Eugene O'Neill

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The Mailers and Long Day’s Journey Into Night in Provincetown

Reviewed by Yvonne Shafer


Long Day's Journey Into NightTown Hall, Provincetown, Massachusetts, August 15, 2003.

The forthcoming O’Neill Conference in 2005 in Provincetown may seem a long way off, but there is excitement in the lovely seaside town already. And, as usual, O’Neill is getting attention by both Provincetowners and visitors from elsewhere. Outstanding events will take place in the next year and recently a really wonderful event drew an elated crowd to the Town Hall. This was a dramatic reading of Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Norman Mailer and members of his family on August 15, 2003.

To many O”Neillians used to thinking of Mailer in terms of being a novelist, this appearance as James Tyrone may come as quite a surprise. In fact, Mailer has been involved in readings in Provincetown before, and his wife, Norris Church Mailer has only recently resigned her long-time post as artistic director of the Provincetown Repertory Theatre in order to devote her time to writing her second novel. In the reading, she played Mary—coincidentally she is 54, appropriately for Mary Tyrone’s age.

Edmund was played by Norris and Norman’s son, John Buffalo Mailer. He, too, has largely been involved in theatre. He began at the age of twelve when he performed in two plays for the Actors Studio Playwright/Directors Unit. Since then he was a founding member of Back House Productions. Jamie Tyrone was played by Stephen Mailer, Norman’s son. His acting career has been split between regional theatres, New York City productions, television and film. In 1993 he created the role of Lucas Brickman in Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor. In case you thought there were no more Mailers to complete the cast, the role of Cathleen was played by Kate Mailer, another of Norman’s children. She has had extensive experience as a actress in plays she has written, and in Strawhead, written and directed by her father at the Actor’s Studio. She also appeared in Peter Brook’s The Cherry Orchard at BAM.

With all that talent, audiences looked forward to a sensational evening in the theatre. The performance was to benefit the Provincetown Repertory Theatre with tickets at $50 and $150. The gala evening concluded with an elegant private reception following the performance. Audiences in Provincetown are accustomed to such events, including a recent reading of George Bernard Shaw by Mailer and his literary foe Gore Vidal. The audience was composed of long-time residents of Provincetown as well as notables from the publishing and theatre worlds of New York and Boston.

Of course the performance was highly publicized and the Mailers were interviewed regarding their thoughts on O’Neill in general and the play in particular. Norris Mailer said she was glad she hadn’t seen Vanessa Redgrave perform the role as it “would have colored her own interpretation of the play.” Mailer, himself, was full of ideas about the play, describing it as “human” with “not a phony line in the whole play. O’Neill is not dealing with creeps or weirdoes, but with all the pluses and minuses of a family.” He added that it is a “dark play, but not without humor. You always laugh if you recognize yourself or your parents in a character.” The novelist had read and re-read the play and thought it was a good fit for his family. His only misgiving was that at age 80 he was playing a man of 65. Still, he felt he was up to it and could turn out “a touch of the very edge of an Irish accent.”

The performance did not attempt to include the entire play, but selected key scenes, focusing on the later parts of the play. It was viewed not only as a successful event and a fine contribution to the Repertory Theatre, but as a welcome foreshadowing of O’Neill events in the future. Many of the people in Provincetown are already working on the forthcoming conference, as well as working with scholars to who come to Provincetown for research on O’Neill. For example, Stephen Borkowski, whom many of us met in Tours at the recent O’Neill Conference, contributed his efforts to making this evening a success and is looking forward to future events with great pleasure. Leona Rust Egan, a member of the O’Neill Society who has written on O’Neill, also contributed her efforts. In fact, one could say that Provincetown as a whole is working to make the 2005 Eugene O’Neill Conference a memorable occasion in the most appropriate location possible. Even as O’Neill lived in Provincetown, his spirit lives there today as this extraordinary performance of Long Day’s Journey Into Night demonstrates.

Yvonne Shafer is Professor of Speech, Communication Sciences and Theatre at St. John's University, and author of Performing O'Neill: Conversations with Actors and Directors.


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