Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Long Days Journey Into Night"

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entire contents copyright 1997 by "Angel"

Long Day's Journey Into Night

Reviewed by Angel

Website for "Long Day's Journey Into Night":
At the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass.

Eugene O'Neill

David G. Kent

Set Designer: Howard Jones
Lighting Designer: Kendall Smith
Costume Designer: Frances Nelson McSherry

James Tyrone - Douglas Stender
Mary Tyrone - Margo Skinner
Edmond Tyrone - Jared Reed
Jamie Tyrone - R. Ward Duffy
Cathleen - Karen Woodward

"A Long Day's Journey Into Night" is a remarkably well rendered, poignantly clear snapshot of a painful day in the life of a young man; a day which summarizes his life in a very dysfunctional family which we see degenerate before our very eyes. It is emotionally intense, brutally honesty, daringly personal. The story is generic enough to be anyone's family, any country, any town, any decade even. What's remarkable is that this story recounts the life of Eugene O'Neill, one of America's most well-known playwrights, who earned four Pulitzer prizes for his plays, the last of which was earned posthumously for this very play.

So authentically is it portrayed that you will feel you are really there, a fly on the wall of the O'Neill household. So intense is the pain that you might wish you weren't there at times. So common are the sorts of traumas that you might recognize someone you know in the same sorts of tragedies - a son ill with a terrible disease the doctors don't really know how to cure, a father frustrated with his family and his fearful if untrue illusions of poverty and drowning his sorrows in alcohol, another son stuck in his own failures and jealous of his brother's successes and also becoming an alcoholic like Dad, and a mother addicted to drugs, causing agony to the family as she cycles through the stages of abuse to recovery to relapsing into abuse again.

They cut each other to the quick, revealing truths that were better left unsaid, then denying them immediately after. The framework of O'Neill's life is fleshed out through this technique, as well in the characters' confessions to each other of the guilt and shame for their present in which they reveal the past histories that have put them there.

Unfortunately, the actors race through the first half of the show with the speed of a freight train at full throttle careening out of control towards certain destruction, delivering lines way too quickly for the audience to absorb and understand. This, combined with the dramatic technique of cutting each other off to seem more like more realistic family conversation, is overdone and cuts down on the viewer's ability to understand and follow the flow of the interaction. By the second half of the show they slow down enough to be better understood even in their drunken slurs and ghostly drug-filled illusions. At the end it is not the show which self-destructs, but the family.

The actors have become their roles and their excellence leaves only minor things to comment upon. Margo Skinner (Mary) stutters as she almost imperceptibly misstarts a few of her lines (but a few too many for the third week of the show). Doug Stender (James) errs by calling the boys by the wrong names and has to correct himself, an error that didn't appear to be part of the script, but could have been, I suppose. R. Ward Duffy (Jamie) isn't quite sarcastic enough in his aloof sadness at his brother's illness and I couldn't really tell if he is truly apathetic or just dramatically unable to deliver his sympathy with any sincerity. Fortunately, by the last act his motives are made clear and I knew the difference. Jared Reed, portraying Edmund, is simply rather mild in the first act, but I'm unsure if this is the character or the actor.

Praise to Jared Reed, (Edmund) however, on his very realistic deep racking cough, imperative to the part and probably very painful to his throat. Praise also to Margo Skinner on her very passionate delivery of Mary's debilitation through paranoia, anguish, anger and then drugged oblivion. Likewise impressive is the realism and diversity of the portrayals of drunkenness - R. Ward Duffy's (Jamie's) fall down drunkenness, Karen Woodward's (the housekeeper's) humorous, lolling, spacy drunkenness after apparently only a couple drinks, and Doug Stender's (James Tyrone's) constant imbibing in his fruitless efforts to stop the torturous emotions and guilt over his failing family.

Notable in this show was the intense physical interaction of the characters, violence which included punching, shoving, face slapping, flying chairs, throwing books and stumbling down drunk. Margo Skinner's first face slap could have and probably should have been delivered three times as hard, but her other outbursts, crying and throwing of chairs are certainly not underdone. An argument between Jared (Edmund) and R. Ward (Jamie) becomes violent and a very realistic punch is delivered by Jared, the simulation complete with the perfectly timed smacking sound of the fist contacting.

James Tyrone's well reputed miserliness is commented upon so often that we aren't too surprised when dear ol Dad decides to scrimp on the quality of the sanatorium which could possibly save his dying son from consumption. There are few spots of humor, but watching James in his drunkennes climb onto the table to unscrew the lightbulbs so the electric company doesn't take him to the poorhouse, followed by watching the similarly besotted son, Jamie, climb onto the table a bit later to screw them back in so they aren't in such dismal darkness, are two of them. So well do they play their parts that one wonders if they aren't actually going to fall off the table in their stupors, forgetting by this time that they are not James and Jamie Tyrone, but actually the actors, Doug Stender and R. Ward Duffy, and not likely to fall off, having done this many many times before, and not even really drunk.

In truth it is not a pretty play. It's rather depressing. I doubt you will leave feeling immediately uplifted and joyful, but you will certainly have witnessed great drama and painful reality. If you look at it right you may feel great inspiration. It's as though O'Neill were saying, "Look at what I have gone through, what I have suffered, and how I have triumphed and succeeded in spite of all that misery. You can, too."


entire contents 1997 by "Angel"

"Long Day's Journey Into Night" (playing until November 22nd)
Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Liberty Hall at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium
50 East Merrimack Street
Lowell, MA

Performance Times:
Wednesday through Saturday, 8:00 PM
Sundays, 2:00 PM
Wednesday matinee, Nov. 12th, 2:00 PM
Saturday matinee, Nov. 8th, 3:00 PM
Sunday evenings, Nov.9th & 16th, 7:00 PM

Box Office Hours:
12:00 noon until curtain time on performance days.
12:00 noon until 6:00 PM on non-performance days.
Closed on non-performance Sundays.

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