REVIEWS OF O'NEILL PLAYS IN PERFORMANCE
1. LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, directed by Margaret Booker. Intiman Theatre, Seattle, WA, June 12 - July 7, 1984.
Theatrically, Seattle is very alive, with Intiman, known as "Seattle's Classic Theatre," at the forefront of that city's lively theatre. This summer it brought the Northwest Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, in a production that was somewhat different, rather slick, but not entirely satisfying.
There was a certain overall excellence about the production, especially in the technical area. The sun room of the Tyrones' summer home (scene design by David Potts) worked well in the intimate auditorium, with the suggestion of hallway and front porch on either side of the frame structure outlining the sun room. The lighting (designed by Greg Sullivan), in a play where lighting expresses much about the individual characters, as well as their gloomy progression into the deep night of the family soul, effectively created the mood of the play.
The directorial aspect of the production was not up to its general technical excellence. (Margaret Booker, who established Intiman Theatre in the early seventies, directed.) Some things were subtly changed in the overall picture of the Tyrone family that are not necessarily improvements. The concept of relationships is perhaps the greatest change from the expected. While the script puts about a decade between the ages of Tyrone and wife Mary, Barbara Bain gives the physical impression of a woman who is at least slightly older than her husband, with hair color and style, and makeup that create the feeling she might even have years on her rather jaunty spouse. While in the text Tyrone seems to hold a rather shaky, oftentimes elusive mastery of his strange household, in this production Mary's looks and her bent for a stern sense of command over the family would seem to alter the traditional relationships materially. The problem of the age difference of the pair is further complicated by what appears to be a poor understanding of the play's period: a physical relationship is displayed between Mary and Tyrone that doesn't fit a proper artist and his wife in the early part of the century. They fight, even wrestle; and Tyrone all but floors his wife in one such struggle. Such physicality doesn't seem to fit an older matinee idol whose treatment of his wife of nearly four decades is usually too gentle for her own good; nor does it fit the wife, who is ever concerned lest the boys observe any display of affection on the part of their parents. Another disturbing physical relationship is a scene between Mary and Edmund, in which Mary seems to express something other than motherly affection as she sympathizes with her son in his suffering. These atypical relations are not just different, they are disturbing to the viewer. O'Neill's play, the culmination of nearly a third of a century of learning and practicing his art, is finely crafted and allows little room for change--without the risk of destroying the delicate balance between the characters upon which the play's ultimate effect depends. The Intiman production may not destroy that balance, but it toys recklessly with it.
The weakest link in the Tyrone family chain is Ms. Bain as Mary. Added to the confusing misunderstanding about age is a poor use of voice on Mary's part. She fairly yells at Tyrone, and is totally unconvincing as a desperate woman pleading in her loneliness for inspiration from a Virgin Mary she has all but forgotten. Her prayer, her remorse, seem less than realistic. So, too, her nervousness is affected, even as she tries to prance nervously. Nor does she seem to know the distinction between being drunk and being doped. At the end of the play, she expresses neither the happiness she had felt "for a time," nor the deep sorrow that overcame her at the loss of that youthful happiness. She seems capable of expressing only a kind of ennui.
In addition to the confusion about age and the all-too physical performance--which may have been out of his control--Jack Davidson had some problems of his own as the pater familias. The voice is clear, but not always as impressive as one would expect from a stage idol. On occasion his voice seems to lapse into the brogue he'd rid himself of at the start of his acting career. Generally, his carriage is good, although he doesn't always suggest the stature of the Great Tyrone. In the final act, he exhibits well the effects of a long day's toping.
Bruce Gooch as Jamie is not quite crude enough to deserve all that hatred. He holds his liquor too well, and seems to play drunk rather than be drunk. In the final scene he sometimes delivers his lines so clearly one would think he hadn't a drop taken. As his brother Edmund, Paul Donahoe turns in the strongest performance of the cast. He sounds believably consumptive as he coughs. Whether in anger or self-pity, his voice reproduces the wanted emotion to striking effect. The doting concern the playwright lavished on this autobiographical character Donahoe brings out well, and the ambivalence he expresses toward all the other haunted Tyrones does much to maintain the terrible tension that is that long day's journey.
On balance, Intiman's production of O'Neill's masterpiece, for whatever interpretive weaknesses and even occasional slips in the lines, could hardly be counted a failure. It is simply not the resounding success as conceived and crafted by the author. Above all, it does not create in the viewer the deep emotion that it might. Perhaps it is not a compliment to suggest that a play should leave the viewer very depressed. But what else--in addition to deep pity--could this drama induce? And if it does not evoke these emotions, it can at best only confuse. The Intiman production leaves the theater-goer more empty than depressed. In the final scene, and especially with Mary's final words, the play simply doesn't plunge the audience into the depths of anguish of these pitiable Tyrones.
--Eugene K. Hanson
© Copyright 1999-2007 eOneill.com