Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night”
Eugene O’Neill said this play was written with “blood and tears.” He never wanted it to be set on stage. He never wanted it to be published until at least 25 years after his death. This was about his family and his life. It is deeply autobiographical.
Three years after he was gone, his wife sold the play to a publisher. And now we have it. Here, in Brooklyn. With Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville.
What drew me in? Jeremy Irons, of course. Yes, some say he’s creepy. Maybe. I started paying attention to his work years ago. But it was his interpretation of Nabokov’s “Lolita” when he made Humbert Humbert not only a villain but also a victim that turned me into his fan. Also this play was a return to my late teens and early twenties — life is full of returns once children grow up and go — to the great American four: O’Neill, Williams, Miller, Albee. (At this point, only “A Street Car Named Desire” is at the top of my wish list.)
It was quite an experience to find BAM atmosphere the same as the one I once lived in late 80’s – early 90’s in the former Soviet Union when new underground theatre was just coming up to be. “The Zoo Story” on Yugo-Zapadnaya with Avilov, Mrožek’s “Emigrants” and “Tango” in the basement on Krasnopresnenskaya. BAM felt and looked exactly like those basements.
There were moments, these imperfections reminded me of Roman Colosseum and antique ruins of Greece. The seating however was comfortable with plenty of room and an excellent rise so the view of the stage was not obstructed by heads in front in any way.
The antique twist was heavily supplemented with the Russian language and discussion of Russian literature during the intermission. Brooklyn. Of course. This is where my compatriots are filling the void of theatre on which they were raised. Not sure how it is there now, but when I was young, theatre in Moscow was not for the privileged and educated, It was more like bread and butter for all.
Ruin and intrigue. They fit together here so naturally creating a really different vibe much more appealing to me than the brass and polish of Broadway. Considering that public transportation in so easy and prices are more reasonable, I am sold.
Next to me was an elderly lady from Belorussia, now a Brooklynite. She came to BAM, as they say in Russia, to “shoot a ticket.” This is what we do when the tickets are sold out and we go to a theater to take chances in case someone is selling an extra one. Apparently, a man approached her and asked if she was interested to go see this show. She said, of course but she could afford only a certain amount so it depended upon the price. The man handed her a ticket and disappeared without taking money from her. And we were in the orchestra third row. Amazing things happen in Brooklyn!
So here it is. “Long Day’s Journey into Night.” A night in the life of one family. A family of kind, compassionate, smart, and loving people who deeply care for each other. But they are weakened by and drowning in their addictions and maladies and are incapable of helping each other. And they all are miserable because they cannot find their place in life. Tragedy of a small family where illusions are lost. All conflicts are here: husband and wife, parents and children, siblings. Each character has a full blown one-on-one with each other, with ups and downs, insults, blames, love and understanding.
Jeremy Irons is fantastic as James Tyrone, a promising Shakespearean actor in his past, and now dependent on alcohol, tight fisted head of the household. He nickels and dimes on his son’s rehab. He saves on his wife’s treatment going for a cheap doctor, who is the reason she is now addicted to morphine.
Matthew Beard is so believable as the older brother Edmund, an unsuccessful actor, a loving brother who wishes ill on his younger sibling
Rory Keenan is younger brother James fighting TB that his mother doesn’t want to believe he has and his father doesn’t want to splurge on to treat.
And then, there’s Lesley Manning the mother of the family. At 17, she wanted to become a nun and a pianist. But then she met a dashing young actor James Tyrone. “The spring came and I fell in love.” She spent her life following him, living in cheap hotels, and tending to his needs. Now, she’s addicted to morphine.
Someone said that life is a moment between past and future. Their past is over, there’s no future for them and they drown their misery and journey into their past in their morphine and alcohol dreams.
And with all that — you love them. They are good people. It just happened to them.