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'Long Day's Journey Into Night':
Redgrave and Dennehy
With "Long Day's Journey," O'Neill has left us with a searing story of love and hate within an Irish-American family (Link to WGT Shop), a story that begins in hope on a foggy August morning in 1912 and spirals downward into despair, all in the course of one day. This is tragedy at its finest, with words and symbols that scorch their way into our consciousness.
It must be said that this is O'Neill's autobiographical masterpiece, completed in 1941 but not staged until 1956, three years posthumously. Mary and James Tyrone, portrayed by Redgrave and Dennehy, are the middle-aged married couple with two grown sons, Jamie, depicted by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Edmund, played by Robert Sean Leonard. They represent O'Neill's mother and father, Ella Quinlan O'Neill and James O'Neill; and their sons, James O'Neill Jr. and O'Neill himself.
'LDJ' AT A GLANCE
"Long Day's Journey into Night"
Plymouth Theatre Stage Door
Schedule: Through August 31
Monday: No Performance
The drama's plot unfolds with a foghorn and seagulls. Outside the dining room of the Tyrones' only real home, a middle-class summer cottage. Mary and James enter; she complains the foghorn has kept her awake all night. In the first reference that we can attribute to Ireland, we learn from their dialogue that James is a landlord as well as an actor: "Land is land, and it's safer than the stocks and bonds of Wall Street swindlers," he opines.
We also learn that Edmund is sick with what Mary continually refers to as "a summer cold." Jamie, who is older by 10 years, is an educated ne'er-do-well, who plays the ponies and sponges what he can from his father. Mary herself has been ill, and James tells her she must take care of herself. He kisses her, compliments her on her fine figure, and you know that the love between them is as enduring as Connemara marble. Redgrave and Dennehy convince us of this at the outset.
The dysfunctional Tyrones: left to right, Dennehy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Redgrave, and Robert Sean Leonard.
Mary, the lynchpin of this play, is recently returned from a sanatorium, where she received treatment for her morphine addiction. She is strangely remote. Her hands flutter to her hair like birds as she asks if her hair is all right.
Eugene O'Neill's paternal roots (Amazon Link) go back to Tinneranny, Rosbercon, County Kilkenny.
Both O'Neill's paternal grandparents were born in Kilkenny. His grandfather, his father, and six of his seven aunts and uncles we all born in Tinneranny.
Eugene's grandfather, Edmond, brought his family to the New World around the mid-19th century. Edmond must have longed for the "Ol' Dart" though, because he returned to Ireland alone and died there in 1856. Eugene's father, James, and the rest of the family stayed.
James made his acting debut in Cleveland in 1871 in a play titled "Emotional Insanity." He met Eugene's mother, Mary Ann Quinlan, a native of New Haven, Connecticut, in 1873. They went on to have three sons, James, Edmund, and the youngest, Eugene.
The sons' birthplaces are an indication of James' traveling-actor lifestyle. James was born in San Francisco, Edmund in St. Louis, and finally Eugene at Barrett House, at 43rd Street and Broadway, in Manhattan.
Eugene had a son, Shane, and a daughter, Oona, who achieved a measure of fame by marrying comedic genius Charlie Chaplain (Amazon Link). Chaplain was 38 years her senior, and Eugene was not amused, to say the least. He never spoke to Oona again.
As memoir, the play succeeds, as the Tyrones emotionally flay each other; tension builds throughout the play until they are certain that Edmund's summer cold is really consumption and he will have to go to a sanatorium. As theatre history, it gives insights into the 19th century world of James Tyrone, who swears "Shakespeare is an Irish Catholic," even as his sons laugh at him. As social history, this work tells the story of immigration and assimilation of the Irish-Catholic family. Cathleen, the Irish servant girl, played by Fiona Toibin, who has acted at Manhattan's Irish Arts Center, serves as a perfect foil for Mary.
The actors give inspired performances. Redgrave gives us an overwhelming portrayal of an aging Irish Catholic convent graduate who aspired to be either a nun or a concert pianist. Mary is by turns tender with her husband and caring with her sons; the next minute, she shreds Edmund's poetry and throws it at him. From the fog of her addiction, she strikes out at times, both verbally and physically attacking her sons and husband.
Dennehy also presents a devastatingly powerful James Tyrone. He is the Famine immigrant who has had to survive, and for that, he has become a slave to a part that he finds shameful a soap-opera role. He has squandered his Shakespearean talent. He is a
The role of James Tyrone served as a tour-de-force for Jack Lemmon in 1986; this time, the play is much more balanced. While Dennehy is a master at his art, and no stranger to O'Neill, the other actors in this staging are also strong. For this, we have to thank the director, Robert Falls.
Both Leonard as the ailing Edmund and Hoffman as the younger James are spectacular. Both were nominated for Tonys, and it is a shame that neither
Philip Seymour Hoffman
The journey of both humor and pathos takes four hours. At the end, Mary Tyrone comes downstairs from the spare room, and begins to play the piano, hauntingly, offstage. The men decline into paralysis, because they realize they cannot stop her morphine use. No one but Eugene O'Neill, as portrayed by this cast, can hold a full house speechless for that length of time. Do not miss this play. WGT
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