Arena Stage Long Day’s Journey Into NightBy Bob Ashby • Apr 9th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Arena Stage-Kreeger, Washington DC
Through May 6th
2:50 with one intermission
$40-$85 plus fees
Reviewed April 5th, 2012
The emotions of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night are operatic in scale: hate, love, bitter regret, pride, anger, self-loathing despair, and the longing for oblivion are all larger than life in the characters based on O’Neill’s destructive family. So too is the language operatic, with monologues that can fairly be called spoken arias. In Arena Stage’s powerful production, the words sing and the emotions sear.
Mary Tyrone, played by Helen Carey, falling deeper into a relapse of her long-standing morphine addiction as the day goes on, is the character who most literally goes into the night, a night from which she will not emerge. She is forever attached to the partly imagined morning of her life, when she was adored by her indulgent father and nuns at school and dreamed of becoming a concert pianist. There are no more mornings for her; she is as stuck in her resentment of her husband’s drinking and stinginess as she is in her addiction.
Carey plays Mary with a forced but pretty smile and a fluttery voice, remnants of a once lovely and lively girl still visible in this ruin of a woman. Her fingers, drumming nervously at the end of several scenes, opening and closing as she contemplates their real or imagined rheumatism, underscore her physical and mental deterioration. The remaining strength she has is spent on denial of her son’s illness and her drug use – Mary is a virtuoso of denial — and Carey portrays effectively the progressive waning of that vocal and physical energy as the hard truths of her family’s life push themselves onto her, and she retreats further into her fog.
Mary’s fondest relationship is with the fog that envelops the family’s seaside house. She actively seeks the forgetfulness she finds in both the physical fog and the metaphorical fog of morphine. The fog theme pervades the design of the production. In place of solid walls within Hisham Ali’s otherwise realistic set are gauzy panels through which light shines as it might on a misty day. Michael Whitfield’s lighting design captures the different tones of the successive times of day as the play goes toward the night.
Years ago, when I was in the habit of talking walks at night on foggy country roads near my college, I would hear dogs barking in the distance, and the sound would have a characteristic faint, tinny echo. In one of the most subtly effective pieces of a sound design I have heard in some time, James Suggs evokes that soundscape with a quiet reverberation effect for some actors’ lines at times, most noticeably in the final scene as Mary’s fog thickens. The sound design also makes frequent use of the Adagio from Beethoven’s 8th Piano Sonata, in an elegiac rendition reflecting the fading of Mary’s youthful piano dreams.
Mary’s husband, James Tyrone, possesses the resonant voice and bearing of the veteran actor he is. Peter Michael Goetz’s portrayal never lets anyone forget that James is, above all, an actor, given in virtually any situation to declamation, dramatic gesture, and quotations from Shakespeare. His voice rises to a high-pitched near-squeak for emphasis on some lines. His great regret is that by latching onto a theatrically mediocre but financially successful career vehicle, he type-cast himself and lost his early promise as a Shakespearian actor. He is fierce in his stinginess, no matter who may be hurt, having never overcome the memory of the deep poverty of his childhood, which in Goetz’s hands becomes grist for James’ most compelling monologue. In this speech, James exposes to his son the roots of his deepest fears while never ceasing to be the presenter of stirring tales.
In the second half of the play, there is a lengthy scene between James and his younger son, Edmund, in which a card game is the occasion for an explosive emotional exchange between them. “Whose play is it?” they keep asking, as they take turns attacking one another. Indeed, the entire play can be thought of as a four-handed game of blame and recrimination, as parents and sons find ways of placing responsibility on one other for the failures and pain of their lives.
As Edmund, Nathan Darrow deals fairly calmly with his diagnosis of tuberculosis, being far angrier at his father for proposing to send him to an inexpensive, state-run sanatorium for a cure. Though, like all the Tyrone men, he drinks to excess, Edmund is, in Darrow’s portrayal, the least damaged of the group. Edmund exhibits sporadic coughing fits, reclines on a sofa sometimes, and speaks of how bad he feels, but Darrow often looks and acts a bit on the hale and hearty side for someone with such a serious disease. His second-act monologue about the wonder of losing his self into the sea and stars while sailing to South America is poetically rendered (as even James notes), with no less energy and beauty of tone than that of a consumptive Puccini heroine’s aria.
The fourth member of the quartet, Edmund’s older brother Jamie, played by Andy Bean, is the drunkest of lot, having long since given way to a corrosive self-hatred that expresses itself in vitriol directed at everyone else. Cynical to his core, he cares only for Edmund, and in his moment of truth warns Edmund of his undying desire to drag Edmund down with him. The final straw in his destruction is his having allowed himself to hope that his mother would stay clean after her most recent stint in rehab. That failing, Bean shows us Jamie aggressively giving up.
While the emotions of the play may be in stark primary colors, the costumes are not. James, Edmund, and Mary are in soft colors, blending with the fog theme: mostly off-whites for the men, a subdued reddish-brown robe for James in one scene, lavender in the case of Mary’s first costume. Jamie is dressed differently from the others, in a dark sport coat at times, emphasizing his status as an outlier even in this unhappy family.
What makes the destruction of the characters even sadder is that there is genuine feeling among them. The parents do care for the children. The brothers love each other. James and Mary have moments of tenderness as they reminisce about their meeting and falling in love. But none of this is enough to be a saving grace. In the end, only Edmund, through his prospective stay in the TB sanatorium, has the opportunity to escape.
This play is, of course, strongly identified with O’Neill’s family history. Given the strength of the acting in this production, however, even someone who had never heard of O’Neill would see distinct and credible characters whose reality would leave a lasting, and melancholy, impression.
Photos by Scott Suchman
- Mary: Helen Carey
- James Tyrone, Sr.: Peter Michael Goetz
- James Tyrone, Jr.: Andy Bean
- Edmund: Nathan Darrow
- Cathleen: Helen Hedmund
- Director: Robin Phillips
- Set Designer: Hisham Ali
- Costume Designer: Susan Benson
- Lighting Designer: Michael Whitfield
- Sound Designer: James Sugg
- Stage Manager: Martha Knight
- Assistant Stage Manager: Marne Anderson
- General/Production Manager: Ian Pool
- Technical Director: Scott Schreck
- Property Master: Chuck Fox
- Master Electrician: Christopher W. Lewton
- Master Sound Technician: Timothy W. Thompson
- Costume Director: Joseph P. Salasovich
- Arena Casting Director: Daniel Pruksarnakul
- New York Casting: Melcap Casting/David Caparelliotis, CSA
Disclaimer: Arena Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7876.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.