Long Day's Journey Into Night
Ar Rud's production is how O'Neill's study of family and fragility is supposed to be
Reviewed by Avimaan Syam, Fri., June 5, 2009
Long Day's Journey Into Night
The Off Center, through June 7
Running time: 3 hr, 45 min
Eugene O'Neill's masterful Long Day's Journey Into Night doesn't let any member of the Tyrone clan off the hook.
This is a family defined by its flaws: the penny-pincher. The delusional dope fiend. The wastrel. The sad bastard. Locked into their roles, trapped in an oppressive summer home, the family members cling to a fleeting sense that their ship might be righted soon. Good luck, and thank God there's enough booze to go around for everyone.
Ar Rud's production, spearheaded by former Mary Moody Northen Theatre Artistic Director Ev Lunning Jr., dives headlong into O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning work. The Tyrone summer home is made up of yellowed newspapers and worn walls, with warm, muted lighting. This place exists for people who will never move on.
Journey tells the tale of a poignant day in the life of the Tyrone family, but what propels O'Neill's play forward is the live-wire family dynamic, an earnest love/hate relationship among the four characters that shifts and swirls with each pithy comment and heartfelt lamentation. The Tyrones' emotional triggers live just below the surface, and every family member knows exactly how to set them off.
A psychiatrist could make a living trying to unravel their inner issues: Mother Mary looks at her husband, James, with equal measures of love and resentment; elder son Jamie has purposefully led the younger brother he loves down a path of self-destruction. Every emotional outburst is cut with an "I didn't mean it," or "Let's not battle today." This is a wounded family whose members can't stand or get away from one another. They hide the troubling truths they all know, desperate for some semblance of peace, calm, and normalcy.
Despite its decidedly 20th century setting, Journey's exploration of family has an inescapably universal feeling: the aggravating "Can't we all just get along!" emotion that proves family – like life, like the pursuit of happiness – makes much more sense in our heads than in practice. The Tyrones pity one another without forgiving, or they forgive without forgetting.
Do the Tyrones love one another unconditionally? I would say so. But there are plenty of conditions for their resentment, disappointment, fear, destruction, and hatred of one another. Does unconditional love mean we look past one another's faults? That we love one another for our faults? Well, that's the ideal. "You can't change a leopard's spots," Jamie wisecracks to his father. No one's changing. No one's forgetting.
Director Lucien Douglas clearly gets O'Neill. He allows no quirks or tricks or ostentatious bits. This is how Long Day's Journey Into Night is supposed to be. The actors display wonderful interplay and seem really devoted to their characters, especially Patricia Pearcy, who nails Mary's sad, scatterbrained gurgle and fully embodies the lonely, broken child of a mother.
Ar Rud's production is an investment, clocking in at three hours and 45 minutes (and the night I was there, no air conditioning) – Long Day's Journey Into Night, indeed. But this exploration of family and fragility is certainly worth it. We all have our limits, our heartbreaks, our follies and faults. How do we get past them? O'Neill's answer: writing and whiskey. Seems like a good call to me.