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Eugene O'Neill - Jessica Lange - Long Day's Journey into the Night

On 1 January 2001, I went to the Lyric Theatre to see Eugene O'Neil's play Long Day's Journey into the Night. I made the mistake of not remembering that this play would not be healthy for me to go see during this stage in my life as I am dealing with my mother's illness. It was a very depressing for me. The play is one of the finest plays in the history of American theatre. I can not argue with that, but this psychological epic centring around the mother's painful decline into morphine addiction while her family disintegrates into physical and spiritual ruin was very straining on my state of mind and weighted heavy on my heart as I was reminded of my mother.

The play takes place in the living room of the Tyrone's summerhouse in New London on a foggy summer's day. It is an autobiographical play where the author faces his own family at war grappling with their demons, life-in the-raw, where the doomed O'Neill's were re-named as the Tyrone's. The author portrayed himself through Edmund in the play.

O'Neill's widow described how the ageing Eugene O'Neill would emerge from the study where he wrote the play gaunt and red-eyed and looking 10 years older than when he went in. That was the effect of remembering his mother who became a morphine addict when it was prescribed for her after his birth. The mere touring actor father who squandered his gifts on inferior work and never fulfilled his dreams although alcoholic son Jamie talks about his father's "famous beautiful voice"; the brother already drinking himself to death and, finally, himself as he succumbed to what might have been terminal TB. Brother Jamie, father James and especially mother are all haunted by the past. They all obsessively try to off-load the guilt they feel onto one other.

Charles Dance, so often appearing in the role of the suave dandy, gives the most unsentimental performance of his life, finding bitterness, toughness, anger in this frustrated character; he even managed to look like the pinched, scraggy-haired Scrooge that his sons accused him of being.

Jessica Lange, the two-time Oscar winner and one of the most acclaimed actresses of her generation, gives an adventurous and surprising performance. In fact, the reason I went to this play was to see her on stage. She has the glazed, brittle smile of the secret addict but is betrayed by her writing hands as well as by increasingly cornered animal looks. When she finally, more or less, admits the humiliating facts she finds plenty of emotional variety in the role and a sensuality that explains why she opted for marriage instead of convert, "I forgot all about being a nun" as she drifts towards oblivion and deep, deep pain. Her performance was riveting and when becalmed and dreamily recalling her first encounter with James, is full of pathos. For all their demons, the story of Mary and James is that of love story.

Simon Higlett's expressionistic staging emphasises the somewhat ghostly feel of that foggy summer's day. You can almost feel the mists clinging to the house. For the curtain call the actors were grouped together upstage like a decorous Victorian family posing for daguerreotype (early from of photograph).

When O'Neill was writing the play in 1940 he was feeling near suicidal - sick, angry with his children and writing with great difficulty. He left instructions that the play shouldn't be published until 25 years after his death and that it should never be performed. Why?Because the play deals directly with his most painful personal matters. Carlotta, his wife, defied her recently deceased husband and sanctioned its premiere in 1956. The following is O'Neill's dedication to his wife: "For Carlotta on our 12th Wedding Anniversary. Dearest, I give you the original script of this play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood. A sadly inappropriate gift, it would seem, for a day celebrating happiness. But you will understand I mean it as tribute to your love and tenderness, which gave me the faiths in love that enabled me to face my dead at last and write this play - write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones. "

Gene.


The cast is as follows: Mary Canavan Tyrone:Jessica Lange James Tyrone :Charles Dance James TyroneJr: Paul Rudd Edmund Tyrone:Paul Nicholls Cathleen:Olivia Colman

Director: Robin Phillips
Producer: Bill Kenwright

 



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