Long Day’s Journey Into Night | HOME
The famous first sentence from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina has perhaps been repeated too many times already, ‘”Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Nonetheless, it is almost impossible not to remember when thinking about Eugene O’Neill’s prime work, Long Day’s Journey into Night. Perhaps due to autobiographical details of the play, O’Neill refused to publish the work despite finishing it in 1942. It was three years after his death in 1953, the play was going to see the light of the day. Since then, it has been put on stage repeatedly, by various productions with world-famous names. It is a challenge for any actor and actress. From Jeremy Irons to Jessica Lange, many revisited the work on stage, describing their performance as almost a test they had to pass. Each character has its particular demands. Each part requires acting within acting; pretending not to see things, not to hear things, not to know things. The happiness of Tyrone relies on the denial of unhappiness.
Previously directing Samuel Beckett’s Endgame for HOME, Dominic Hill could not have had a more different play in his hands. Endgame is notorious for resisting meaning. Whatever is on the stage has to resist metaphors and symbols; anything that will point the audience in the direction of making sense of what is going on. Hence when in 1985 American Repertory Theatre produced the play with an unconventional set design, Beckett demanded for his name to be removed from the production. O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night is an altogether different beast. Every line, every gesture, every object on stage is filled with meaning. Every detail is there to show and to tell. Tom Piper and Ben Ormerod do an exquisite job with stage design. In a play not shy about symbols and metaphors, the set needs to tell the whole story. We are, therefore, welcomed by a cosy living room with a table in the middle. The family is dining in the background kitchen, we hear laughter and chatter: voices of a happy family, everywhere alike. This house, however, like the members of the family in it, is hiding something, and perhaps not too well. There are staircases in the background and this house, though divided into many rooms, has transparent walls. There are no secrets. Everyone sees everything. Everyone hears everything. We are about to find out what makes them unhappy in their own way.
Brid Ni Neachtain is excellent as Mary Cavan Tyrone, the mother of the family who is addicted to morphine. The first half of the play is almost carried by her performance as her mind gets hazier and hazier due to morphine, as she is in complete denial of the seriousness of her son, Edmund’s (Lorn Macdonald) illness and as she rejects any accusations about her addiction. “If you’re that far gone in the past already, when it’s only the beginning of the afternoon, what will you be tonight?” asks James Tryone (George Costigan), afraid of what is to come. By “tonight” she will be almost like a ghost. The set design works perfectly for Mary’s journey into the past. In the second half, she lurks around in the background through dim lights. An occasional piano piece is heard through the walls. Her footsteps are echoed in the living room. Like every ghost, she is restless and refuses to go to sleep. She haunts the house along with the members of the family. She is almost the mad woman in the attic. She is haunted by the past and haunts the present.
She is not the only one who is haunted by the past. The long day’s journey into night, is a journey into past. The fog outside the house thickens, each character is drunker every minute, yet the past begins to appear crystal clear. Their hidden thoughts about each other, along with their secrets, more and more come to the surface. Like the whisky bottle on the table, which is filled with water every time someone serves themselves a secret dram, family dynamics rely on their acting skills. They pretend not to know that the bottle has more water than whisky. They pretend not to know that Mary is addicted to morphine. They pretend not to know that Edmund is about to be diagnosed with consumption.
This is a notoriously long play. The programme warns us, it will last for almost three hours. Somehow the younger son, Edmund, is the thread that ties all of them together. One way or the other each member of the family connects their personal tragedies and yearnings to him. He is the baby of the family, loved and cherished by everyone, and precisely because of this, he is the sickly fragile one that everybody goes great lengths to protect. Mary Tyrone’s addiction, James Tyrone’s career regrets, James Tyrone Jr’s struggle to make something off of himself are all reflected on him. Like everything else in the play, Edmund’s consumption, too, is charged with meaning. The illness almost functions as a melodramatic reminder of him being consumed by the desires and regrets of others. Lorn MacDonald is excellent as Edmund. Like any part in this play, this is not an easy one. His performance from the start to the very end is an unforgettable one.
Sam Philips’ portrayal of James Tyron Jr is brilliant. He is synical and brutally honest. Perhaps this is why he is the least loved member of the family. Last but not least, George Costigon’s portrayal of James is heartbreaking. As he questions why he has come back home to find Mary in the grips of morphine and memory, as he wants to escape back to his career as an actor and regrets his choices, the claustrophobia in (and outside) the house becomes almost unbearable.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a play that not only takes hold of you, but promises to haunt you for days to come. It is a must see, and an unforgettable production. It will be at HOME until the 26th of May.
by Sima Imsir Parker