BWW Review: LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT - The Tragedy of a Family's Downward Spiral
Halfway through Act I of Eugene O'Neill's LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT at the Wallis, I was looking at Rob Howell's see-through set design when it dawned on me. People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. If only the Tyrones had gotten the memo.
Howell's glass-walled summer home isn't meant to be realistic, although the interior furnishings are. Rather, it is a transparent container that houses a family with no ability to forgive and forget rendered with the perspective of a lengthening shadow. At any given moment, it feels as if everything might shatter, exposing long-held resentments to the world at large.
Avoiding truths and telling lies has become routine for the Tyrones. Mother Mary (Lesley Manville) is a morphine addict, a habit brought on following medical complications from the birth of her youngest son, Edmund (Matthew Beard), some twenty years earlier. "None of us can help what the past has made us," she says. "The only way to survive is to make yourself not care." It is a devastating portrayal of a woman constantly on the verge of breaking and Manville is as delicate and brittle as a porcelain doll whose cracks have been painted over but still buckle under the repair.
Husband James (Jeremy Irons) is a chronic alcoholic but all the whisky in the world can't make him forget the misery he's gone through in his lifetime, or his own questionable choices. Firstborn son, Jamie (Rory Keenan), is also a drunk and so jealous of his younger brother that he admits he wants Edmund to fail, while Edmund's drinking allows him to escape into his own fog of denial, which includes preventing his mother from learning he has consumption.
Each masters the downward spiral of the play in his or her own way over the course of one long day that plays out in three and a half hours of stage time. The first act gallops along at a brisk pace but it takes a while for the ear to tune to the British actors various American accents. With the day beginning to wane, Act II's somber tone can make it more challenging to remain engaged but secrets further revealed, particularly by Irons, are well-worth the stay.
Manville and Irons' relationship is a powder keg in this Bristol Old Vic production of the epic family tragedy, which is based on O'Neill's own family and posthumously won him a Pulitzer prize twenty-five years after his death. Directed by Richard Eyre and produced by The Wallis in association with Fiery Angel and Pádraig Cusack, it is currently running through July 1st.
Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho