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Review: Court Theatre's LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT Searingly Comes to Life

Eugene O'Neill's blazing masterwork LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT introduces audiences to the enormously dysfunctional Tyrone family, who over the course of the play's three-and-a-half-hour run time, completely and utterly destroy one another. O'Neill felt that LONG DAY'S JOURNEY was such a personal and exposing play that he wished to have it published 25 years after his death. And in almost every moment of the play, we feel the immense agony and suffering of this deeply troubled, addiction-riddled family.

With direction by playwright David Auburn, this LONG DAY'S JOURNEY comes to bleak and simmering life as we watch the Tyrone family tear one another apart in moment-after-tense-moment. LONG DAY'S JOURNEY captivates because the play does not have one climactic moment but rather a series of them as the family members constantly shift allegiances and repeatedly wound one another. This production has notably found a bravura performer in Mary Beth Fisher as the morphine-addicted matriarch of the family, Mary Tyrone. It is Mary's drug addiction that has the entire family--father and two sons included--on edge at the beginning of the play and that sets in motion much of the underlying pain felt by all. So too, does Fisher's outstanding performance anchor this production. Fisher paints a haunting and precise portrait of a woman plagued by both her addiction and the demons of her past.

Fisher is joined by veteran stage actor Harris Yulin as patriarch James Tyrone, Dan Waller as eldest son James Jr. (or Jamie, as he is called in the play), Michael Doonan as the tuberculosis-ridden younger son Edmund, and Alanna Rogers as the Tyrones' housekeeper Cathleen. Rogers's crystalline singing voice and spot-on Irish accent help provide a few moments of much needed humor in an otherwise extremely dark and harrowing play.

As James, Yulin fully embraces the more despicable elements of his character, with his self-absorbed attitude and incredible stinginess--he certainly gives us a sense of why James has earned the "miser" moniker from his other family members. But Yulin's performance struck me as very introverted and internally focused. I didn't see much hint of the charming stage actor who would have won Mary's heart 36 years prior, now hanging onto some semblance of that charisma after his dreams of being a true artist failed to come true.

Doonan makes a truly sympathetic and compelling Edmund. He gives an emotionally complex performance that allows audiences to see just how desperate he is to connect with the other members of the Tyrone family. Waller gives a fine performance as Jamie and convincingly plays a drunkard in the play's final act, showing audiences that his alcoholism is perhaps just as problematic as his mother's drug addiction--though it may not appear to be so in the eyes of the Tyrones. That said, I was perplexed by Waller's decision to affect an Irish accent while drunk.

LONG DAY'S JOURNEY plays out on a truly sumptuous set. Jack Magaw's design has the look and feel of a true summer house, down to every detail. And Melissa Torchia's ornate costumes beautifully evoke the play's 1912 setting. Victoria Deiorio's sound design adds to the production's uneasy feeling.

Ultimately, Fisher's expert performance as Mary becomes the most compelling reason to revisit LONG DAY'S JOURNEY at Court Theatre. While she is surrounded by capable performers, Fisher fully commands the stage in every moment she appears. Though Mary has no ability to control her drug addiction or let go of her troubled past, Fisher has a full grasp on this complex role.

LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT runs through April 10 at Court Theatre, 5535 South Ellis Avenue. Tickets are $45-$65 and can be purchased online at, by phone at 773.753.4472, or in-person at the Box Office.

Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow

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