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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. VI, No. 3
Winter, 1982




The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the unofficial collection of almost 500 professional and amateur theatre companies that descend on the Scottish capital each August to supplement (and overwhelm) the much smaller, official Edinburgh International Festival. There are performances virtually around the clock in every playing space imaginable, from church halls to the bus garage. There is everything from Shakespeare to the avant garde; and somewhere on that continuum in the 1982 Fringe was a fifty-minute, two-actor condensation of Long Day's Journey Into Night.

That's the sort of thing that strikes one from the start as A Really Bad Idea; and, indeed, if judged solely as an attempt to squeeze O'Neill's play into a quarter of its usual running time, this version by Kate Harwood for the Floorboards Theatre Company (a London-based professional group) would have to be judged a failure. But as an independent work drawn from O'Neill's play, the way one composer might explore "variations on a theme by" another, it proved an evocative and potentially haunting study in lost hopes and the feeling of being life's victim.

Rather than attempting an abridgement of the plot, Harwood distilled some of O'Neill's recurring concerns into a string of soliloquies by James, Edmund (both played by John Banks) and Mary (Jo Anne Stoner). Roughly, the order of events was this: a short version of the opening scene between James and Mary, James' account of her family and childhood, her bitter denunciation of doctors, his description of his mother, the scene in which Edmund tries to tell her how sick he is, Edmund's fog speech, her memories of wanting to be a nun, and Edmund's reading of "She will not know" counterpointed with her final monologue. (In every case the core scene or speech was cut, rearranged and combined with lines from elsewhere in the play to bring together similar thoughts; the very skillful editing created a generally seamless stream-of-consciousness flow.) Except for the two scenes of dialogue the characters did not interact, although they were at least intermittently aware of each other's presence; one monologue would pick up the thread of thought with which the preceding one had ended, and James' memories of his sainted mother were delivered as a bitter rebuke to the unheeding Mary.

The effect of the cutting-and-pasting, and of each character's general obliviousness to the others, was a picture of three people completely at a loss to explain how their lives had reached the present tragic impasse, aware vaguely that they had once intended things to be different, and bemusedly (without even enough energy for it to be called compulsively) reliving the past in memory with the weak hope of finding where it all went wrong.

Unfortunately Harwood proved less adept as director than as editor, and much of her play's potential failed to be realized in this production. The staging was not quite that of a formal reading and yet not varied or natural enough to suggest an actual play. The actors sometimes seemed unsure whether they should be playing to each other, to the audience, or to their own dreams; and as a result their soliloquies didn't resonate off each other as they were evidently intended to. Jo Anne Stoner had the somewhat easier job, not only because she had only one role, but because most of her speeches were monologues to begin with, and thus flowed a little more naturally; John Banks was unable to indicate any real distinction (other than the removal of a necktie) between James and Edmund.

Still, as I suggested, this study in disorientation and the desire to give some shape to the past is a legitimate gloss on at least part of what's going on in Long Day's Journey Into Night; and Harwood's skillful and sensitive editing created a script that might well prove much more effective in stronger hands, creating an hour of truly moving and evocative theatre.

Gerald M. Berkowitz



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