Brilliant Acting in O’Neill Classic
Long Day’s Journey into Night is a study in anxiety and addiction with the accompanying delusion, denial and depression, wrapped up inside a dysfunctional family. Set in 1912, the play is an almost-autobiographical story of Eugene O’Neill’s life. An excellent production of it is now on stage at Stratford’s intimate Studio Theatre.
Long Day’s Journey into Night provides a startling contrast to The Music Man, also set in 1912, which is on stage across town at the Festival Theatre. The Music Man is based on Meredith Willson’s own childhood. We have two men, O’Neill and Willson, both pillars of American theatre, but with such different stories to tell. The Music Man gives us hope, while Long Day’s Journey into Night leaves us hopeless.
The Tyrone family is at their summer house. But to mother Mary Tyrone, this has never been a home, nor has she ever had a home. She married the handsome actor, James Tyrone, and spent most of her life on the road with him, living in cheap hotels. Now passing middle-age, Mary has just returned from a sanatorium looking healthy. Eventually it becomes evident that she was there due to her morphine addiction.
James has no patience with his elder son Jamie, who is an unemployed actor. James berates Jamie constantly, critical of his lack of employment and his drinking, among many things. The younger son, Edmund, has returned from travelling, but he is ill. We soon learn he has consumption (tuberculosis) which in those days was often fatal. As the three men bicker and snipe at each other, they realize their mother is injecting morphine again.
As it does in many families, much of the dialogue goes in circles. Each family member blames another for their fate, then apologizes and tells them they love them. The conversation swings around, recycling the arguments and making up.
Scott Wentworth is powerful as James Tyrone. He is trying so hard to be the tough head of the household, bullying his sons. But he lets his vulnerability show when he fears for his wife’s addiction.
Seana McKenna gives a convincing performance as Mary. McKenna shows Mary’s efforts to create normalcy; in denial that she’s failing. In the final scene, as she is strung out on morphine, she is seemingly carefree, but sadly we know this won’t last.
Gordon S. Miller is excellent as Jamie. He has taken so much criticism from his father that drink is his only answer. Miller’s lashing out is authentic.
Charlie Gallant plays a perfect Edmund. He is obviously trying to show his parents he is capable of looking after himself, but then his illness becomes apparent, and the audience catches a glimpse of his own concern for his health.
Bringing a little comic relief in this relationship drama is Amy Keating playing housemaid Cathleen. Her Irish attitude and simple ways create some laughs, especially when she’s a little tipsy.
This cast acts with such conviction and realism that it made me feel uncomfortable. I was watching a family disintegrate before my eyes, and what they were all going through was so personal. But that discomfort is a testament to the superior acting in this play.
Everything old is new again. Today, we hear horror stories of addictions to OxyContin and Fentanyl that are being given to patients as painkillers. Mary was given morphine in the late 1890s for “nerves” and pain she suffered following Edmund’s birth. This actually happened to the playwright’s mother. The medical community has learned nothing from mistakes made more than 100 years ago.
Just as the title says, this play is indeed a long journey. There are three full acts with two intervals: this production ran from 8:00 til 11:30 pm. With today’s popularity of shorter one-act shows, it seems like a very long evening. Those who respect O’Neill’s work, will appreciate the detail and intricacy of the three acts.
Long Day’s Journey into Night continues in repertory until October 13 at the Studio Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Left: Scott Wentworth as James Tyrone and Seana McKenna as Mary Tyrone. Right: Charlie Gallant as Edmund, and Gordon S. Miller as Jamie. Photos by Emily Cooper.
Long Day’s Journey into Night
By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Miles Potter
Performed by Scott Wentworth, Seana McKenna, Gordon S. Miller, Charlie Gallant, Amy Keating.
Produced by Stratford Festival
Studio Theatre, Stratford
June 2 to October 13, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson