As I wandered into Everyman, distracted by my sisters, we sat in the wrong seats. As we were re-directed by the amused staff member, he said to us, “you know this play is about dysfunctional families?” We all nodded, there are O’Neill fans among us. He continued, “because you are the most dysfunctional family I have seated tonight.” And laughter ensued. We are quite an eclectic group, and our first group outing proved no less than I expected. The play hadn’t begun and we already caused a small scene!
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” by Eugene O’Neill comes with its warnings. It is long, I mean reeeaaalll long, with two ten minute intermissions. And, on a thoughtful note, you can “pre-order” drinks for the short intermissions. There are costume cocktails to accompany each time phase of the play. But this play- it is an actor’s play; a reader’s play. The words were center stage. There were so many words that felt alive and the pacing of them was dynamic. I just wish it wasn’t three+ hours long.
The play centered around a family of addicts pretending to be respectable people who meander between past indiscretions and present repercussions. The Tyrone family included matriarch Mary (Deborah Hazlett), patriarch James (Kurt Rhoads) and their two grown sons; Jamie (Tim Getman), and Edmund (Danny Gavigan). There was a lot of denial about their addictions, who they were at their core, and about their view of the past. In this play Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
Deborah Hazlett played Mary delicately. Her words cut just like a mother’s would. Soft, yet manipulative as hell. It was a little too real. Ms. Hazlett’s complex emotions we’re written all over her character’s face throughout the play. She was best in her scene with her youngest son Edmund. Her emotional arcs were lovely and I enjoyed her performance. However, I felt something was lacking as the play progressed. I didn’t fully believe she was an “off the wagon addict.” It felt like she was still present when I wanted her to be further away. The shakiness, nervous energy and anxious mannerisms were there, but I would have liked to see it manifested more in her voice and interactions with the other cast.
Kurt Rhoads was well cast as James the thespian patriarch. His stage presence was formidable and his voice booming. Mr. Rhoads emotional changes were uneven at times, but he was best in the quiet moments and emotionally rich intimate scene between him and son Edmund. You know that moment when you hear stories about your parents and you realize that they were people before you were born? Edmund and James performed this moment in Act 3 and it was my favorite moment in the play. They were talking about life as men and not just as father and son. Danny Gavigan as younger son Edmund was equally fun to watch in his scenes with this parents. His fast talking added movement to his emotional changes, his emotional arcs were intense and like a flower his performance progressively blossomed during the acts of the play.
The scenes between older brother Jamie (Tim Getman) and younger brother Edmund (Danny Gavigan) were inconsistent at times. I felt the love and competition between them but there wasn’t the same emotional spark as there was with scenes with their parents. They didn’t complement each other fully. Katharine Ariyan as Cathleen the house help was a funny, cute addition to the play. She was a bubbly breath of fresh air to this family drama as the precocious Irish help.
As for the technical side, well, I expected a bit more. I know the play is autobiographical, and all the costumes match the photos of O’Neill’s family that exist- I just kind of wish someone would do something else. We modernize and imitate and re-invent so many other works, this one is locked into the 1910s and cannot shake it. Mary will always wear a dress like that, James will always have on a brown suit. The set was meticulous, down to the worn and tawdy dirt and dark marks in the corners of the wallpaper. Since Mary wants you to believe it was never a home and James is such a tightwad, the effect was visceral.
We are haunted by the ghosts of our pasts. Good, bad, or indifferent; we can’t hide from it. The past is always there shaping our decisions in the present and the future. We have a different perspective of our past than the people who lived it with us. This play amplified these sentiments to the max.
Should I stay or should I go? Go to see this play if you like family dramas and Lifetime movies. The acting was solid, the emotional flow was heart wrenching, the story was timeless. O’Neill knows plays, and Everyman puts on a good quality show time and time again. (Z & B)
Long Day’s Journey Into Night runs at Everyman Theater Jan 31st – Mar 4th. Run time three hours and twenty minutes with two ten-minute intermissions.