Monday, April 25, 2016

Long Day’s Journey into Night **

When a Pulitzer and Tony winning play regarded by many as a masterpiece is revived with a stellar cast, it is cause for keen anticipation. And so I was eagerly awaiting Roundabout Theatre’s revival of Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical play starring Jessica Lange, Gabriel Byrne, Michael Shannon and John Gallagher Jr. as the members of the Tyrone family. O’Neill forbade publication until 25 years after his death, but his widow overrode his wishes and published the play in 1956, only three years after he died. James Tyrone (Byrne) is a miserly 65-year-old actor who sold out by repeating the same lucrative role for too many years. James Jr. (Shannon) is the 33-year-old elder son, a ne’er-do-well who has managed to have a third-rate acting career trading on his father’s name. Edmund (Gallagher), ten years younger, has always been frail and sickly. A would-be writer, he is O’Neill’s stand-in. All three Tyrone men are devoted to the bottle. Finally there is wife and mother Mary (Lange), a faded beauty who became addicted to morphine after Edmund’s birth and has just returned from yet another sanitorium stay. Over four acts stretching from morning to midnight on a day in August 1912, we watch this ultimate dysfunctional family lacerate themselves and each other, expressing affection, hatred, exasperation, blame, sympathy and denial. Brevity and subtlety are not among O’Neill’s strengths. While I remember being tremendously moved by the 1962 film version with Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards Jr. and Dean Stockwell, today I found myself restless and impatient. When intermission arrived at the 1 1/2 hour mark, I realized with dread that there were still two hours to go afterwards. The fourth and final act seemed endless. I have been trying to figure out why it didn’t work for me this time. The first problem for me was that Shannon is so much bigger than Byrne that he literally and figuratively overshadows him. In a restrained performance, Byrne is not convincing as a former matinee idol. Lange’s Mary, on the other hand, is much too theatrical for my taste. Shannon has so much presence that he dominates any scene he is in. Gallagher’s Edmund is adequate but unmemorable. Colby Minifie is fine as Cathleen, the maid. The effective set design by Tom Pye features a low ceiling that ominously hangs over the family. Jane Greenwood’s costumes are fine, especially Mary’s dresses in pale colors that suggest her fading away. Jonathan Kent’s direction does not produce a unity of approach from the actors. If you have never seen the play and have the patience to sit for almost four hours, see it. If you have fond memories of an earlier production, treasure them and sit this one out. Running time: 3 hours 45 minutes including intermission.

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