Menu Bar


Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. XI, No. 1
Spring, 1987



2. LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, directed by Barbara Rosoff. Portland Stage Company, Portland, Maine, February 7 - March 1, 1987.

How gratifying, particularly after the recent Broadway speed-reading of the play, to see a sensitive, unrushed, full-length performance of Long Day's Journey--one that was faithful to the author's intentions and revealed all the strands of the complex web that holds the Tyrone family together in its bittersweet dance of love and hate. Barbara Rosoff, Artistic Director of the Portland Stage Company, provided a touching and gimmick-free reading that went at least partway toward supporting her contention in the PSC newsletter, Prelude, that that particular day marks a turning point in the Tyrones' lives; that the instances of forgiveness wrought by self-revelation justify the belief that "the Tyrones will never again inflict the same kind of pain on each other."

One must note that, of the four, only Edmund, for all his consumption, has a chance for full recovery. James will never escape his parsimony and artistic failure; nor Mary her religious guilts, nostalgic illusions and morphine; nor Jamie his acidic self-loathing and alcoholism. O'Neill was too true a determinist, and knew the family too well (having been a part of its real-life model) to offer many hopes untinged with hopelessness. But Ms. Rosoff may be right; even without melodramatic transformations, it is possible that the combatants' talons may be less brutally wielded next time. I certainly prefer her view to that of Jonathan Miller, who said that the day of the play is just one of an endless string of such days--past and future--and that, since no one listens to anyone else and no advance at all is effected, why not have everybody speak at once!

The set, by Arden Fingerhut. (who also designed the lighting), made effective use of the PSC's high, wide but shallow stage: a busy, rich mélange of colors and textures--woods, wool and wicker. There were two entrances at the audience's left (to the dining room and the front hall-with-staircase) and a third upstage-center (onto a porch that extended the length of the room's lace-curtained windows). Effective use was made by the director of both porch and windows. Two glass-fronted bookcases, oriental area rugs over a shiny mahogany floor: in general, a very faithful response to O'Neill's instructions. Just one touch defied the realistic decor: we could see, not only the base of the staircase in the entrance hall, but its extension above the sitting room wall. So when Mary, for instance, climbed to the spare room, she seemed. in effect, to be ascending above the house. An effective reminder that we were facing a theatre stage, not a New London cottage. The costumes, by Susan Tsu, were faithful to period and character. Particularly fine were Mary's floor-length, lace-trimmed summer dress in the first two acts, and James's scarlet robe and pince-nez in the fourth. Fingerhut, Tsu, and composer Louis Rosen (who provided an unobtrusive score for flute and piano) aided immeasurably in creating a memorable evening.

Of course any production of Long Day's Journey stands or falls on the basis of its actors, who, along with the director, tip the seesaw of guilt and innocence, and of audience sympathy, this way or that. And the PSC's cast was fully capable of the assignment, especially the older generation.

Helen Stenborg was the bitterest Mary I have ever seen. (I missed the Geraldine Fitzgerald performance, which, according to reports, may have been its equal in that area.) Oh, there were moments when Stenborg's Mary aroused our sympathy: she seemed sincerely, even fiercely protective of her "baby" whenever physicians or state farms were discussed; and at moments like the end of Act One, when she was seated alone at the central table, her left hand grasping the lace of her bodice, her right hand frantically kneading the tablecloth as the darkness enveloped her, she revealed an inner vulnerability that evoked abundant pity. But through the evening, as her roving eyes grew more and more roving, the most telling moments were the bitter ones--frequently a sudden shift from tearful candor to gelid façade, as the mask clicked back into place. This Mary, being the toughest, thickest-skinned battler of the four, and seeming quite content with her lot, ultimately earned less pity than any of her three men.

Ford Rainey, true to the nice-guy image nurtured in decades of work in television and regional theatre, was a nice-guy James, put upon by a wife and sons who had let him down all too often. Like Stenborg, he seemed a little old for his role, and his periodic stumbling around did little to suggest either parental authority or theatrical command (James's, that is). And he sometimes reached too hard for pity (ours, that is), especially in his scenes with Mary. But he had splendid vocal power and range, with just enough brogue to reveal James's origins; and in the last act, in the confession duo with Edmund, when declaring his love of Shakespeare and extending the "dreeeeams" in Prospero's line, we caught,, for just a moment or two, the stance and voice of the towering, promising star James Tyrone once had been. Ford Rainey showed clearly why he is one of the best and most respected actors in the American theatre.

As the sons, Paul McCrane (Edmund) and W. T. Martin (Jamie) looked plausibly fraternal. Martin was too neatly clean-cut and proto-preppy for someone supposedly ravaged by intemperate consumption. He succeeded in conveying the aura of the Broadway sport, and was touching in his warmer moments {e.g., the "we're all so proud of you" scene with Mary in Act One); but he failed to catch the diabolic and self-laceratingly sardonic sides of Jamie's character, so his fourth-act monologue had no visceral impact. Paul McCrane shared with Martin a tendency to shout too loud at accusatory moments (usually followed, on McCrane's part, by brooding stares at the floor). But he demonstrated again the extreme sensitivity to language and ideas that he had revealed as Don Parritt in last season's Iceman Cometh on Broadway. Edmund may be the most difficult role of the four to render believable, since his eccentricities are more of the mind than the body, and it's harder to "play" a mystic, intellectual and creative artist than a ham, an alcoholic or a dope fiend. But McCrane brought Edmund's words and feelings to palpable life, making his scene of shared confessions with his father in the last act the highlight of the evening.

Sarah Bedner, a PSC acting intern, completed the cast competently as an unobtrusive Cathleen, representative of that. simpler world where the only threats are the hands of the chauffeur and the tongue of the cook, and in which snoring is a sign of sanity, fog is beneficial to the complexion, and drink is just "a good man's failing"! The Portland Stage Company deserves congratulations for providing its subscribers with a moving, faithful and virtually uncut production of O'Neill's masterwork.

--Frederick C. Wilkins



© Copyright 1999-2007