Long Day’s Journey into Night

 

By Eugene O’ Neill

Long days Journey into Night
Long Days Journey into Night

Directed by Nathaniel Swift

Produced by Eclipse Theatre Company

At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago

Fabulous actor’s showcase production of one of the great American plays is a “Must See”

Considered by many (this writer included) as the greatest American playwright, Eugene O’ Neill (1888- 1953) was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Drama and 4 Pulitzer Prizes. His works were influenced by Chekhov, Ibsen and Strinberg moving American drama into the world of realism as they were populated by fringe characters speaking in vernacular of the time and locale. O’ Neill’s characters struggle to maintain their hopes and aspirations, but ultimately slide into disillusionment and despair. Using his life experiences, O’ Neill’s writing was often poetic, deeply introspective and gloomy. His only comedy, Ah, Wilderness!, was successfully mounted in the past year by Eclipse Theatre as part of their “One playwright – One Season.”

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Long Days Journey into Night (1941-42) was first performed in 1957 four years after O Neill’s death. It is a masterwork that contains four characters so deeply developed that it becomes an ‘actor’s showcase.’  Director Nathaniel Swift has cast Long Days with expert and totally committed players. Swift’s pacing is so tight that the three hour and forty-five minute production seemed shorter. Once we get engrossed into the world of the Tyrone clan, time stands still as we become fixated with each character’s agony, pain, hope and dreams.

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O’ Neill’s family tragedy that features the Tyrone’s, a family in despair as they seem to be doomed and trapped in their dark past where fears, addictions and habits dominate the present.   Long Day’s Journey Into Night is set in 1912 in the Tyrone summer home in New London, Connecticut. This most autobiographical play deals with the nature of family love where each person loves more than hates the other family members. The play has no plot and features a day in the life of a dysfunctional family. It is a marvelously talky exposition of past events that the characters can’t seem to escape from. Anyone who loves outstanding, rich dialogue (as I do) will cherish O’ Neill’s language. You’ll need to be patient with this play as it takes time to engage us. I believe this work is among the finest American plays ever penned.

We meet James Tyrone (Patrick Blashill) the retired former actor whose stinginess and obsession with acquiring land together with his hard drinking makes him difficult to live with. His wife, Mary (Susan Monts-Bologna) is a morphine addict after a difficult child birth. She lives in the past as she recalls how she left the convent and put aside her piano as she fell in love with the dashing actor, James.

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Jamie (Joe McCauley) is the oldest son and failed Thespian who lives for alcohol and whores while Edmund (Stephan Dale) is the wandering seamen and poet (the voice of O’Neill?) who suffers from consumption (tuberculosis).

Covering one full day, the play features much talk about how the simmering discordance affect each family member. We realize that, despite long arguments and much dark humor, the family can’t seem to be capable of communicating with one another. Example, no one has the guts to face and deal with Mary’s morphine addiction or Jamie’s drinking or Edmund’s illness.

What strikes us, after we engage with O’Neill’s enticing language and the strongly human portrays from the terrific cast, is O’ Neill’s non judgmental, unbiased assessment of each character. Each are presented not as good or evil but as flawed and deeply human people whose love for one another wins out over their immense dislikes. From James’ fear of poverty that makes him a miser to Mary’s struggle with morphine to the son’s drinking and lack of purpose, we see emerging from all the rancor that love does indeed prevail in the Tyrone family despite all being trapped in the past. It is really a long journey into the past that eventually becomes tragic.

The Eclipse Theatre production contains four of the finest  performances by non-Equity actors seen on Chicago stages this year!  Susan Monts-Bolgna, as Mary Cavan Tyrone, reached into the depths of what it is to live in denial as a morphine addict. She has several long, wrenching speeches each delivered in brilliant nuanced profoundness. Patrick Blashill honestly played James Sr.  as the agonized patriarch struggling to keep order among his troubled family. Joe McCauley, a James Jr., played the drunken eldest son with explosive rage while Stephan Dale, as Edmund Tyrone, articulated magnificently the yearning toward the sea and the bitterness of his life.   These players were so committed and respectful of the work that it showed throughout.

It has been a terrific last couple of years in Chicago for Eugene O Neill plays. Eclipse Theatre’s Long Days Journey into Night can proudly take its place as another example of the craftsmanship of Chicago Thespians. Take the Journey into O Neill’s world.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: November 4, 2012

For more info checkout the Long Days Journey into Night page at theatreinchicago.com

At the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL,  call 773-935-6875, www.eclipsetheatre.com, tickets $28,  $23 for seniors, $18 for students, Thursday thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 3 hours, 45 minutes with 2 intermissions, through December 9, 2012