A Long Intense Foggy Long Day’s Journey into Night
The anticipation of this theatrical night was high and very electric. I had heard so much about this production while also trying not to read a thing. I was particularly interested in seeing Jessica Lange’s star turn in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the epic story of the Tyrone family in crisis. This classic American play, reminiscent of the great Greek tragedies, is a heady emotional story of addiction and escapism. This family is not only saddled with alcohol and morphine addiction, but they are also addicted to their caustic interactions with each other, and the intense cycles of recrimination and forgiveness that they constantly fling at each other, while reversing them almost instantly after throwing them. In the right hands, this can be a deeply disturbing and engrossing drama of accusations, denials, and despair, and in many moments this Roundabout production, star-studded to the max, directed by Jonathan Kent, achieves this, but in many moments, it stalls, and leaves us struggling to deal with the long four hour journey into the dark foggy night alone and desperate just like Mary Tyrone.
Jessica Lange, who I first saw on stage many many years ago as Blanche DuBois in the lukewarm 1992 Broadway revival of Streetcar Named Desire (I sure hope some of you had the good fortune to see Gillian Anderson’s recent portrayal of Blanche at St. Ann’s Warehouse: https://frontmezzjunkies.com/2016/05/23/a-riveting-revolving-streetcar-in-brooklyn-has-arrived ), has finally found her footing on the stage. She is commanding and fragile all within the same breath. Her slow decent into morphine addiction is sad and frustrating, and deeply felt. Her attempts to hold onto the connections and love of her family while simultaneously steeling herself away from them in the fog of her ‘medicine’ is a magnificent thing to watch, and her portrayal of Mary is stunningly beautiful. The desperate holding on to the memories of her beauty and attractiveness is truly heart-breaking to watch, and we feel her loneliness along side her intense need to be left alone with her morphine. It’s a complicated balancing act, much like most of this difficult play, and Lange does an impressive job keeping us with her, even during her acts of cruelty and selfishness jabbed at her sons and husband.
The other standout for me in this beautifully designed staging is Michael Shannon’s spectacular portrayal of the worthless son and drunk, Jamie. Everything that comes out of his mouth seems real and natural, as if O’Neill is being funneled from his lips as it is being written. It’s an impressive feat to bring it all so much to life while showing us deep despair, with anger and bitterness, sadness and self hate.
This brings us to one of the main flaws in this monumental production. His younger brother, Edmund, played by John Gallagher Jr., doesn’t bring the same authenticity to his role. It feels stagey and awkward, causing us to back away from engaging whole heartedly in this family’s disastrous dysfunction. This is especially noticeable during the very long last act, which features Gallagher for a good length of time talking late into the night with his father. Even the intricate and stellar work of Gabriel Byrne as the father, James Tyrone Sr., couldn’t keep me engaged in the last remaining hour of this Long Day’s Journey. His beautifully detailed monologue near the end of this play when he attempts to explain himself to his sick youngest son struggled hard to pull me back into this family but it didn’t seem to do the trick entirely. I was off in a fog, waiting for Mary’s last delusional monologue that would signal the end of this long night. When it finally came, I half heartedly listened to Lange’s attempt to pull us back in, but the fog over my brain and heart was too thick. I was lost outside of the theatre before the play even ended.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night By Eugene O’Neill; directed by Jonathan Kent; sets by Tom Pye; costumes by Jane Greenwood; lighting by Natasha Katz; sound by Clive Goodwin; hair and wig design by Tom Watson; Presented by Roundabout Theater Company
WITH: Jessica Lange (Mary Cavan Tyrone), Gabriel Byrne (James Tyrone), Michael Shannon (James Tyrone Jr.), John Gallagher Jr. (Edmund Tyrone) and Colby Minifie (Cathleen).