BWW Review: LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT at Everyman Theatre
A quick Wikipedia review of all things Eugene O'Neill reveals one thing immediately-this man really would have benefited from some Prozac. And probably adoption.
O'Neill's magnum opus Long Day's Journey Into Night, now at Baltimore's Everyman Theatre, takes me back to my English Lit-major college days when I learned that Eugene O'Neill was constantly working at working out his psychological issues and coming to terms with his family's dysfunction through his plays, each work seemingly a "bit closer" to expressing the illness which, like the tuberculosis he combatted in his early years, consumed his life.
This highly autobiographical play would seem out of touch with our futuristic, digital age, as it is set in 1912, more than a century ago. But as is so often the case with great art, O'Neill's work is timeless-as relevant now in terms of the themes and issues it explores as today itself.
A 3 ½ hour production with two intermissions, Long Day's Journey follows a day in the life of the Tyrone family in their sturdy, if not stately, seaside summer home in Connecticut. Don't let the run time of this play daunt you, it is engaging from the first minute until the last. Despite the rather somber issues at play-alcoholism, morphine addiction, a veritable rolling fog of ennui, might-have-been-itis, broken dreams and human failure-the Everyman production is engaging, enlightening, and even quite humorous in parts. Just imagine the Kardashians if everyone in that family had an IQ of over 140 and cracked a book at least as often as they take a selfie.
Seriously though-and there is much that is serious in this play-while much credit to this play's success lies in its Tony-and-Pulitzer-Prize-winning writing, it truly comes to life when placed in the hands of a fine acting company, as can be found at the Everyman, starting with Kurt Rhoads and his performance as the Tyrone family patriarch, James.
Tall, broad and powerful in a John-Wayne-in-The-Quiet-Man mold, Rhoads plays James as a man who has embraced Shakespeare's "all the world's a stage" credo, which is apt, as his character is an actor by trade who holds the Bard in reverence above all other writers. Some of the pockets of humor in the play can be found as Rhoads spars with his consumptive son, Edmund (Danny Gavigan) who prefers the nihilism of Nietzche:
James: Why can't you remember your Shakespeare and forget the third-raters. You'll find what you're trying to say in him- as you'll find everything else worth saying. 'We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with sleep.'
Edmund: Fine! That's beautiful. But I wasn't trying to say that. We are such stuff as manure is made on, so let's drink up and forget it. That's more my idea.
Vexing James continuously are his boys-the eldest, Jamie (Tim Getman), and the aforementioned Edmund. While Edmund has "the makings of a poet," Jamie appears to have the makings of nothing at all. He finds himself best defined in his relationship with his brother, whom he looks upon as his personal charge and mentor. He has followed his father's path into theater, but has no real interest in the craft. James, Jamie and Edmund are like adjacent islands in a small sea-close, seemingly aligned but never truly connecting. Except in one way: a mutually shared concern for their mother, Mary (Deborah Hazlett)'s well-being.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Today the news is filled with stories of opioid addiction, and this very problem lies at the heart of O'Neill's play. Mary, who has recently returned from a stint at "a sanitarium," appears at first to have her addiction under control...but slowly unravels, an erosion of spirit mirrored by her husband and sons as O'Neill takes us, as though floating on a blanket of fog, into night.
Hazlett is riveting as a woman falling into an abyss; but the fall is not a straight one, nor is it in the case of any of the characters, as each bounces back and forth between what they tell themselves and what they truly know, what they love, hate and love to hate, between blame and self-blame. The skill of the actors is tremendous as the line from tour-de-force drama into caricaturist melodrama is one none of this able company ever crosses.
Kudos as always to the Everyman production staff (including Daniel Ettinger and David Burdick) for set and costume design, with an outdoors that looks continuously blank and gray, rooms seemingly hewn of heavy brown wood that matches the men's heavy brown costumes, culminating in Mary's Ophelia-in-Hamlet-ghostlike attire at play's end.
Directed by Donald Hicken, Long Day's Journey Into Night continues its run at the Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, now through March 4th, 2018. Tickets ($10-$65) are on sale at www.everymantheatre.org or call 410-752-2208.