves of her memories, carried away by the fogs of morphine.
Long Day’s Journey into Night by the Roundabout Theatre Company can be seen at the American Airlines Theater, 227 West 42nd Street, New York thought June 26th. Tickets and more information at http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/