Long Day's Journey Into Night
By: Eugene O'Neill
Directed by: Heidi Helen Davis
(310) 455 - 2322
July 26 - September 27, 2008 (in repertory)
Ellen Geer, William Dennis, Hunt, Aaron Hendry, James LeFave. Photo: Miriam Geer.
Long Day's Journey Into Night is Eugene O'Neill's autobiographical account of a family spiraling into self destruction. It reflects the events of thirty five years in the story of a single day. Yes, it is long, three hours in fact, and yes it is tragic, but still it is entertaining and even, at times, humorous. The production at the Theatricum Botanicum, despite some flubbed lines on opening night, and an uneven cast, is very satisfying.
James Tyrone (sonorous William Dennis Hunt) is the patriarch of the family; a self involved actor of some note whose career was sidetracked, as was O'Neill's father's, by playing for years in a popular, but second rate, play. The family has always followed him from hotel to hotel. Mary Cavan Tyrone (Ellen Greer who flits like a butterfly around the stage) is his resentful but loving wife. Although the action takes place in their makeshift summer home she complains of never having a real home and buries herself in morphine, ostensibly for her arthritis, ever cheerful, ever wounded. She became addicted years ago after the very difficult birth of her third son, Edmund Tyrone (Aaron Hendry), as O'Neill's own mother did after his birth. Jamie Tyrone (Aaron Hendry), an actor like his father, is the self loving, self loathing older brother. All are awash in alcohol, each regrets he has not reached his potential. She has just returned from a yet another treatment for her morphine addiction. The men ineffectually try to restrain her relapse.
James is a skinflint, permanently scarred by his penurious childhood. Mary blames her addiction and the earlier loss of a third child to his skinflint choice of a doctor. While she herself ignores her son's obvious signs of tuberculosis, she blames Edmund's interminable cough on her husband's cheapskate choice of the local doctor to treat his "cold."
So close to home was O'Neill's story that, wracked with consumption himself, he gave the manuscript to his wife with directions that it not be published until twenty five years after his death. She held on to it for three years then released Long Day's Journey to its Pulitzer Prize winning debut. His was a family in extremis, but one would be hard put not to see echoes of the complexity that all families share, the love that can often survive, somehow, the battles that would shred any more distant relationship.
Hunt and Greer turn in near perfect performances, she anxiously floating about the stage and he dour, controlling, and commanding. Hendry, as the youngest son is the weakest link. He has not yet figured out how to be consumptive, yet project his voice. LeFave, though a strong actor, is particularly hampered as the provocative older brother in his scenes with Hendry. But, never mind, the story is timeless and the production much more than competent. Written in four acts, it is effectively presented with but one intermission.
No review of a Theatricum performance can fail to mention the idyllic setting under towering sycamores in Topanga Canyon. Regardless of the material (and there are four other productions in repertory) the stage is miraculously transformed with but a few props and one lo_ses sight of the fact that this is outside. Prefaced by a picnic under the trees it is the almost perfect way to spend a Southern California summer evening. Treat yourself.
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