Sunday, June 2, 2019

+Consider donating to primate causes we support+

Story of an Ethical Vegan - Carlo Alvaro

Veganism is a ubiquitous term today. It is supposed to denote a lifestyle devoid
of animal-based food and all sorts of animal byproducts, such as leather, fur, and more. However, many people, for a variety of reasons, like to toy with the idea of veganism and label themselves as vegans despite their using or consuming animal products. They might as well call it freeganism. Perhaps, one reason is that announcing allegiance to veganism gives one a feeling of superiority, a feeling of being part of some elite group, or makes one feel like a rebel. Many celebrities promote veganism, for one reason or other, and their fans, often following blindly their idols, embrace veganism. On March 3, 2018, for example, Beyoncé had invited her hundred plus million Instagram followers to join her on a “vegan” journey; a year later a New York Times article appeared with the self-explanatory title “Wait – Beyoncé Is Not Actually a Vegan” (Oh, what a surprise!). Many others, confused about nutrition, go vegan on the (false) promise that veganism will make them lose weight. Yet others are motivated by some tenuous or ill-understood moral principles. For example, I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard people parroting Jeremy Bentham’s line “...the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” So, in this age of moral and culinary confusion, many people embark on vegan journeys. But my journey has been a bit different.

One important difference is that when I went vegan – believe it or not – the Internet did not exist yet. There were no vegan celebrities, no graphic YouTube videos showing the horrendous conditions of farm animals, no Instagram, no vegan video recipes, no magazines talking about veganism, and no vegan aisles in supermarkets. In fact, when I went vegan the politics and aesthetics of veganism did not exist. Vegans then were referred to as “vegetarians.” Most important, my moral attitude toward life was, and still is, closer to Aristotelian virtue than to Benthamite utilitarian principles. I was more interested in becoming a compassionate, temperate, just, caring, and magnanimous person than a person concerned about the greatest good, or the greatest satisfaction of preference for the greatest number, or animal suffering or animal rights.

But before I get to the story of when and how I took the “red pill” and became a vegan, I want to make an important premise. I was not born in the United States of America; I was born in Italy. I am not mentioning this fact to brag or to put down the US, but rather to make an important point: the US tops the list of countries that eat the most meat. To be sure, the US is at the top of many lists, including the one of countries with the most obese people. Around 80 million adults and 13 million children (36% of the population!) are obese. The US adopts an aggressive campaign to push consumption of animal products. From “Got Milk?” to “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner,” the government has disciplined people into believing that food equals meat served upon meat. Only in America, the land of fast food, can you find the most unhealthful food in the world. Which country in the world could come up with such bizarrely unhealthful ideas as stuffing the crust of cheese pizza with cheese or to deep-fry butter in lard? Unfortunately, America’s culinary culture has now spread all over the world. However, when I was a boy in Italy, before Burger King and McDonald’s had set foot in the Italic boot, animal products were not omnipresent. Growing up, I recall, my diet was predominantly based on fruit, legumes, grains, and vegetables. Meat and dairy products were not an important aspect of my culture. Yes, of course, when you say “Italy” people immediately think of spaghetti and meatballs, chicken Parmigiana, fettuccini Alfredo, and other such concoctions seen in movies. But those are American inventions. Thus, growing up in a culture that does not literally shove meat down your gullet since birth may help.

Now back to my story: there was a particular event that made me become a vegan when I was only twelve years old. One day, some girls in my school decided not to eat lunch during the break and instead use that time to protest against animal cruelty. I approached them and asked what the commotion was about. They told me that they were against makeup. I wondered why makeup. Our exchange went something like this:

Me: “What’s makeup got to do with animals?”
Girl: “Well, makeup is tested on animals.”
Me: “So? Don’t you guys eat meat?”
Girl: “Yes, but…”
Me: “But what?”
Girl: “Well, it’s not the same thing.”
Me: “Explain why not.”
Girl: “It just isn’t!”

I walked away triumphantly for having exposed those girls, thinking how silly they were. But seconds later, what I said to them made me pause. I knew that what I said to that girl did not affect her, but it made a profound change in my life. I thought that using animals for testing makeup and using animals for food were, morally speaking, the same thing. However, while it was obvious to me that testing makeup on animals was callous, I had never connected the dots before. The following day, I saw those girls in the cafeteria eating ham sandwiches and caterwauling about makeup – nothing had changed for them. I, on the other hand, was a different person ever since – I quit eating animals.

In retrospect, what I find interesting is that I arrived at the conclusion that I had to quit eating animals not on the basis of typical considerations. What I mean by ‘typical’ is that when people go vegan or vegetarian, typically, do so out of love for animals or for health-related reasons. This is not to say that I did not care about the welfare of animals or about my health. I did. However, they were not my primary goals. My approach toward understanding my ethical relation with the environment had to do (and still does) with the question of what sort of person I should strive to become. One of my life’s goals has been to become a noble person. It is hard, but not impossible. In other words, I was not worried primarily about animal suffering; rather, I asked myself what kind of person consumes the flesh and bodily fluids of animals? What kind of individual supports the practices of raising animals for food? It seemed obvious to me that the answer is, “Not a noble person.” A noble person is one who lives simply and refuses to participate in violence or unjust practices. At that stage, I had no formal philosophical education. However, it was very clear to me that animal agriculture is a violent and unjust business. I did not have rigorous arguments to support my ideas of what a good, noble person is supposed to be. That came later in my life, and I will discuss it in a following paragraph.

Naturally, if the story ended there it would be too easy, but it isn’t easy. At that tender age, I was not ready to dedicate my life to my new idea. Moreover, my family members were not exactly supportive. In fact, they did not understand what I was doing at all. As a result of family pressure and peer pressure, about two years later, I abandoned my principles and went back to eating what was considered a normal diet. Forward a few years later, I was in college taking a course in public speaking for which I had to give a persuasive speech about anything I liked. I thought about what topic I could discuss and it suddenly hit me: I decided to give a speech on why we should boycott McDonald’s. I received an A+ for the speech – and I quit meat again. This time I knew I would stick to my principles. Perhaps the process of preparing the speech opened my eyes anew. I realized that animals are, well, animals; they are playful, angry, cute, fluffy, ugly, small, big, smelly, aggressive, docile – but not food for humans. I went home that day and trashed animal products that I had in my apartment, and donated to a homeless man my only pair of leather shoes.

I realized that our behavior toward animals is morally appalling. Considering our stage of intellectual and technological development, we don’t need to raise animals for food. We do not live in the desert or in the Dark Ages. Eating animals and their byproducts is not necessary. Those like us who are lucky enough (lucky?) to live in affluent societies do not need to exploit and kill other beings in order to thrive. We have easy access to plenty of vegetables, fruit, grains, and legumes. These foods are environmentally sustainable and healthful. Yet, nowadays-intensive factory farming is considered a normal aspect of society. But what is normal about killing billions of creatures? Farm animals are reared in cages, separated from their families, cut into pieces, packaged, shipped to supermarkets where they are sold and labeled with funny euphemisms such as beef, pork, drumsticks, eggs, and so on. Sorrowfully, they are just the mutilated body parts of what once were beautiful animals.

Egg farms are horrific too. Since male chicks are not profitable to the industry because they cannot lay eggs, every year, 200 million baby chicks are ground up alive. Workers separate male chicks from females and toss the males into a chute where they are ground up alive in a meat grinder into a bloody pulp. Speaking of birds, turkeys are artificially inseminated. By “artificially” I mean that there are people whose job is to collect sperm cells from a male turkey (I’ll let you imagine how) and manually deposit them into the reproductive tract of a female. (Try bringing up artificial insemination of turkeys during your next Thanksgiving dinner!)

At this point, I became deeply interested in the subject. I started wondering why people eat meat. It is a complicated question. One’s diet, like many other aspects of life, traditions, beliefs, and customs, is seldom considered or questioned. I don’t think I am a conspiracy theorist when I say that in our society we are not exactly encouraged to think for ourselves. Quite to the contrary, we are taught to always accept and never question the status quo. In most cases, people eat meat because their parents taught them to do so. And of course, people enjoy eating meat. However, there are two interesting aspects of this: first, I often wonder whether it is eating animal flesh that people really enjoy. Take any mutilated part of an animal, boil it and serve it on a plate. I am willing to bet that most people would refuse to eat it. Eating meat is not like eating cherries or mangos. Meat must be prepared with spices, marinated, cured, smoked, and cooked because, after all, it is rotting flesh. Second, people enjoy all sorts of things that are unnecessary, such as drinking, gambling, smoking, and taking drugs. But my question is, “Is that the way a good and noble human being is supposed to live?” The practices required to produce animal-based food are less than noble; they involve the worst vices of which human beings are capable, such as callousness, gratuitous violence, injustice, intemperance, and smallness of soul.

Another reason people eat meat is that they say, it is “natural.” By natural, I take it, it is meant that human beings are somehow “designed” by nature or by God to eat animals or that eating meat is the cycle of life. Considering that most people in affluent societies buy conveniently packaged meat in supermarkets, it is not clear what they mean by “the cycle of life.” Rather, it is the cycle of supermarkets. Also, human beings are not animal eaters. I just cannot imagine how anyone could observe cows, pigs, chickens, lambs, cats, dogs, and other animals in their natural environment, and find them appetizing. Think of a chicken scurrying on the grass or a pig enjoying a mud bath or a cow chewing grass. Such creatures may be considered cute or funny or gross, but not appetizing.

I find it interesting that animal rights advocates argue that eating animals is wrong because animals suffer. I agree that animals suffer and causing gratuitous suffering is wrong. But what if we discovered that animals do not suffer at all? What if Descartes was right in saying that animals behave like, but are not, sentient creatures? This is where my attitude toward nature differs from the attitude of many animal ethicists. I do believe that sentience is important, but it’s not the principal factor. I would not eat or use animal products even if it were discovered that animals do not feel pain. Rather, I would still avoid such products because the actions and practices required to produce them are bloody, violent, unnecessary, unaesthetic, and deleterious to our health.

My ethical relationship with the environment made me reflect upon the purpose of my life on this planet. The world has been conquered and nature dominated by humans. In so doing, humans have killed not only other humans but also animals and destroyed the environment. So, I changed my attitude toward animals, acknowledging that they are not our property or food. I don’t even worry about whether they can suffer or whether they have rights. I believe it is unvirtuous to exploit and kill animals or destroy nature. Modern life alienates us from nature and gives us the illusion that we are here to dominate the world. In my journey to veganism, I realized that humans are the guests on earth, and not the hosts. The notion of using animals for food and other purposes became clear to me. I realized that it is the world’s greatest injustice. Thus I decided to stop eating animal flesh, to cease using animal by-products, and to shun all products obtained through animal testing. Those who fail to treat animals and the whole environment with respect are certainly less than fully virtuous. They fail to be admirable individuals, and they exemplify a variety of vices. In particular, using animals for food evinces indifference to the value of nature, ignorance, and self-importance. It evinces lack of humility, and a sense of beauty. In short, animal exploitation is a failure at human excellence.

In 2015, I began thinking about my experience and my journey and all the research on environmental science and the science of nutrition I had done, and began writing my first book, Ethical Veganism,Virtue Ethics, and The Great Soul (Lexington Books, 2019), which discusses in details how embracing an ethic of virtue naturally leads to ethical veganism. I also discuss how most of the so-called modern ethical systems (utilitarianism, deontology, rights theory) force us to view the morality of our relationship with animals in terms of duty, rights, or maximization of utility. No wonder that typical discussions of animal ethics focus on the rights of animals or the duty of humankind. What I offer is to reevaluate this dichotomy and show that the most profitable way to talk about how we ought to treat animals is to look ourselves in the proverbial mirror first and realize that the most basic virtues show us that we should be or become vegans.

Is this the end of the story? No, it isn’t! For many years, believe it or not, I never was concerned about the health aspect of veganism. As I said, I went vegan because I believe that it is the only noble way to live. In 2013, I started toying with the idea of going completely raw, that is, eating only food in its raw state, nothing cooked. At first I experimented raw veganism off and on. It was not until the beginning of 2017 that I went completely raw. Eating directly the food that nature makes is the best possible diet for human beings. What I mean by raw may be different for another person. My approach to raw veganism is to eat only salad and fruit. I do not consume tea, coffee, alcohol, nuts, seeds, sugar or salt.

Cooking food changes its molecular structure – and not for the better. It destroys nutrients, creates acrylamides and other carcinogenic substances, and denatures proteins, which leads to many problems. Just to mention one problem: Leukocytosis is an increase in the body of white blood cells. This occurs as a reaction to inflammations or infections. In other words, when the body detects a threat, as a response it produces more white blood cells. This obviously does not happen when we eat fruit and salad. However, it does happen whenever we consume any type of cooked food. There is a wealth of scientific research showing that cooked food – vegan or not – shortens our lives. Another interesting fact is to consider that humans have been around for about 200,000 years (not to mention that human-like creatures have been around for millions of years). During this time, no significant change occurred to our digestive system that equipped us for digesting cooked food. Thus, considering that human beings are evolved creatures, adapted to their environment, it is obvious that there is a diet that is specific and optimal for our species. Cooking food is a relatively new practice for humans. For the longest time, humans have eaten fruit and tender leafy greens. This is a scientifically documented fact – humans are frugivores. Consequently, cooking food is in no way beneficial to human health. The only benefit is that it provides easy calories by heat-processing food that otherwise would be indigestible. I don’t want to get too technical here; and I don’t want to reveal too much because this is the topic of my next book, whose title speaks for itself, and that is, The Human Diet.

Such is my journey to veganism. It is a great accomplishment for me to live this way and having raised three children to be vegans since birth. I have no desire to eat animal products. Even if in the future scientists discovered that animals don’t feel any more pain than rocks, I would still not be interested in consuming animal food. I do not see meat and animal products as food that I chose not to eat. Rather, I do not see animals as food in the first place. About being a raw vegan, initially I had the desire to eat cooked food. However, today I regard cooked food the same way I regard animal-based food – not for human consumption.

Finally, I learned one important lesson from my journey: it takes years of deep philosophical and moral reflection to realize what I have realized. Those vegans who condemn meat eaters should think about this. They should be more understanding because becoming a vegan often requires going against the grain, against the status quo, against one’s deepest beliefs, against one’s upbringing, against one’s social life, and against one’s culture. For these reasons, I do not criticize or judge or attempt to change meat eaters. Rather, I tell others about my moral journey to veganism by teaching, lectures, writing articles and books. In other words, instead of telling people what they’re doing wrong, I tell them what I have done right in the hope that they will join me in my endeavor to make the world more compassionate and realize that animals are friends – not food.

- Carlo Alvaro, Ph.D. teaches philosophy at New York City College of Technology, CUNY, and elsewhere. You can purchase his book, Ethical Veganism, from Amazon here. Better yet, the book is available at a 30% discount if ordered directly from the publisher with code LEX30AUTH19 here.

Copyright©2019 by Carlo Alvaro – All Rights Reserved

Saturday, May 4, 2019

"South Africa" by Vaneshran Arumugam

“South Africa”
          by Vaneshran Arumugam

This land
Cradle of Human
Kind mother of the richest mine
Our mind

Split contents
Spilt continents
Her world-womb still nourishing far beyond her shores

Our Land Mother’s labour flows in our veins,
blood rivers,
Hearts pumping the songs of heroes to the world
Amandla ngawethu!

power is the people

Herstory is ours
with drama and action replete
always culminating
never complete

Now we parent the future
Voicing the possibilities of a woken-up world
with wider eyes open
and the trill of an impassioned ululation

Sing the song of Peace
of all our prosperity
the song of our purpose
our Mother
if it be not now, yet it will come.

Copyright©2019 by Vaneshran Arumugam – All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Spirit Ascending - Poet Nina Carey Tassi

[Go here to see a video and hear Nina Tassi reading her poem Nocturne.”]

My awakening—the discovery that I belong in this world as a poet—arrived by a circuitous route, starting in first grade when I dreamed up wild tales to entertain my three younger sisters. By nine, I wrote and starred in plays on Joan of Arc, Catherine of Siena, and Hansel and Gretel; at ten, my sister Patsy sent my story, “Inner Happiness,” to Collier’s magazine (gently rejected). All my school years I wrote class skits, stories, even a pageant with a cast of a hundred.

After college and marriage, academic writing consumed decades as I pursued an M.A. and Ph.D. in English, then slid straight into college administration and endless stacks of dry reports. Along the way, I became mother to three children and faced round the clock demands: up at six, down at midnight, no time for the muse.

As the children grew, so did my desire to write creatively. I tried local journalism, but found it superficial and formulaic. Fiction drew me, but an agent advised that non-fiction was easier to publish, so I wrote Urgency Addiction (1991), about time pressures in America. This book sold well, but left my creative urge untapped. I began musing about Nathaniel Hawthorne, subject of my doctoral thesis; images of ancestral sins and passions rose up and led to my novel, The Secret Diary of Cotton Mather. Many publishers nibbled, but none bit, which helped me see that what engaged me was my characters’ passions, not their long stories. Yet poetry didn’t come calling.

That changed in 1994. Eugenia Collier, English chairwoman at Baltimore’s Morgan State University, hired me for their new creative writing program. She sent me, over my protests, to New York University for a workshop taught by poets Lucille Clifton, Sharon Olds, and Galway Kinnell. Amazingly, they converted me. I’d plunged into the depths, tasted the sweet darkness, never wanted to leave it. I seized every possible moment to write poems.

My creative energy, though, was needed elsewhere. Morgan State being an historically black university, my students’ heritage was African American; that beat was in their souls. Rather than teach them English/American prosody, I read with them Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Lucille Clifton, Alice Walker, listening deeply to the cadences in my students’ lives. I didn’t choose their subjects, impose rules, but tried to hear their voices, help them speak their truths. As they bared their hearts, their suffering, unearthed ancestral memories, a surprising transformation took place in me: I discovered my own beat, re-learned how to consider rhythm, meter, lines and stanzas; free verse took on new meaning.

In that rich period, I wrote my first real poems. On a month’s vacation in Rome, I finally had the leisure to open the door to myself and see what was there. Without conscious intent, I brought to bear my whole spiritual and literary background. Through the voices of Biblical characters, medieval saints, and early Puritans, my poetic identity emerged—from which all my poems have since come to light. “Six Rome Poems” I named them: “The Tenderness of Jeremiah,” “The Dreams of Joseph,” “Elizabeth and Mary,” “Caterina and Teresa,” “Catherine’s Tomb,” “Anne Hutchinson in America.” Their themes mirrored mine—marriage and motherhood, suffering, spiritual aspirations. All were published, followed by “St. Ann’s Knowing,” in 1999.

I’d found my path rather late, but felt sure-footed now. To my delight, the literature I had loved in college and graduate school sprang into service: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Keats, Wordsworth, Homer, Sophocles and Aeschylus, as well as Lucretius and Catullus—searing writers who had waited patiently deep in my memory. The great novels I’d read when my children were young (letting laundry and dust mop go) returned like an underground stream: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Willa Cather’s My Ántonia.

In August 2000, I proposed for my sabbatical project a book of poems that would merge my professional, spiritual and creative selves: Dreamers, Mystics, Prophets. But fate intervened. In November 2000, my husband was diagnosed with advanced esophageal cancer, and died two months later. Shattered, emotionally paralyzed by grief, I couldn’t write a word of poetry.

Needing to flee, I visited my sister in Brazil, where I walked the streets compulsively day and night until I could accept that my husband was gone. Yet I couldn’t bear to stay in Baltimore, where we’d raised our children, where memory assaulted me at every turn. Within a year, I moved to New York as an associate vice president at Fordham University, and soon got a chance to go to China for a month. In this vast and beautiful new world, my poetic self revived. I began to visualize larger spiritual themes, embodied in “Daughters of Beijing” and “Tibetan Boy.”

When I consider how profoundly travel has influenced my poetry, it amuses me to recall my spur-of-the-moment trip to Antarctica, where I found myself entranced. Before trip’s end, I asked my friend, Pat Roach, to collaborate on a book of her photos and my poems. I conceived of Antarctic Visions (2011) as a hymn of praise to the Creator for this majestic white continent, and included poems on early explorers Ernest Shackleton, Robert Scott, and Roald Amundsen.

An even closer collaboration developed in Colorado when a lifelong friend, Myrna Nabors, brought her sister, painter Jeanine Malaney, and me together for a weekend. As we explored how faith in God and love of Nature nourished us, an artistic kinship formed; soon Jeanine was designing The Jeremiah Tree (2011), a full-color book of her paintings and my poems.

Then a remarkable poet entered my life—almost by chance. After an editor noted that my Biblical poems reminded her of midrash, which I’d never heard of, I found Alicia Ostriker in New York and joined her workshops on poetic midrash, a technique she adapted from rabbinical analysis. Alicia ushered me into the depths of Moses, Miriam, Zipporah, Sarah, and Naomi, who appeared in my next poetry collection: Spirit Ascending (2016).

When Light & Glory (2018) was published, my daughter Marguerite, a Shakespeare scholar, wrote to me: “The book covers so much of your life, even before birth, and carries on through your travels around the world to the present. The circular image of the eclipsed sun [on the cover] seems to represent so well your coming full circle through the dark with light always present. Loved the Odysseus poem—that’s certainly a full circle epic! It is a tremendous thing to find the words to make such beautiful poems!”

Her praise delighted me, but even more her insight, which had eluded me. I do have a sense of having come full circle. In my grief poems of losing the man who had been my other self since I was eighteen, one part of my life ended. Now I feel newly grounded in poetry, my spiritual and creative selves united at my core. I imagine the poems yet to be written as arrows shooting straight toward unknown places. I am braced, ready.

The title of my work in progress, Love Songs to God, “dropped down on me,” as my other titles have. I tried to dismiss it as entirely too daunting. Of course, much of my poetry has risen from religious feeling. What did I expect? I go forward with what the muse sends me. My new poems continue to spring from characters who stop me in my tracks. Whether ancient or modern, local or distant, real or imagined—doesn’t matter. I take on the persona, move into darkness. While my imagination is realistic in that I’m not interested in fantasy or science fiction, at the same time I love not being constrained by facts or chronology, time or space. Only an inner coherence is needed. Maybe this explains why poetry is my true home.

Suffering figures largely. Why are we cruel to one another? Are we getting more depraved through lies, greed, rage? Or do we simply seem worse, since technology lets us see everything horrible at once? How can a loving God allow human suffering? Two poems in early form are emerging from opposite human extremes. “Grace” began as a photo in The New York Times of a girl severely maimed by soldiers’ machetes. “Annunciation” originated in an image of the Virgin Mary as a stocky peasant girl in a picture book of roadside shrines in Italy. What they have in common to reveal remains a mystery—the most compelling feature of poetry for me.

Ideas for poems come easily, out of nowhere, on the wind—as an image, a phrase, an intriguing memory. A genuine poetic idea, as opposed to a flitting thought, strikes suddenly: a small, insistent spark, followed by intense, sustained effort. Recently I heard myself say to a friend, “Your words were like a balm from Gilead.” I knew it signaled a new poem, but where did I get that? Memory brought up opera stars Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman, singing the spiritual, “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” then Jeremiah the prophet appeared, followed by Joseph and his brothers, all inhabiting the same space: a hot desert. The poem, as rarely happens, flowed from my mind almost ready-made— the genre: ancient lament; the theme: slavery in Egypt, Africa and America. The meters and stanzas move along unevenly, the pace imitating the poem’s internal progress.

Technique has become an intense focus, a painstaking, dauntless effort to build the parts of a poem into a whole. I’ve always worked in free verse (knowing it isn’t free), which means I can consult the entire range of poetry in English to find the right form for a poem. I’m not a theoretician, but I think Robert Frost’s expression is perfect: the sound of sense, the sense of sound. I tend to feel my way through a poem like a blind person. In composing, I’m always listening, feeling, trying out combinations of words that perfectly match the poem’s action. Rhythm, rhyme, meter, all the devices, are present, but not in an obvious, traditional pattern. I also take into account the weight of words, as Latin and Anglo-Saxon metrics did. Sounds matter not only as rhymes (mate and relate) but as carriers of feeling and meaning: care and fair convey different moods from lake and quake, entirely apart from denotations and connotations. Like a family, every word depends on all the other words. There’s the challenge.

At my best in the morning, I sit down at my desk to write after breakfast and a workout at the gym, then write on the computer for a solid three to five hours. I schedule everything else for later. If I miss a day, or am dissatisfied with a session, I work on weekends. I’m never happier or more alive than when totally immersed in writing. The world and its cares are blessedly removed from me, as I am somehow removed from myself, and only the thing, the poem-in-the-making, exists. True bliss! Near my computer I keep this lyric by my poetic soulmate, although she is at her best in the evening:


When at night I wait for her to come
Life, it seems, hangs by a single strand.
What are glory, youth, freedom, in comparison
With the dear welcome guest, a flute in hand.

She enters now. Pushing her veil aside,
She stares through me with her attentiveness.
I question her: ‘And were you Dante’s guide,
Dictating the Inferno?’ She answers: ‘Yes.’
---Anna Akhmatova

In trying to perfect a poem, I tend to over-edit, finding to my dismay that I’ve squeezed the life out of a fragile creature. As a safety net, I make a list of “discarded lines,” and often rescue my best lines. My desire to write the best possible poems calls for fresh language—so difficult, as clichés usually pop up first. But I want to be accessible too. I don’t write to impress other poets, but simply to move readers to apprehend truth and beauty. When my sister says, “It gave me the shivers,” or a friend comments, “That brought me to tears,” I feel that’s a good sign. What I love most (after the writing) is to read my poems aloud to others and to feel an electric connection between us.

My own favorite poems are those I’ve not yet written. In finding a marvelous new poem by another poet, I’m inspired to try harder, trust my imagination, believe that better poems are still to come. If I have any regrets, it is that my novel, The Secret Diary of Cotton Mather, was stillborn. I’ve re-written the deathbed stream of consciousness in the last chapter into a long poem and included it in Light & Glory as “Cotton Mather’s Last Conversation with God.”

Much as I love the solitude of writing, I’m happy to have a support group of two poet-friends with whom I exchange drafts of poems, which we critique—honestly but not ruthlessly. I also belong to Poets @St. Paul’s, a group of New Yorkers led by Father Tom Holahan, a priest/poet; we meet monthly to read and respond lightly to one another’s work.

For pleasure and camaraderie, six of us discuss a work of fiction monthly. Recently we enjoyed Amos Oz’s Judas, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex. On my nightstand is a stack of non-fiction for myself: Amos Oz’s memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America, Timothy Egan’s The Immortal Irishman, and Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire.

Again and again I return to my most-loved poets: Pablo Neruda, William Butler Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Robert Frost, Joseph Brodsky, Stanley Kunitz. Now I’m reading poets who stay near me as “spirit friends” for my poems-in-progress: St. John of the Cross, Anna Akhmatova, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Celan and some mystics (ed. Scott Cairns, Endless Life: Poems of the Mystics).

I feel that my poetic identity is prophetic, and was always so. A prophetic poem doesn’t predict anything, as I understand it. Rather, such a poem is closely related to the heartbeat, as a child in the womb takes comfort in its mother’s heartbeat. In fact, the poem is a heartbeat that reflects and is in harmony with the universe. It has to do with that ultimate movement which undergirds the cosmos. The prophetic identity of a poem is its pulsing microcosmic imitation of the action that is being, as I believe Aristotle meant about theater. It is sure of resting in being. Like a prism, it reflects, all at once, what was and what will be: the eternal is. The thing is to make that prism into a small gem of a poem. I know this is an impossible aim for my fragile beings. But why else would I be a poet?

My website:

Poetry books: The Jeremiah Tree (2011); AntarcticVisions (2011); Spirit Ascending (2016); Light & Glory (2018).

Copyright©2018 by Nina Carey Tassi

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Long Day's Journey Into Night - Review by Timothy V. Dugan

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT By Eugene O’Neill; Bristol Old Vic/BAM Harvey Theater, Brooklyn, New York. Starring Jeremy Irons as James Tyrone, Lesley Manville as Mary Tyrone. Directed by Richard Eyre. Opening night, May 8, 2018. Performance run: May 8-27. Closed.


Eugene Gladstone O’Neill is, arguably, America’s most accomplished and decorated playwright, equal in stature to redoubtable modern dramatists such as Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Pirandello and Shaw. O’Neill’s searing family drama, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, is argued in commercial, academic and black-box theater to be his signature work—a “best play”, so to speak; he is also argued in the academy (the august Nobel committee, for example) to be commensurate with American Nobel laureates such as Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. O’Neill was awarded a Nobel in 1936. Accordingly—axiomatically—since O’Neill is our foremost dramatist, and Long Day’s Journey his foremost dramatic expression, Long Day’s Journey Into Night is coincident with (for comparison’s sake) time-honored masterpieces such as The Master Builder, Miss Julie, The Cherry Orchard, Six Characters in Search of an Author, and the sublimely adapted comedy, Pygmalion. Summative to O’Neill’s place in the cosmos is that Long Day’s Journey Into Night, as seamlessly produced and performed on the stage of the BAM Harvey Theater by the Bristol Old Vic theater company, is the essential piece of dramatic art in the American theater canon: the best of the best. Viewed holistically then, a luminous production of an O’Neill magnum opus, by a credentialed theater company such as Bristol Old Vic, at a legitimate 800-seat art house such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music/BAM Harvey Theater, is a seminal repertory experience that Broadway entrepreneurs and even reputable Off-Broadway venues rarely get the opportunity to underwrite. BAM, as we know it and patronize it, is the exception. BAM is welcoming to the exclusive, the obscure and the bleeding edge. As such, the BAM/Bristol production of O’Neill’s definitive play is not a “limited run” per se, but, rather, a three-week twenty-one performance anthropological dig that will live on in newspaper and literary archives, virtual forms, and—perhaps most importantly—oral histories and traditions. To borrow a familiar coin from the read-guard Paris boulevard critics, this production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a téâtre libre, a “happening”—a formative theater event that raises the watermark for American, North American [1] and English-speaking repertory evolvement. Over the course of this guided discussion I will prove or, perhaps, disprove, the authenticity of this melancholic, if prevailing O’Neill masterpiece in context to the BAM Harvey/Bristol Old Vic production.


“Against the wall between the doorways is a small bookcase, with a picture of Shakespeare above it, containing novels by Balzac, Zola, Stendhal, philosophical and sociological works by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Marx, Engels, Kropatkin, Max Stirner, plays Ibsen, Shaw, Strindberg, poetry by Swinburne, Rossetti, Wilde, Ernest Dowson, Kipling, etc.” [2] (LDJ 717)

“Farther back is a large, glassed-in bookcase with sets of Dumas, Victor Hugo, Charles Lever, three Sets of Shakespeare, The World’s Best Literature in fifty large volumes, Hume’s History of England, Thiers’ History of the Consulate and Empire, Smollett’s History of England, Gibbon’s Roman Empire and miscellaneous volumes of Old plays, poetry, and several histories of Ireland. The astonishing thing about these sets is that all of the volumes have the look of being read and reread.” (LDJ 717)

Long Days Journey Into Night is so well crafted as to seem formless in this BAM/Bristol rehabilitation. The sine-wave of this convulsive “at-home” cottage play climbs, dips and prevaricates according to purpose. For example: a blistering father/son dispute on the gathering detritus of Nietzsche, Swinburne and Karl Marx volumes in the family library; or a morphine-induced oration by Mary Tyrone, the high strung family matriarch; or, perhaps, a moribund theater anecdote by James Tyrone, a self-deluded doyen of the post-Civil War Broadway-theater movement—a minor doyen, but a doyen nonetheless. The backdrop and the fulcrum of these rancorous and mood-driven soliloquies and dialogues are the personal libraries and letters of James Tyrone, the affable Irish stage actor and family patriarch, and Edmund Tyrone, his handsome, black-haired, bookish, tubercular younger son. The hue and tenor of their slash and burn exchanges are histrionic to say the least, but conducted in reasonably good faith. Malice is not necessarily their forte. Here’s a compression of Old Man Tyrone’s bombastic and funny tirades in the early-goings of O’Neill’s drama:

“Morbid filth! Where the hell do you get your taste in literature? Filth and despair and pessimism! Another atheist, I suppose. […] It’s madness, yes, if you’d get on your knees and pray. When you deny God, you deny sanity […] Where you get your taste in authors—That damned library of yours! […]  Voltaire, Rousseau, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Ibsen! (LDJ 798-799).

Almost laughably, O’Neill’s father/son dog fights are so scattered in theosophy as to seem pointless, beyond recompense; equally, at other moments in this New London family chestnut these vituperative “dialectics” seem uncontainable, a road to nowhere. Again, for example: the consumptive Edmund hacking and hyperventilating in the midst of a disjointed card game with his father; or the yapping, hectoring polluted Jamie coiled fetus-like on a davenport couch that seems to have no other utility but to pass out on. Understandably, the couch is Jamie’s asylum and daybed. Dramaturgically, the first two acts of Long Day’s Journey are a compilation of asthmatic interludes, invectives and well-spoken non-sequiturs. They’re endless and mindless, fascinating to listen to, but grueling and constricting to watch. And both father and son embrace and “live-in” their well-timed, well-rehearsed poetry slams. Byron and Baudelaire are, typically, go-to writers for Jamie and Edmund, Shakespeare, of course, is the default writer for Old Man Tyrone. Regardless of their vitriol or cleverness, these literary and theosophical intermezzos have a meaningful endgame: the reclamation and recovery of tribal and filial piety. Organizationally and dramaturgically then, incessant quoting, portentous toasting, consumptive coughing, and artful, if begrudging literary arguments are dramaturgical strings that O’Neill—a meticulous story-boarder and an equally meticulous scene designer—uses to tease-out a confining, but egalitarian literary colony. This grousing, quoting, swilling Father/Son dyad is the central aspect of the BAM/Bristol production and is sustained with measured understatement by Jeremy Irons (James Tyrone) and his very able stage coefficient, Matthew Beard (Edmund Tyrone). Where it would be very easy for Irons and Beard to shout “tour de force!” in the heat of their quotidian verse, both performers stay at home and stay the course.


“From a lighthouse beyond the harbor’s mouth, a foghorn is heard at regular intervals moaning like a mournful whale in labor, and from the harbor itself, intermittently, comes the warning ringing of bells on yachts at anchor.” (LDJ 772)

Incessant bickering, infernal language, and the constant din of the Tyrone clan bitch-slapping one another conjures earlier O’Neill prototypes such as Con Melody of Touch of the Poet, Hickey of The Iceman Cometh, Eyre Smith of Hughie, and the delirious, uncouth, fly-ridden Jim Tyrone of Moon for the Misbegotten—to name a few. All of the above-mentioned alpha males are a point of departure for the five fulminating characters in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Habitually, almost as a point of honor, no one in Monte Cristo Cottage (the elegant, if ironic moniker for the Tyrone summer home)—not even the whiskey-imbibing Irish maid, Cathleen, is capable of shutting down, exhaling noiselessly, putting a damper on the backbiting, the obligatory apologizing, and the unbearable gaffs that follow-on these family beat-downs. Here’s “stupid” Cathleen (Jessica Regan) a well-meaning housekeeper and confidante of the maledicted Mary Tyrone (Lesley Manville) violating the Tyrone family contract by way of a déclassé faux pas concerning Mary Tyrone’s compulsion issues. Note the redundancy of O’Neill’s “stupidly puzzled” parenthetical stage note for the purposes of impressing on the reader/performer Cathleen’s doltishness:

CATHLEEN—(stupidly puzzled) You’ve taken some of the medicine [the morphine]? It makes you act funny, Ma’am. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you a drop taken. (LDJ 772+).

This is just the beginning of an impenetrable, fragmented conversation between the low-born, indentured Irish immigrant Cathleen and the pampered Mary, but is one of the few moments in the drama where there is no grinding agenda. The word “agenda” is the operative word because usually for Clan-O’Neill there’s always something boorish to chime-in, something caustic or highly insulting to add to the mix, or someone to admonish or “one-up”, but this Master/Servant intimacy is, for the moment, not one of those moments. Throughout the first 90 minutes of the BAM/Bristol production the dispirited, shout-out, dialogue spirals downward, never reversing, retracting, slowing down or correcting itself; like a helical spire on the precipice, the O’Neill mélange is always in danger of spinning out of control—of flying off the proverbial handle. Nothing can bring equilibrium to the Tyrone family settlement because reclamation and recovery are unthinkable and unobtainable. Oddly, the only firewall separating the brawling Tyrone family is the opioid-induced night-walking and occasional day-tripping of the wasted matriarch, Mary Tyrone. Like a family with a colicky baby in the house, the Tyrone tribe tiptoes around “Mother,” a closeted intravenous-arterial narcotic injector, until she implodes in her bedroom or settles in for the night with the syncopated foghorns pulsating and “moaning” off Long Island Sound [3]:

MARY— (amused—girlishly) That foghorn! Isn’t it awful, Cathleen?
CATHLEEN—it is indeed, Ma’am. It’s like a banshee (LDJ 772).

The so-named banshees (mournful feminized ghosts in Irish myth) are ceaseless and punishing for Mary. They return every evening with the ebb and flow of the North Atlantic to remind her it’s time to walk the walk, to fulfill her pact with the devil, to make herself “right” with her mind-numbing pain killer of choice: unadulterated, legal, pharmaceutically prepared World War I-era morphine. Again, here’s the contiguous conversation of Mary and Cathleen in the opening scene of Act III. Mary is waxing philosophic while in the throes of a morphine rush, and is attended by the tippling housemaid, Cathleen, who is well into her cups [her liquor]. Mary’s rejoinder to Cathleen about the side-effects of her nightly morphine fix is blunt-edged and unapologetic:

MARY—I don’t mind it [the foghorn] tonight. Last night it drove me crazy. I lay awake worrying until I couldn’t stand it anymore.
CATHLEEN—Bad cess to it […]
MARY—(dreamily) It wasn’t the fog I minded, Cathleen, I really love fog.
CATHLEEN—They say it’s good for the complexion.
MARY—It’s the foghorn I hate. It won’t let you alone. It keeps reminding you, and warning you, and calling you back.
CATHLEEN—(stupidly puzzled) You’ve taken some of the medicine? It makes you act funny, Ma’am. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you a drop taken.
MARY—It kills the pain (LDJ 772+).

Ninety-nine percent of O’Neill’s withering dialogue, parenthetical stage-notes, and convoluted stage directions in this elliptical imbibing scene denote foghorns. One percent denotes morphine. A lesser writer would reverse the numbers, but the focus on mood, sonic effects and healthy skin instead of malediction gives the scene a macabre twist that veers straight into Mary’s shocking, but enlightening epiphany: “it [morphine] kills the pain.” In other words, by avoiding the taboo topic of arterial drug use, by creating the scene elliptically instead of linearly, O’Neill sets his audience up for a wallop—a home run of sorts. And Mary, an old hand, backstage junkie, hits it out of the park. The bemusing aspect of the Mary/Cathleen dialogue between the conversant, if woozy Mary, and the undereducated, but unvarnished Cathleen is their psychic disconnect. Mary has zero inclination to explain to her presumptuous housekeeper the spine tingling, consuming power of morphine. Her simple riposte: “it kills the pain,” is plain spoken—everything that Cathleen (a self-appointed novice bedsitter) needs to know. Conversely, Cathleen, a thrill-seeker and nosey-parker of sorts, has zero concern over her tactless breeching of the embedded, master-servant, Connecticut-Yankee compact; her sly interrogation of Mary in this delicately tricky “consultation” scene is lawyerly: “Ma’am, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you a drop taken.” Stoned or straight, beer, wine, whiskey or opioids, Cathleen’s probity is encode for “not that it’s any of my fucking business, Mrs. Tyrone, but if I didn’t know better I’d think you were dead behind the eyes…” and, perhaps further, “do you have any more of what you’re taking…?” The point of the Mary/Cathleen interlocution is that there is no point; when Mary is psychically attuned to the syncopation of morphine, foghorns, banshees and whale music, she feeds the urge—the need—to proffer utterances, to speak in non- sequiturs, to hover and nod over her Steinway piano, to tell her drinking buddy and her cagey house keeper how good her “high” is… and in this case, in this particular morphine rush—to tell anyone who will listen just what exactly she’s experiencing in the moment: convulsive pain followed by joy, ecstasy and rapture. Cathleen then, by way of casual if insidious sisterhood, and for her own somewhat perhaps unscrupulous inclinations, is shaking the cloying Mrs. O’Neill from her tree. The later exchange between Mary and Cathleen concerning Cathleen’s run-in with the local pharmacist over procuring Mary’s daily regimen of morphine is reason enough to sense that Cathleen is probing Mary about the medical and perhaps (even) legal implications of the proverbial “monkey” on her back.

CATHLEEN—The way the man in the drugstore acted when I took in the prescription for you. (indignantly) The imp[i]dence of him!
MARY—(with stubborn blankness) What are you talking about? What drugstore? What prescription? […] Oh, of course, I’d forgotten. The medicine for the rheumatism in my hands. What did the man day? (then with indifference) Not that it matters, as long as he filled the prescription.
CATHLEEN—It mattered to me, then! I’m not used to being treated like a thief! He [the pharmacist gave me a long look and says insultingly, “where did you get this?” (LDJ 776).

The irony of Cathleen’s remonstrance to Mary is almost laughable it’s so disingenuous. Perceptibly, as Cathleen’s feigned indignation to the pharmacist suggests—the pharmacist—like a detective eyeballing an amateur criminal—has made Cathleen (sized Cathleen up, blown her cover) for the drugstore cowgirl that she is. Following on this unseemly “skit” in the pharmacy, the subtext of the offended housekeeper’s line is apparent: “He [the pharmacist] read me like a book… but then again, I’m used to being read like a book, I’m used to being treated like a thief…” The deception suborning all parties to this rouse, this hearsay—Mary, Cathleen and the Pharmacist, is palpable, but Edmund’s assessment later in Act III of Cathleen’s very murky history as a gossip monger is unqualified: “For God’s sake, Mama! You can’t trust her [Cathleen]! Do you want everyone on earth to know? (LDJ 786). “Can’t trust her?” Really? That makes two people: the Pharmacist and now Edmund. Taking the Pharmacist’s condescending, belligerent question and Edmund’s malevolent remark at their face value, a discerning audience is forced to ask a fundamental question about this Act II moment: from where do these dismissive and insulting questions come from? And from where does Edmund’s caustic remark derive? In what reality does Cathleen’s reputation “live”? And further: is Edmund tapped into Cathleen’s subliminal character in a way that the rest of his family is not? And while we’re on the subject of subliminal characters: is Edmund fucking Cathleen? Consequent to all of these questions, there’s much more here in Act III than a simple pow-wow between Mary and her duplicitous Maid. Mary’s final squelch before careening into an opioid trance is summative. Her remark to Cathleen concerning her relationship with the pharmacist is, like Edmund’s remark, unfiltered and revelatory: MARY—Yes, he [the pharmacist] knows me (776). Again, as with all discerning readers, actors and audiences the questions dangles: what does “he knows me” imply?

The crux of this BAM/Harvey alternative view of the Mary/Cathleen gathering is not based on something far-reached, but, rather, a fidelity to the prevailing Act III text. This often undervalued, sentimentalized scene between the keeper-of-the-house and the keeper of a highly controlled substance known as morphine, is an axis—the wheelhouse—of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. To that end, it should be case-hardened in its reading and highly consequential in production. Often it is rendered anomalous, as filler of sorts between the imperious plot-line of Tyrone and Edmund, and the unconscious plot-line of Mary and her multifarious issues. The final proof of this apposition is, again, text-based, and is played-out in Mary’s remonstrance to her drug mule/house maid and confidante (Cathleen) concerning her local drug supplier—the surly pharmacist: “As long as he [the pharmacist] filled the prescription.” Patently, as borne out with alacrity by Leslie Manville’s eerie, dissuading performance, “filling the prescription,” is all that ever matters for Mary. As in all serious anthropological “digs”, the BAM/Bristol excavation of this deeply complex, but uncomplicated play is near breakthrough.

Royal Academy Stage-Irish

The creepy and darkly funny subtext of this otherworldly drinking
scene in Long Day’s Journey Into Night is communicated shrewdly, cleanly and knowingly by Manville, an Oscar-nominated Bristol Old Vic veteran, and Jessica Regan, a Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts alum. Both actresses reveal the paranormal mood of this imbibing scene with aplomb; obviously, as technically trained conservatory actresses they know that it’s one thing to “be” psychically liberated and inebriated, but it’s something totally different to convey psychic liberation and inebriation. The difference between being and conveying is not subtle. Manville and Regan communicate that difference through nods and winks, and self-possessed body language. Their exchanges are conducted through eye-avoidance [4], mood-lifters and contradicting words and signals (for instance, Cathleen denying an offering of whiskey while deftly reaching for a whiskey decanter). State-of-mind and “sense-memory” (what they think and how they personally feel) do not seem to be a part of the Bristol Old Vic acting process. We thank Manville and Regan for their physical and vocal acuity, particularly Regan who was assailed by at least one local critic for her “stage Irish” voice [5] and stage-Irish conception. Nothing regarding her droll performance or her pristine Irish brogue could be further from reality.

“Stupidly puzzled…”

For the actress interpreting the role of Cathleen, O’Neill’s doubly acerbic stage note—“stupidly puzzled” [Cathleen]—is a perfect reverse barometer. The tendency for any performer deconstructing this peculiar mother/maid interlude might be to consider what O’Neill (a copious and overbearing note-giver) has put on the page, and then, with the temerity and expediency of a well-informed, well-seasoned repertory performer, consider the opposite. Here are a few reasonable alternatives to O’Neill’s dramaturgical overreach: “wryly inquisitive”?—perhaps; slightly or coyly aggressive”?—maybe, or even “bordering on impudence” or “with brazen haughtiness…” But “stupidly puzzled,”? —not the most honest or objective stage modifier for a character probing her employer about her disreputable and even scandalous  addiction issues. An experienced discerning actress such as Jessica Regan might easily subtract the editorial misstep in O’Neill’s hyperbolic character descriptor. And, in her quintessential moment in Act II she does, to a delimiting extent. Regan’s “Cathleen” is ever so slightly roguish for a moment, the door to rumor mongering, mischief, duplicity and, perhaps, illegality, is cracked slightly… the question hangs: will Cathleen go through it? The answer, obviously, is no, Cathleen lets the matter—the medical and scandalous issues—die on the vine… but we—the discerning BAM audience know that this tiny, dodgy moment of dark comedy and treachery is there for the taking.

By way of a careful valuation of the text, a potential obfuscation for the performer lies not in Cathleen’s forwardness and presumptuous (those are good things), but, rather, in the contradictory and heavy-handed stage note: “stupidly puzzled” that informs and contravenes our shared view of Cathleen. “Stupid”, as character signifiers go, is unambiguous. But “puzzled,” by inference, assumes a level of curiosity and probity that is inherently interesting to a performer and, ultimately, an audience. As such, Cathleen’s negative intelligence quotient as denoted by O’Neill’s “stupidly-puzzled” stage note is misleading and contradictory to the crafty insouciance that Cathleen reveals in her soft, but stealth interrogation of her pie-eyed employer. The slightly tone-deaf author, Eugene O’Neill, and his oily Irish character, Cathleen, as revealed by Jessica Regan’s very puckish performance, are not synchronous. If O’Neill’s stage notes are to be believed, O’Neill and Regan are at cross-purposes. To paraphrase a pearl-of-wisdom of the immortal social critic, Henry Ford, perhaps O’Neill—Nobel Laureate and tragedian, should lead, follow or get out of the way.


As the night closes in at the beginning of Act III, as O’Neill’s psychically grating sonic effects are calibrated, Mary Tyrone’s state of mind becomes muddled and somewhat persecuted. The existential quandary for Mary as she processes her opioid-receptor intake, is not whether the foghorns are “whaling” again, but, rather, when are they ever not whaling? Cosmically, musically, the bells and horns hound Mary. They hound her by “reminding” her and “warning” her that her life has become cataclysmic. Now, after 90 minutes of lashing, torrential, ritualized domestic violence, followed by foghorns, banshees and pharmaceutically licensed mood lifters, an audience—an exhausted, furrowed, BAM theater collective—might be inclined to ask some predictable, if impertinent, questions. Here are a few probable choices: Where are we? Who the hell are these people? – Why are they here? When will it end? The answers to these right-minded questions are quixotic: This is an Ulster-tribal funeral and picnic… these are the “four haunted Tyrones… this is 90 minutes of four + hours in the theater…and (further) this is Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and (still further) this is O’Neill—this is his final conclave.


TYRONE—[…] When I was ten my father deserted my mother and went back to Ireland to die. Which he did soon enough, and deserved to, and I hope he’s roasting in hell. He mistook rat poison for flour, or sugar, or something. There was gossip it wasn’t by mistake but that’s a lie. No one in my family ever—
EDMUND—My bet, it wasn’t by mistake. (LDJ 807)
At the epicenter of this tribal harangue is the patriarch of the Tyrone clan, James Tyrone. Tyrone’s place on stage—his command post—is as central to the dramatic event as the throne of Arthur. The living room of the Tyrone family’s summer cottage is by design a cathedra, an inner sanctum where all family disputations are brought to bear, but never resolved let alone healed. – Tyrone’s place at the table, a hawk-eyed, cigar-smoking arbiter of sorts, is a directorial control that holds the familial gathering (and the theatrical event) together. So sharp-eyed is Tyrone over his domain that his housekeeper Cathleen refers to him a hawk-eyed: “The Master’s sure to notice what’s gone from the bottle. He has the eye of a hawk for that” (LDJ 774). This central conceit—Tyrone as arbiter, as wounded but, able King Fisher, as all-seeing, but not necessarily all-knowing eye, is a fixed idea that director Richard Eyre sustains across the near four hour running time of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Much like the geodesic mapping scene of King Lear where Lear provokes his warmongering daughters to a grisly, eye-engorging clan war, Tyrone is peppered, harangued, interrogated and skewered by his wife and his booze-addled sons—ad nausea—and with impunity—dawn to dusk, and with no respite:

JAMIE—(staring at his father, ignoring his explanation) I know it’s an Irish peasant idea consumption is fatal. It probably is when you live in a hovel on a bog, but over here, with modern treatment—
TYRONE—Don’t I know that! What are you gabbing about, anyway? And keep your dirty tongue off Ireland, with your sneers about peasants and bogs and hovels!  (LDJ 732).

Regardless of his beleaguered state Tyrone holds his ground, unflinching and unmovable until the wrong insult from his discordant family knocks him off his game; when that happens Tyrone is out of his chair, challenging all comers; and true to form, his ungrateful swarming tribe—like the beggars in the house of plenty—gnaw and peck at Tyrone’s eyes, hand, feet and legs, demanding bleeding restitution for some past transgression, real or imagined. Irrespective of the charges and fabrications hurled against him by his family, no one in these shameful bear-baiting scenes gets to their alcohol, their morphine, their books, their diary or the piano without going through the stalwart Tyrone. Like a tyrant with his back against the wall in the midst of a palace coup, Jeremy Irons’ James Tyrone is unrelentingly, the noble squire of his manor, the keeper of the keys. And by way of his dominion, Tyrone has no dominion at all. He’s a prisoner in his own manor. Admirably and fearlessly, he welcomes our judgment, but with two of the three family members in a state of somnambulism or total inebriation—and the third on the brink of consumptive quarantine—these family tribunals—these show-trials—are a cul de sac, a false, empty, bottomless promise for the august Shakespearean actor. In this final conclave of the Tyrone family there’s never a righteous payback for Tyrone, no moment in the sun. Old Man Tyrone never gets his just due or a full hearing. It’s always a dire and tragic circumstance for the man of the house. Willy-nilly to the carnage, or the bona fides of these war games, he’s forever the bad lieutenant, the headless King—Arthur without his stuff. As mentioned earlier in this discussion, Director Richard Eyre unpacks and interrogates this “Roundtable” conceit very early in the dramatic event, and maintains it throughout. This essential directorial and scenic idea—the Chair and Table of Arthur—the seat of authority—is the crucial dramatic value of this enduring, rehabilitated New England legend.


His [Tyrone’s] clothes, assuredly, do not costume any romantic part. He wears a threadbare, ready-made grey sack suit and shineless black shoes, a collarless shirt with a white handkerchief knotted loosely around his throat. There is nothing picturesquely careless about this get-up. It is commonplace shabby. He believes in wearing his clothes to the limit of usefulness, is dressed now for gardening, and doesn’t give a damn how he looks (LDJ 719)

Contrary to O’Neill’s unflattering and very non-bourgeois descriptors of James Tyrone’s “morning” costume in his initial entrance in Act I, Tyrone’s basic “gardening-look” as conceived by designer Rob Howell is provincial, but slyly theatrical. Like his books, liquor and cigars, Tyrone’s accessories are stylish and well manipulated throughout the production; O’Neill’s as-written “white handkerchief knotted loosely around Tyrone’s neck” is, in designer Howell’s reinvention, an erstwhile Brooke’s Brothers scarf replete with white paisleys and crimson patina. Further contravening O’Neill’s miserly description of James Tyrone is Tyrone’s slightly indifferent academic look; his knitted summer jacket and vest, and his bundled scarfs give him the cachet of a pipe smoking mower from (for example) Monet’s seminal painting, The Card Players; eventually a panama hat (later a bowler), an Edwardian dressing gown, and a dark-blue/black professional suit and collar in the later moments of the play are worn by Tyrone with knack and éclat. As Irish dandies are concerned, James Tyrone, in the popular, if perhaps apocryphal tradition of Edwin Booth and Ned Harrigan, is an impeccable stylist. Under Jeremy Iron’s rendering, Tyrone’s nattiness, his deft story-telling arts, his dexterous use of smoking props, writing utensils, artifacts, relics, drinking vessels and sartorial accouterments are his hallmark. Even at home and in his middlebrow, New London neighborhood, Tyrone carries himself as a clever, if exiled New York roustabout. He is, as his wont, a truly nifty “poet and sport.” As are his impervious, and somehow dapper sons. Even at their rabid worst, Jamie and Edmund Tyrone have a sense of self that is genuine and fairly spruce; their off-white shirts and open dog collars appear to be somewhat “lived-in” and worn-for-wear, but never too slovenly. Despite their studied indifference to the external world Jamie and Edmund remain presentable and even dignified when they need to be. The dark suit, natty tie and authentic Geoff cap of the lanky Edmund Tyrone late in Act II are spot-on to the period and the moment. Here’s an example of a fashion implement shading the attitude and disposition of James Tyrone as he sizes up his struggling son Edmund late in Act II:

Edmund enters. He has changed to a ready-made blue serge suit, high stiff collar and tie, black shoes. TYRONE—(with an actor’s heartiness) Well! You look spic and span. I’m on my way up to change, too. (LDJ 767).

Selflessly, genuinely, and appropriate to the delicate medical issues that will challenge his beleaguered son, James Tyrone responds to Edmund’s “blue suit” nattiness with a fatherly perk: He [Tyrone] pulls out a small roll of bills from his pants pocket and carefully selects one [a ten dollar bill]. Edmund takes it. He glances at it and his face expresses astonishment. (LDJ 767). Edmund’s response is wide-eyed, angelic:

EDMUND—[…] This isn’t a dollar. It’s a ten spot.
TYRONE—(embarrassed by his generosity) Put it in your pocket. You’ll probably meet some of your friends uptown and you can’t hold your end up and be sociable with nothing in your jeans  (LDJ 767)

Despite their ragged, derelict inclinations, the incorrigible Tyrone brothers somehow always manage to pull it off, to look “nice,” to act accordingly, to pacify their neighbors, their parents, and even accommodating women if that’s what is called for. For Jamie and Edmund accountability and respectability are easily manipulated if carefully construed. By way of straw boaters, oxford bags, saddle shoes, and preppy accouterments, Rob Howell’s costumes suggest something uniquely and brashly Connecticut Yankee about this brutal fraternity. Although Howell’s costumes are turn-of-the-last-century faithful, there is nothing formulaic about the “look” of this repertory costume parade. Tyrone, in his innumerable jackets, vests and dressing gowns is always outfitted according to purpose: a late morning breakfast, a trip to a local physician with Edmund, an afternoon constitution, ritualized mealtimes, neighborly gossip sessions, the evening vespers, and so forth. Ironically, perhaps incongruously, despite his comfort-fitting summer wardrobe, Tyrone appears to be braced for the perfect storm. His announced exits from his New London cottage are preempted by a bundling that suggests, perhaps, a point of no return. It’s as if he’s wrapped for a Winslow Homer Nor’easter. When Tyrone leaves the summer cottage orbit he returns disheveled and weather-beaten, ready for a glass of pursers rum and a neatly-packaged-hand-rolled Panamanian cigarillo. This storm-warning forbearance of Tyrone’s pervades the Monte Cristo Cottage and is enhanced by the dim, cocker-shell lighting (Peter Mumford, lighting design) and the opaque, if somewhat anachronistic skylight and panoply that frame the windswept, gabled house. Late in the play, this affectation of flickering oil lamps and quasi-musical foghorns echoes the unsettling and eventually terrifying mood of Moby Dick and the satanic Ahab. So mood-stricken is lighting designer Peter Mumford’s Tyrone household that the portending eight-bells ritual of the Imperial and Continental navies would not be totally out of synch in the final act of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Unlike a number of O’Neill plays that propound an overwhelming seafaring aspect, James Tyrone’s wicker lamps, his wardrobe, his dressing gown, his smoking utensils, whiskey cruets, and most importantly—his high-renaissance theater library, are the prevailing motifs in the BAM/Bristol Long Day’s Journey Into Night.


Lesley Manville > Mary Tyrone

Mary Tyrone as mastered by Bristol Old Vic veteran Lesley Manville is an overstated performance. Her remonstrance to her husband and sons across the four-hour event is operatic in nature, almost to a level of melodrama. Invariably, (in a good sense) she blows Tyrone, Jamie and Edmund off the stage with her diaphragmatic breathing and her inexhaustible personal pleas. Consistent with her catlike performance, the intensity and bravura of Manville’s indelicate effort is thoroughgoing and provocative. As celebrated British, Irish and American Mary Tyrones “go” (Geraldine Fitzgerald, Zoe Caldwell, Jessica Lange, Laurie Metcalf, Vanessa Redgrave, et al.) Manville’s sonorous interpolation is one to be contrasted and studied. Manville’s diminutive stature, moonstone eyes, porcelain mask, elegant form-fitting dresses, shawls and robes, and her beautifully and intricately quaffed platinum hair bring a regal Nordic quality to the Mary Tyrone retinue. Although recent archived Google images of an erstwhile Bristol Old Vic production show Manville’s “Mary” as a glassy-eyed, cosmopolitan brunette, the Bristol/BAM “Mary” is attuned to an archaic, almost fabled matriarch. Historically, O’Neill’s plays have earned mythic stature in Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, with film luminaries such as Bibi Anderson, Ingmar Bergman and Lars Hanson offering magnanimous contributions to the O’Neill canon. Hanson created the role of James Tyrone in the original (the original-original) production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night in 1956 in Stockholm under the direction of Bengt Ekerot [6]. Concordant with the provocative experimentation of the O’Neill oeuvre in Sweden, a pan-Scandia Mary Tyrone is not farfetched. Just as Mary Tyrone has been defined by her somnambulant night-walks, her spider-like tendencies and her wispy demeanor, this Bristol Vic Mary Tyrone is husky, throaty, roguish, and strangely powerful, at times formidable. Manville’s Viking-Mary doesn’t fear sobriety and the external world as much as loathe it; inordinately in Manville’s exercised performance she assails her dismissive husband, her sneering, passive-aggressive sons, and (inferentially) the low-brow townies and gossipy neighbors she’s forced to abide in the summer off-season in New London.


Walter Kerr>Robert Ryan> Jeremy Irons

To bring some historical perspective to Jeremy Irons’ psychic approach to deconstructing and building a dignified and knightly character for the enigmatic James Tyrone, herein is included a retrospective on one of the more visible productions of O’Neill’s play as produced at the Promenade theater in New York City in 1971, and directed by Arvin Brown, a highly credentialed director of American repertory drama and O’Neill enthusiast. In a bold stroke, Brown cast classic Hollywood heavyweight, Robert Ryan in the role of James Tyrone. Ryan’s reception and reviews were generous and even magnanimous, departing perhaps from a point of movie cultism. Outspreading from the karma of Arvin Brown’s theatrical coup de grace is a Robert Ryan/Jeremy Irons nexus that conceivably could live on in O’Neill industry memory. This Ryan/Irons nexus derives from The New York Times’ revered drama critic Walter Kerr’s assessment of Ryan’s performance, and O’Neill scholar Brenda Murphy’s affirmation of that assessment. Kerr showed Ryan’s “Tyrone” to be equal parts “papist,” gentlemen and grandee: “He [Ryan as Tyrone] surrenders nothing, not even his stubborn fatuous certainty that Shakespeare was an Irish Catholic (Kerr 3). In a scholarly treatise entitled O’Neill: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Prof. Murphy concurs with Ryan’s reading of Tyrone to be “controversial,” “quiet spoken,” and a “gentle figure” (Murphy 66). Comparatively then, Jeremy Iron’s BAM/Bristol Shakespeare-centric Tyrone is quiet, gentle, fatuous, stubborn, partisan, and highly impolitic. Although “controversial” might be too clichéd a 70’s phrase to describe Iron’s herculean performance, he is provocative to a point of triumph.


Lawrence Olivier, Florence Eldridge, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Robert Ryan et al.

“[Olivier is] beyond criticism and beyond praise…”[7] (Hobson, Sunday Times)

“Florence Eldridge plays a shattered mother—her white hair drifting mistily about the damaged prettiness of her face…” (Kerr, New York Herald Tribune) [8]

It [James Tyrone] is a great part, and Robert Ryan moves into it with care, love and understanding. [Ryan] shows us the character, little by little, and finally creates a picture of a man, neither good nor bad, but understanding” (Barnes, NY [9]

Notable interpretations of James Tyrone and Mary Tyrone can be accredited to English icon Lawrence Olivier, Hollywood stars, Florence Eldridge (wife and co-star to the inestimable Frederick March, the original Broadway James Tyrone) and Irish actress, Geraldine Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s revival of Long Day’s Journey can be argued to be primal because of the classic Hollywood heavy, Robert Ryan objectifying, taunting, but eventually embracing Mary in his “leather-tough” “realistic” reading of James Tyrone (Kerr 3). Like Jeremy Irons in his stealth rendition of the Tyrone patriarch and Lesley Manville in her catlike rendition of Mary Tyrone, all of the aforementioned performers, designers, producers and directors have brought meaning and power to the O’Neill oeuvre. With the exception of film/theater auteurs such as Lawrence Olivier whose trans-Atlantic James Tyrone is historic, filmic and indelible, the work of these O’Neill interpreters exists in time and liminal space, not necessarily in book, film and made-for-TV-movie deals. Although the O’Neill industry is, apparently, booming and trending, a performer’s half-life in the O’Neill factory is fleeting. Perhaps Lesley Manville’s diaphragmatic reading of Mary Tyrone will garnish her a permanent place in the pantheon of experimental and pioneering O’Neill characters. When assessing Manville’s bearing on the O’Neill industry, what casting director, artistic director, literary manager or theatrical agent could deny that her performance will push the conversation about how to build this affected and disaffected O’Neill voice; collaterally, Manville’s performance will widen the audition of other moth-like roles in the tradition of Blanche Dubois, Amanda Wingfield, and the bullied Linda Loman of Death of a Salesman. Perhaps timeless lines such as “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers,” “attention must be paid,” and “I fell in love with James Tyrone and was so happy for a time” (LDJ 828), will be reconsidered for their baldness and emptiness rather than their eleventh hour desperateness. Considering that alcohol, lemon cokes with chipped ice, and morphine free-basing are the maledictions of choice of Mary and Blanche, their need to be heard is existentially consistent with the need to be vocal, abrasive and insinuating. Unseemly man-cave humor, dysfunctional sons, and bullying husbands, are the heavy burden of these broken, highly fetishized female characters. Perhaps, as Manville’s over the bow performance suggests, it’s time for Mary to blow her horn. Having seen a number of luminaries in this notoriously “injured bird” role, Lesley Manville’s breakout performance is a shout-out to the O’Neill industry. As they say in Ireland, “the likes of Ms. Manville will not be seen again…”

- Timothy V. Dugan, D.Litt., Associate Professor, Department of Communication Arts, St. Francis College, author The Many Lives of Ajax: The Trojan War Hero From Antiquity to Modern Times (McFarland, 2018).

Copyright c. 2018 by Timothy V. Dugan - All Rights Reserved


[1] I use the phrase “North American in my discussion of repertory theater to include Mexico, Cuba, Canada and the Caribbean. For the seminal book on North American theater see Londre and Watermeier’s The History of North American Theater. See Works Cited.

[2] For this and all quotations from O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night I use the Library of America anthology: Eugene O’Neill, Volume III: Complete Plays 1932-1943, Travis Bogard editor. See O’Neill, Works Cited.

[3]  Sound design by John Leonard. See BAMbill, Works Cited.

[4] For more on eye communication, body gestures and non-verbal communication see Joseph DeVito, The Interpersonal Communication Book, 14th Edition. Pearson Publishing, New York.

[5] Voice and dialect coach, Penny Dyer. See BAMbill, Works Cited.

[6] Bengt Ekerot directed the world premier of Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm, February 2, 1956. Although Ekerot’s reputation as an actor and director is well established in Europe and in theater/cinema biographies, his role as “Death’ in Ingmar Bergman’s seminal art-house film The Seventh Seal, has given him a place in contemporary film lore and film scholarship. Academics, film critics and film buffs identify the white-faced reaper as portrayed by Ekerot to be iconic.

[7] Review of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. By Harold Hobson, Sunday Times, London. Reprinted in Brenda Murphy’s O’Neill: Long Day’s Journey Into Night. See Murphy, Works Cited.

[8] Review of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s journey Into Night. By Walter Kerr. New York Herald Tribune, November 8, 1956.

[9]  Review of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. By Clive Barnes, New York Times, April 22, 1971. See Barnes, Works Cited.


BAMbill: Who’s Who: Long Day’s Journey Into Night. BAM Harvey Theater.

May 2018; Winter/Spring Season, Brooklyn Magazine, Brooklyn, NY. Print.

Barnes, Clive. Rousing ‘Long Day’s Journey’. Review of: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, by Eugene O’Neill. Promenade Theater, New York. New York Times 22 April 1971.

Hobson, Harold. Review of: Long Day’s Journey into Night. By Eugene O’Neill. Sunday Times. Reprinted in O’Neill: Long Day’s Journey Into Night. By Brenda Murphy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Kerr, Walter. Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Review of: Long Day’s Journey Into Night. By Eugene O’Neill. Helen Hayes Theater, New York. New York Herald Tribune, Nov. 8, 1956.

___. One ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’. Review of: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, by Eugene O’Neill. Promenade Theater, New York. New York Times, May 2, 1971.

Londre, Felicia Hardison and Daniel J. Watermeier. The History of North American Theater: The United States, Canada, and Mexico: From Pre-Columbian Times to the Present. New York: Continuum. 2000. Print.

Murphy, Brenda. O’Neill: Long Day’s Journey Into Night. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

O’Neill, Eugene. O’Neill: Complete Plays: Volume I: 1932-1943. New York: The Library of America, 1988. Print.