Reviwed by John Daly-Peoples
Eugene O ‘Neill, Long Day’s Journey into Night
Auckland Theatre Company
Until July 30
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Eugene O’Neill in his detailed notes describing the living room of the Tyrone family in “Long Day’s Journey into Night” requires that in the centre of the set above a bookcase is a portrait of William Shakespeare. The image of Shakespeare is an indication of the language O’Neill is aspiring to but also pointing out that the Tyrone family is another in the list of great tragic families – the Lears, the Macbeths, the Montagues and the Capulets. *
Shane Bosher’s latest production of the work is a skilful probing of a messed-up family. We live a day and a night with the members of the Tyrone family: James, the brash celebrated alcoholic actor-father, Mary the opium-addicted mother who has just returned from a sanatorium, the rebellious, aspiring alcoholic older brother and Edmund the poetic, sickly younger brother. Through them we explore the self-delusions, lack of communication, guilt and accusations that bind the family together and that threaten to destroy them.
The play draws heavily on O’Neill’s personal history with the three male characters named after his father and the two brothers in a family where death and misery were constant – his own suicidal impulses, and the fact that his father, mother, and brother all died within a four-year period.
Much of the tension in the play is around the family’s suspicions of Mary’s relapse into drug taking and the anticipation of a serious prognosis on Edmunds ailing health.
Each of them characters is self-centred and self-pitying. None seem to know what they want from life but blame the others for their position. They are each in their own cocoons and tip toe around each other. None of them can avoid dragging up the past to try and understand their present as they constantly deny the reality of the tragedies that beset them.
Theresa Healey’s performance as Mary is a remarkable exploration of addiction coupled with a mental condition which means she is unable to connect with the problems of her sons and husband. Mary’s flights of fancy are conveyed by Healey with an almost ethereal presence as she wanders the stage her eyes and hands only tentatively connecting with reality. Her second half soliloquy was tour de force, full of emotional energy
Much of Stephen Lovatt’s performance as James is filled with wry wit and clever observations. He does an exceptional drunken tirade where he includes the incisive and relevant Shakespearean quote from Julius Caeser “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.
He manages to portray the belligerent former actor who desperately tries to hold onto his patriarchal position as he loses the respect of his children and wife His position in the household is continually being subverted, though he frequently succeeds at holding together his collapsing world by sheer force of will as well as a trace of violence
The dying Edmund who Simon Leary interprets as some late nineteenth century Romantic has an interdependent relationship with his mother in which death has links to the past and present. There are some fine scenes of the Mary and Edmund as they explore their tenuous connections.
Edmund and his older brother (Jarod Rawiri) also have some taut exchanges exploring their love / hate relationship which is brought into sharp relief in Jamie’s alcoholic ramble
John Verryt’s set works well sitting on what appeared to be crumbling foundations, this and the mismatched chairs are all metaphors for the disintegrating family. The revolving stage presumably maps out the course of the day and night of the play but it seems to rotate in a random manner and without reason.
There are a couple of fairly potent bits of symbolism – some white lilies displayed on a central table symbolising the funeral state of the family and right near the end Man y dons her old wedding dress which James then cradle like a sleeping / dying infant.
*O’Neill was specific about the books displayed in the bookcase – novels by Balzac, Zola and Stendhal, philosophical works by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche Mark and Engels, plays by Ibsen, Shaw, Strindberg and poetry by Swinburne, Rossetti, Wilde and Kipling.