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.

1

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.

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“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.

3

“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.

4

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.

5

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.

6

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.

7

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.

8

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 Times.com) [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

NOTES

[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.

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. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/04/22/archives/stage-rousing-long-days-journey-miss-fitzgerald-keach-ryan-naughton.html

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. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/05/02/archives/do-the-tyrones-live-here.html

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. http://www.eoneill.com/artifacts/reviews/ldj1_tribune.htm

___. 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. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/05/02/archives/do-the-tyrones-live-here.html

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. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/05/02/archives/do-the-tyrones-live-here.html

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

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