- Long Day’s Journey into Night
- By Eugene O’Neill
- Produced by Quotidian Theatre Company
- Directed by Bob Bartlett
- Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Long Day’s Journey into Night is old-school theater at its best: passionate, honest, intense, complex, and demanding. Quotidian’s no-frills production does full justice to the text, and gives the willing viewer an engrossing and periodically compelling experience.
Let’s get the tough part over first. Our grandparents demanded more Theater from their theater than we do, and Long Day’s Journey clocks in at three and a half hours. Long Day’s Journey indeed! But if you’re properly rested, undistracted and ready to commit yourself to the vivid spectacle that O’Neill and Quotidian have prepared for you, there are plenty of rewards waiting.
Here’s what happens: there’s something terribly wrong with Edmund Tyrone (Michael Avolio), the wheezing, hacking, ghost-complexioned son of theater legend James Tyrone (Steve LaRoque). For one thing, he’s a boozehound, like his loutish brother Jamie (Andy Brownstein) and James Sr. himself. But the coughing seems to be even more serious. Dr. Hardy, the family’s dollar-a-visit hack of a doctor, can’t determine what’s wrong, and James, his money tied up in crackpot real estate schemes, is unwilling to spend money on a more effective medico. Edmund’s mother, Mary (Stephanie Mumford) insists that it’s nothing more than a summer cold. But then, she has some problems of her own.
Long Day’s Journey, dialogue-heavy though it be, is more a play about silences than about what’s said. As is the case in many second-generation Irish families, including O’Neill’s, stout denial is the weapon of choice in the face of adversity. There are certain things that one admits to only at fierce emotional cost, and sickness is one of them. In the course of this play, the Tyrones are compelled to open all the scabs, and we will watch them bleed.
In less competent hands, Long Day’s Journey would be melodrama, but Quotidian presents us with a show about real people, each of them struggling to save the people they love while keeping their own heads above water.
The production features an outsize, outstanding performance by Steve LaRoque as the family patriarch. LaRoque, a playwright whose previous acting experience has mostly been in community theater, gives a formidable, fully rounded, fully convincing performance as a Shakespearean actor with skills so deep that he manages to talk himself into believing that his lunatic choices are best for his family. LaRoque is a replacement for Bill Hamlin, who died last February. Hamlin was a very fine actor indeed but it seems unlikely that he (or anyone else I could think of) would have done a better job as James Tyrone.
Helen Hayes laureate Brownstein adds heft and dimension to Jamie, a lazy ne’er-do-well who, in the wrong hands, could easily fall into caricature. Jamie eventually yields himself up to self-loathing after wearing a crust of arrogance for most of the play; it is to Brownstein’s credit that when the moment comes, we realize that the character had the emotion inside of him all along. Similarly, Mumford has a long trip from what she is at the beginning of the play to what she becomes. She takes the journey carefully, step-by-step, revealing no more than she has to at each moment, and the result is a fully realized character, seamlessly formed.
Avolio is not quite up to this level of characterization, in large part because he is not convincing as a sick man. He wheezes and coughs with the best of them, but when he is not doing so he seems as comfortable and full of himself as any alcohol-addicted 24-year-old. A man suffering from consumption (we learn the diagnosis early in the play) suffers from it at every moment, and does more than cough briefly at the end of every French Scene. Aside from this deficiency, though, Avolio presents us with a picture of a young Nietzsche-quoting poet quite nicely. And Erika Imhoof, as the maid, does a swell drunk scene in the Second act.
The subdued technical elements are always competently done, and in some instances – such as Mumford’s wonderful costumes – are superb. Director Bob Bartlett’s decision to edit the text with a light hand seems to be the correct one, although I wish he had excised some of a lengthy, fanciful, poetical speech Edmund gives to his father toward the end of the play.
There may be a reason that Long Day’s Journey remains one of O’Neill’s most accessible plays. It’s a true story, O’Neill’s own, so personal and deep-to-the bone that O’Neill directed that it not be published until twenty-five years after his death. His widow ignored the instruction, and four years after the great man passed, this play was on Broadway, eventually earning him a posthumous Pulitzer. Fifty-two years later, we are still taking this journey into a night that, somehow, never becomes a dawn.
By way of full disclosure, I must tell you that Director Bartlett is a personal friend; he has directed me and advised me on my own plays, and I admire him greatly. Normally I would not review a play he directed but because of the demands which Fringe coverage has made on our staff, I took this on. I have tried to be objective and I think I’ve succeeded.
- Running Time: 3 ½ hours, including one intermission.
- When: Fridays through Sundays until August 10. Sunday performances are at 1.30 p.m.; all other performances at 7.30 p.m. There will be an additional Saturday matinee on August 9 at 21 P.M.
- Where: Quotidian Theatre, Bethesda Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD.
- Tickets: $20 ($15 for seniors and students). Go to 301.816.1023 or visit the website.