Review Roundup: A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, with Jeremy Irons & Lesley Manville
Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical family drama, Long Day's Journey Into Night, is widely regarded as one of the most powerful American plays of the 20th century. The acclaimed Bristol Old Vic production-which premiered in 2016 as the centerpiece of its 250th anniversary season-is helmed by award-winning theater and film director Sir Richard Eyre, and features unforgettable performances by stage, screen, Tony- and Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons and renowned stage, screen, Oscar- and Olivier-nominated actress Lesley Manville. Unfolding on a summer's day in 1912, Long Day's Journey Into Night offers an emotionally devastating look at the Tyrone family, including retired actor and alcoholic father James, his morphine-addicted wife Mary, and troubled adult sons Edmund and Jamie. Haunted by the past-yet unable to face the truth of their dilemmas-the family replays feelings of resentment, anger, love, and despair. The cast includes Irons (James Tyrone), Manville (Mary Tyrone), Matthew Beard (Edmund Tyrone), Rory Keenan (James Tyrone, Jr.), and Jessica Regan (Cathleen). According to The Guardian, "Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville shine with sexual passion and rage," and the Mail on Sunday calls it "an intense, electrifying production." Following the BAM engagement, the production will travel to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles from June 8 to July 1.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, New York Times: The idea seems to be that Mary thinks that if she moves quickly enough, and keeps deflecting the attention from herself to the others, the suspicious men in her life won't be able to tell if she's using again. Ms. Manville - a paradigm of steely indirection in her brilliant Oscar-nominated performance in last year's "Phantom Thread" - is in fully aggressive attack mode as Mary, and she sets the pace for the others. For a while, it's a gripping, oddly enjoyable approach. I've never seen a "Journey" in which the characters are so literally up in one another's faces, pushing and pulling and scratching, before retreating into corners to regroup, before pouncing again.
Sara Holdren, Vulture: What can be said for Eyre's conception of the play is that he undoubtedly sees it as Mary's. He recognizes that the journey of the title is most rightfully hers, and that the story's men are her raging, grieving, impotent witnesses. I wish I could say that, as Mary, the usually fantastic Lesley Manville transcends the production she finds herself in. She's an extraordinary actor, but here, even as the acknowledged center of the play, she too falls victim to the show's stagnant sameiness. Her Mary is a high-voiced, birdlike creature - it's easy to see the pretty, naïve girl that she used to be - and from the very beginning she's already in a fluttery state of almost-panic. She's so tightly wound that she doesn't have much of a transformation to make.
Helen Shaw, TimeOut NY: Sometimes shows can buckle under the weight of their own pedigrees. There are big-ticket plays that terrify their actors; famous stars who fluster their colleagues; massive sets that turn environments from living things into monuments. The Bristol Old Vic's Long Day's Journey Into Night manages to have all three problems at once in the blustery, muddled production now at BAM, where the show's three and half hours lumber very slowly by.
Greg Evans, Deadline: Manville, an Oscar nominee this year for Phantom Thread, gets to the core of this self-admitted "dope fiend" character in every nervous, craving jitter and each relaxed sprawl of a recent fix, her performance a mesmerizing symphony of rambling, barely disguised resentments and outbursts of flashing anger. Irons matches her step-by-step, his terrific portrayal of James moving sure-footedly from the bombast of a lifelong blowhard to the quiet revelations of the sporadically guilt-ridden.
Peter Marks, Washington Post: A perfect quartet of Tyrones, I've found, is hard to muster; Jessica Regan on this occasion plays the play's fifth character, the amusingly oblivious housekeeper, Cathleen. Perhaps the best lead foursome I've ever seen were in Sidney Lumet's intense 1962 movie version starring Richardson and Hepburn, with Robards as Jamie and Dean Stockwell as Edmund. Nevertheless, Eyre, former head of Britain's National Theatre, reveals in this Bristol Old Vic production, exported to BAM's Harvey Theater, an admirable affinity for the interlocking battles waged in the play, for the minefield of grievances and accusations that O'Neill lays out. James's miserliness, Mary's drug addiction, Jamie's carousing, Edmund's tuberculosis are not merely personality flaws and disabilities; they're weaponized traits, evidence each of the Tyrones cites to point out the ways in which the others have hurt or thwarted them.
Thom Geier, The Wrap: It's one of many incongruous elements of Eyre's production - including Rob Howell's set design, which features period furniture but a modern, skylit glass-house that sometimes distracts from the proceedings and leaves the staircase off-puttingly upstage and in shadows. As she does in her Oscar-nominated role in last year's "Phantom Thread," Manville commands our attention even when she isn't speaking. Her Mary Tyrone is a woman of raw nerves who convinces us that morphine offers a retreat to a past with missed opportunities - of life as a nun, of a happier marriage to James, of a home life where another son had not died in infancy.
David Cote, Theater News Online: It might seem unsporting to harp on this technical detail, but the leading man's shaky accent (which would veer into his own posh lilt) keeps pulling you out of the world of the play. It contributes to an overall tonal incoherence in this production, staged a bit too broadly by Richard Eyre and encased in a distractingly expressionist set by Rob Howell. While the members of the tortured Tyrone clan - which includes morphine-addicted mother Mary (Lesley Manville), tubercular poet son Edmund (Matthew Beard) and amoral playboy Jamie (Rory Keenan) - are separated by addiction, guilt and recrimination, the play doesn't work if the ensemble members seem to be in different plays.
Photo Credit: Hugo Glendinning