REVIEWS OF O'NEILL PLAYS IN PERFORMANCE
2. LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, directed by George W. Hayden. Gateway Playhouse, Wareham, MA, June 22 - July 14, 1984.
The Gateway Playhouse production featured an actor, Niels Miller, whose portrayal of James Tyrone, Sr., was as skill-fully crafted as one is likely to see in a lifetime. Thanks to superb technical capabilities, his evocation of Tyrone was as gripping as a picture postcard from hell. His voice had the mellifluence appropriate to the character's theatrical renown, and his deportment had a self-effacing quality of noblesse oblige that soared as grandiloquently as his speech. Miller was (as O'Neill says of Tyrone) "the actor .. in all his unconscious habits of speech, movement and gesture [that] have the quality of belonging to a studied technique." And at the moment when Tyrone "knows now" of his wife's lapse, Miller eroded into the "tired, bitterly sad old man" O'Neill describes. Nothing else in the production approached--nothing could approach--his astonishing, electrifying performance.
Dorothy Taylor's Mary Tyrone deepened as the play progressed. At first she seemed a bit too sure of herself, though this initial confidence made her more interesting. Her morphine-induced "highs" were manifested by a tough nettlesomeness that allowed her to twist the knife in the family's back with tortured relish. Her voice, when she spoke of her past, seemed truly to go backward in time, the past droning into the present. And when she was alone, whispering to herself, one felt as if she had told herself these things a thousand times. As a result, one gained considerable pity for Mary, despite her rueful awareness of all she was inflicting upon her husband and sons. She was at once the object of our execration and our prayers.
Richard Giles managed a sensitive and sympathetic performance as Edmund, bringing to the least developed of the Tyrones the quality he most needs--that of attentive audience for the others' revelations. It is important for Edmund to concentrate, intently, on what the others are saying; and Giles provided some of the most interesting "listening" I have ever seen on a stage. When, for instance, Miller's Tyrone was movingly recounting the woes of his childhood, his love for his mother, and how he had bought "that damned play for a song," Giles was positively riveted. The long day's journey is a "learning experience" for the youngest Tyrone, and this Edmund was a fully attentive student.
As Jamie, Roger Kelly was so bad that one wished that the punches Edmund threw at him hadn't been so obviously "staged." His drunkenness was dreadful, consisting of too much stagger and not enough swagger; and his constantly wavering voice made his long monologue virtually incomprehensible--belying Jamie's intimation that he knows what he is saying no matter how inebriated he becomes.
Fortunately, the play's crushing finale, imperiled by Kelly's gaucherie, was saved by the mother's return and the father's response. Miss Taylor floated into the room, a horrific doll; and Miller's Tyrone held his ground poignantly, his body's pacing a marvel of precision as his self-conscious doze fluttered into awareness at the mention of his name and then retreated again into self-defensive stupor.
A cluttered set and erratic lighting did nothing to help the performers, though a rattan couch and chair were perfect and the taped sound of brooding fog horn and buoy bells, seeming to come from varying distances, created an appropriately littoral atmosphere. Ann Gonzalez' costumes were generally appropriate, especially Mary's dresses and a tie for Edmund that looked like one that O'Neill himself wore in a photograph c. 1912. But Tyrone should have had a real dressing gown, not a flimsy bathrobe; and Jamie--even Kelly's Jamie--should not have worn sleeve garters. No one with Jamie's sartorial meticulousness would ever have disported himself in such a fashion.
In sum, despite its flaws, the Gateway Playhouse offered its audiences a satisfying reading of the play, three-fourths of a fine ensemble performance, and, above all, a Tyrone of depth and grandeur.
--Thomas F. Connolly
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