Richard and I saw Eugene O'Neill's *Long Day's Journey Into Night* on Broadway on 6/11. I read the play in my early 20s and saw the movie with Katharine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson, but had never seen the play onstage. I regretted not having seen the Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Dennehy production on Broadway in 2003, but you can't see everything, right? I was determined to see this production, and am so glad I did.
It's the story of the Tyrone family, spending the summer in their cottage in 1912. The play takes place over the course of a single day. The father is an aging actor who feels he wasted his talent on inferior material and doesn't appear to have much insight into what a lousy husband and father he's been. The mother is fragile and lonely, both of which are heightened by her morphine addiction. She's recently returned from a sort of primitive rehab when the play starts. The older son is trying to make a living as an actor, not having too much success, and wastes his money and time on booze and hookers. The younger son had traveled for a while, working as a sailor, and is developing his skill as a writer. He's diagnosed with consumption (tuberculosis) midway through the play.
O'Neill perfectly captures the resentments and recriminations that develop over the years in a family. Each of the four members has a grudge against the other three, the web gets very tangled. O'Neill also conveys how no one can love you as much as the members of your family, but then no one can hurt you as much either.
It wouldn't be right to use the word "enjoy" when describing this show - - I would say "appreciate" instead. I appreciated it more than Richard. He said, "Does it need to be four hours long? I could tell this story in an hour and a half." I said, "Then it would be *Shorter Day's Journey Into Night*." I saw the value of the length - - how can it be an epic if it's not really long? And the ending wouldn't have the enormous impact if it happened at the end of a standard-length play.
It was directed by Jonathan Kent, who highlighted the humor in the piece, which was a surprise. Who knew there were chuckles in this show? But that was a smart idea, because it gets the audience to relax and feel warmth for the people onstage. It makes it easier to be drawn into the story and get emotionally wrapped into the drama.
I'll discuss the performances in ascending order of my opinion of them. I can't say much about Cobly Minifie as the maid. She doesn't have much of a part, but she did it well. The younger son was played by John Gallagher, Jr. Karen Miller warned me that he was the weak link in the cast, and she was right. He wasn't as comfortable with the language as the other three leads, which made his performance seem stagy and insincere. I think the director might have known this, because his monologue was the only moment in the show that used fancy business with the scenery.
Gabriel Byrne played the father, and he was marvelous. I've only seen Ralph Richardson in the part (in the movie), but seeing his performance, and knowing what other actors have played the role (Olivier, Jack Lemmon, Jason Robards, Brian Dennehy), I imagine it's often played in a larger-than-life manner. The man is a 19th century actor, after all. But Byrne went in the other direction: rather than being larger than life, he was actual size, in a compelling way.
Michael Shannon was fantastic as the older son. I know him just a little from one or two movies, so I didn't have huge expectations from him. He blew me away, he held the stage in such a powerful but effortless way. He was completely present and completely committed. I'm very interested to see how his career develops, he's only 42 years old.
The undisputed star of the show was Jessica Lange, who gave the performance of a lifetime as the mother. So eloquent, so well measured, so absolutely devastating. It's a tour de force role, and Lange rose to the challenge at every turn. She hasn't been generally well received in her previous outings on Broadway, as Blanche in *A Streetcar Named Desire* in 1992 or as Amanda in *The Glass Menagerie* in 2005. Maybe this role is a better fit for her, maybe she's more simpatico with her director and/or the rest of the cast, but it was a complete triumph for her, and how thrilling is that.