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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
at American Airlines Theatre

UNHAPPY FAMILY
By BRIAN SCOTT LIPTON

  Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne/ Ph: Joan Marcus

The breeze blows. The fog rolls in. The recriminations reverberate throughout the Connecticut house, revisiting and replaying the past (and present and future) of the unhappy Tyrone clan – yet another 24 hours of living hell – in Eugene O’Neill’s masterwork Long Day’s Journey into Night, now being given its fifth major Broadway production in 60 years, this time courtesy of the Roundabout Theatre Company (at the American Airlines Theatre).

And just as Leo Tolstoy told us that all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, all productions of this seminal dysfunctional family way rotate on their own axis. Here, in Jonathan Kent’s rather simply staged production, the world of the Tyrone clan clearly spins around its troubled matriarch, the morphine-addicted Mary, brought to blazing life by the magnificent Jessica Lange in a near-operatic performance that practically obliterates everything and everyone around her. (Indeed, the near-hour she’s gone for much of the fourth act, despite the drunken fireworks of the Tyrone men, seems longer just by her absence.)

Lange may not be the most naturalistic Mary ever – her constant changing of vocal pattern and tone is absolutely a demonstration of her well-honed acting technique – but she is the most tragic one I’ve ever seen. When she talks of the life she could have had if she had not married the handsome actor James Tyrone (Gabriel Bryne) and given birth to their three sons (yes, one dead, pointedly named Eugene), you steadfastly wish she had chosen any other course, whether becoming a nun or marrying another man. If you can’t weep for her by the end of these four hours, well, that’s between you and your shrink.

Intriguingly, the Tyrone men – including good-for-little older son Jamie (Michael Shannon) and the unfulfilled, consumptive Edmund (John Gallagher, Jr.) – also engender sympathy in ways I don’t recall from other productions; they’re so obviously the products of nurture more than nature. The extremely fine Byrne, less bombastic and seemingly smaller than other James’ I’ve seen, is still an unrepentant tightwad and man of some paternal cruelty, but he’s also plainly unable to escape both his dirt-poor upbringing and his own decision to stop pursuing the challenges of acting once he settles into a long-run in the same money-making, ever-touring role. (While never named, it’s The Count of Monte Cristo, which O’Neill’s father played over 6,000 times).

Shannon and Gallagher, both fine actors, fare less well in their roles, both seeming way too contemporary for this production (especially in contrast to Lange and Byrne, who seem firmly rooted in 1912). Admittedly, Shannon is riveting in his climactic drunk scene towards the show’s end, but his serial-killer looks and gargantuan stature also make the character seem outwardly scary. (What we need to fear about Jamie is what we can’t see, the black heart inside him.)

Meanwhile. Gallagher is far too hearty for the dying Edmund. It’s the first time I thought the character actually would recover from consumption. Nor does he convey the character’s poetical nature. Even if we are meant to question Edmund’s writing talents, Gallagher fails to even recite poetry particularly well. (Colby Minifie rounds out the five-person cast in the small role of family maid Kathleen, serving up a nicely spirited turn.)

If this Journey, is rarely pleasant, it is nonetheless a required trip for all lovers of serious drama and (in Lange’s case) revelatory performances.

 


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