Long Day’s Journey Into Night chills to the bone.
The wind was howling as the cold air clipper passed through downtown Baltimore last Friday evening. Inside Everyman Theatre, an even more ferocious storm was brewing on stage at the opening night revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey, directed by the city’s own preeminent Donald Hicken. Yet despite the warmth and friendliness of the audience, staff, and comfy seats, the chill of the Tyrone family (and their woeful tale) never thaws during this unsettling three-act tour de force.
Reportedly based on O’Neill’s 1941 autobiographical play (not to be published until after his death), Journey is the tale of an Irish-American family dealing with more than its share of maladies – a morphine-addicted mother, one brother’s alcoholism, the other brother’s tuberculosis (called “consumption” in the early 20th century) and a father with unfulfilled dreams of fame and fortune. All this turmoil takes place during a single day at the family’s Connecticut summer cottage in August 1912.
Under the watchful eye of founding artistic director Vincent M. Lancisi, Everyman Theatre has been recognized as a haven for the 12-member resident company, a place for artistic talent to be challenged in this season of new plays. You could feel the buzz on opening night as the audience members discussed how one cast member might take on a role so different from the previous show.
Before curtain folks chatted with actors who were there to cheer on their colleagues. One fan congratulated Everyman’s resident artist, Bruce Randolph Nelson, for his improvisation classes. Another mentioned she looked forward to Nelson’s reading at the Salon Series, Women’s Voices, starting Monday, February 5 with the Broadway hit, Sweat. Indeed, opening night was like a festive family gathering and the audience a big part of the support.
If only the Tyrone family could have had such support. But then again, this is an Irish story, “where all their wars are merry and all their songs are sad,” as my Irish mother once reminded me.
Marking her 20th year as a resident actor at Everyman, Deborah Hazlett is the powerful incarnation of the morphine-addicted matriarch, Mary Cavan Tyrone. Her performance was near flawless, and fussing with her hair a perfect touch as she struggles to regain her poise during one of her ramblings. There are times when you want to shake her and tell her she can beat the “poison” in her body. And there are moments when you understand all too well her pain and worries. There is one particular scene in which she wishes she had stayed at her convent home and become a nun, then utters the familiar, “Hail, Mary, full of grace….” It rips at your heart.
For his debut at Everyman Theatre, Kurt Rhoads offers a strong interpretation of the patriarch, James Tyrone, an actor who could have been a contender but chose financial security instead. Now a miserable miser, yet still a “ham” from his long career as an actor, he offers a brief respite from the heaviness with quips like, “Shakespeare was a good Irish Catholic….so was Wellington but he wasn’t so good.”
Katharine Ariyan, too, delights with her Irish brogue as Cathleen, the helper of the unseen Bridget, the family cook who apparently likes to take a nip or two before making dinner. Other characters mentioned in the play but never seen include Eugene, the son who died of measles at the age of two; Doc Hardy, the family physician who causes more grief for the family than care; and Shaughnessy, a tenant who could be described as a “thorn in the side” of father and sons.
All five performers on stage in this production are powerful actors. Most impressive is the amount of time each spends in a soul-searching monologue. Tim Getman plays the boozy, jealous older brother Jamie who recites long passages of poetry and Shakespeare, of course. Danny Gavigan’s portrayal of tubercular Edmund sulks on the sofa and takes long walks in the fog where he can forget, just as his mother prefers the foggy, drug-induced memories of the past.
The onstage characters move in and out of the living area and up and down the stairs to the imaginary room where Mary seeks comfort with her drugs. The set is designed by Daniel Ettinger to look like Mary’s “shabby” description that she repeats over and over, “This is not a home…not elegant like my father’s home.” A poster of the matinee-idol James Tyrone hangs stage right, a reminder of the gypsy life the couple has led, leaving their sons to fare on their own and the mother to mourn her losses.
Kudos to the Lighting Designer Jay Herzog and to the tech crew who manage to cue the light bulbs at the exact moment the father and son climb up to switch them on and off. This is done to save money on the electric bills, an issue that causes another flare-up in the household. If only Papa would loosen his money belt…if only Jamie would avoid the betting tables…if only Edmund could find a cure in a decent sanatorium.
The costumes by David Burdick were appropriate for the time and place – Mary looks especially ravishing in a green evening dress that matches her eyes. Another nice touch is the background music, composed by Patrick Calhoun.
Still, it’s Mary whom we can’t forget as she haunts us to the bitter end. Her hair a mess and her eyes as foggy as the weather outside, she walks into the drawing room and hands her wedding gown to her husband. Her dreamy last words remain with us long after the curtain closes. “Yes, I remember. I fell in love with James Tyrone and was so happy for a time.”
Running Time: Three hours and 20 minutes, with two intermissions.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night plays through March 4, 2018, at Everyman Theatre – 315 West Fayette Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-2208, or purchase them online.
Parking is available across the street at the Atrium Garage. The cost is $11.00 for those attending the theater.
Thursday, February 22, 2018, Post-show
Chat with participating cast members following the 7:30 PM performance of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, or follow along (and submit questions) via Twitter courtesy of @BWW_Baltimore. Tickets: N/A (free to attend, with ticket to accompanying performance).