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Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill is a big play for a small theater group to attempt. But plucky Ghost & Spice Productions of Chapel Hill and its cast of Triangle theater veterans are undeterred by this play’s reputation as a masterpiece of Modern Drama and one of the most difficult and emotionally wrenching dramas in the American theater repertoire.
This abridged version of O’Neill’s heavily autobiographical drama about the emotional damage his own tightwad father and dope-fiend mother inflicted on him and his dissolute older brother is still full of theatrical sturm und drang. In the current production, playing through Sept. 25th at Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC, Long Day’s Journey just runs three hours, instead of four or four-and-a-half hours.
Compelling characterizations by John Murphy and Lenore Lee Field as miserly former matinee idol James Tyrone, Sr. and his emotionally fragile wife, Mary, who soothes her jangled nerves and finds solace in secret morphine injections, are the highlights of the show. Tyrone is a charming scoundrel, always talking poorhouse and skimping on the expensive medical care required to cure his wife and youngest son; and Mary is a veritable ghost, a tragic figure in white haunting a cheaply furnished house on the Long Island shore that will never be the home that she desperately wants.
Murphy has Tyrone’s grimaces and sour facial expressions down pat, but he needs to work on the grins and the infectious charm that make the elder Tyrone such an irresistible first-generation Irish-American rogue. Field is closer to the mark as poor Mary Tyrone, haunted by the loss of her middle son (whom O’Neill names Eugene[!] in the script) and addicted to the soul-stealing drug prescribed for pain by a quack hotel doctor when she nearly died during the difficult birth of her youngest son, Edmund (Josh Long).
Stone-cold-sober, Mary is a frightened shell of her former self. Flying high on a cloud of morphine, she can cope with the persistent physical and psychological pain. Lenore Field is especially good in portraying a desperate woman under the influence of a powerful narcotic that frequently leaves its users hopelessly addicted and stumbling about in a fog of addiction.
Josh Long starts slow, but gets stronger as Edmund, a would-be writer just home from the sea and recently diagnosed with a nasty case of consumption (tuberculosis) that will require his hospitalization. Will the wealthy Tyrone send him to the best clinic for treatment, or once again play the skinflint and condemn Edmund to a shabby state sanatorium in order to save a few bucks?
Jeff Alguire is a bit too tangle-tongued as James “Jamie” Tyrone, Jr., a drunk and a womanizer whose hard living and profligate ways threaten to condemn him to an early grave. When reenacting Edmund and Jamie’s ongoing arguments about painful family matters, Alguire and Long also need to add a little variety to their approach to these confrontations. Otherwise, it all seems like one extra-long gripe-fest.
Eszter Julian is excellent as the Tyrones' bustling Irish immigrant maid
Cathleen; and the director has given this turgid domestic drama that bite that it must have to be successful. Indeed, she and fellow scenic and lighting designer Jeff Alguire have created an elaborate and very impressive set to suggest the interiors of the Tyrone summer home on Long Island. The action is orchestrated the action well, and Alguire has lit each scene with care.
Although it cannot be compared to director Jonathan Miller’s epic production of Long Day’s Journey, starring Jack Lemmon and Bethel Leslie, which previewed in Durham courtesy Theater Previews at Duke, the current Ghost & Spice Productions’ presentation will introduce a new generation of Triangle theatergoers to the greatest work by 1936 Nobel Prize for Literature winner and four-time Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner Eugene O’Neill, who is arguably America’s great playwright.
Ghost & Spice Productions presents Long Day’s Journey into Night Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 15-17, and 22-24, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 18 and 25, at 2 p.m. at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $14 ($12 students and seniors). 888/239-9253. Ghost & Spice Productions: http://www.ghostandspice.com/.. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=5526. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056196/. Study Guide for Long Day’s Journey into Night: http://www.eoneill.com/companion/ldj2/index.htm [inactive 2/09] (9th-12th grade English students) and http://www.eoneill.com/companion/ldj/index.htm [inactive 10/09] (11th and 12th grade English students). The Eugene O’Neill Society: http://www.eoneill.com/ [inactive 10/09].
Staging Long Day’s Journey into Night, an epic Pulitzer Prize-winning tragedy by America’s most celebrated playwright, Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936, is a daunting prospect for any Triangle theater company. But Ghost & Spice Productions thinks it is up to the task bringing this gut-wrenching, heavily autobiographical domestic drama fully to life Sept. 8-25 in the Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC.
Indeed, Ghost & Spice’s selection of this widely acknowledged masterpiece of Modern Drama ais a fitting opener for the up-and-coming theater company’s fifth season, as well as an important milestone in the company’s evolution.
“Ghost & Spice is moving into a new stage,” the director claims. “We actually have a set for this show.… We’re excited that we have a full set. We have spent a little more time of the technical aspects of the production.”
Long Day’s Journey made its Broadway debut on Nov. 7, 1956, at the Helen Hayes Theatre, and ran for 390 performances. Directed by José Quintero and starring Fredric March as wealthy but miserly actor James Tyrone, Sr.; Florence Eldridge as his drug-addicted wife, Mary Cavan Tyrone, hooked on morphine because her tightwad husband refused to get her proper medical care during the birth of her youngest son; Jason Robards, Jr. as the Tyrones’ eldest son James “Jamie” Tyrone, Jr., an actor about to drink himself into oblivion; Bradford Dillman as their sickly youngest son — and Eugene O’Neill’s fictional alter ego — Edmund Tyrone, who wants to be a writer; and Katherine Ross as their Irish serving girl Cathleen. Long Day’s Journey won the 1957 Tony Award® Best Play and the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. (O’Neill previously won Pulitzer Prizes for Beyond the Horizon , Anna Christie , and Strange Interlude .)
The 1962 motion-picture version of Long Day’s Journey, directed by Sidney Lumet, starred British actor Ralph Richardson as Tyrone and American actors Katharine Hepburn as Mary, Jason Robards as Jamie, Dean Stockwell as Edmund, and Jeanne Barr as Cathleen. Hepburn earned a 1962 Academy Award® nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Long Day’s Journey director says, “Ghost & Spice picks plays based on the actors in our company. We wanted to do an American classic; and we had John Murphy for Tyrone, Lenore Field for Mary, and Jeff Alguire for Jamie. Since we’re an acting company, we pick our plays based on meaty acting roles. [Long Day’s Journey] was a wonderful play for us for that reason — and because it is a beautifully written play by a master. We couldn’t pass it by.”
The Ghost & Spice cast also includes Josh Long as Edmund and Eszter Julian as Cathleen.
It is easy for the director to identify what she finds most compelling about this controversial script, which was written in 1941 but not performed until 1956, seven years after the playwright’s death:
“I love the way that it’s crafted,” she explains. “I love the poetry of it. I think the material is universal; and although it’s set not quite a hundred years ago [in the summer of 1912], it’s still a universal human struggle.”
She adds, “I find the history of the play fascinating. It’s [a troubling chapter from] O’Neill’s personal history. He wrote so honestly and starkly…. Although it’s a very, very … almost scathing script, there’s so much forgiveness in it — and love towards his family — that I find it very moving and very touching.”
“Long Day’s Journey was written [in 1941] and then sealed,” she reports. “O’Neill requested that it not be produced until 25 years after his death, because it was so personal. It was produced about several years after his death, because he’d lifted that seal, all the real-life characters were dead by then, and his wife made the decision to produce it. It still made a lot of people very angry that he let the family skeletons out of the closet.
“When I approached [Long Day’s Journey],” she recalls, “I was afraid that it would be very confrontational and very angry. The fact that I found so much love in it surprised me, and made me really enjoy working on it. It’s a beautiful script.”
She says, “O’Neill is very specific in his [character] descriptions and in his stage directions. With modern sensibilities, I think sometimes they don’t translate well. The struggle for me was being true to O’Neill — being true to his vision of the play and his intentions — and having to let go of some of the stage directions that nowadays feel very false and melodramatic.
“We have cut a good hour to an hour and a half out of the script,” she notes, “and that was extremely difficult. But modern audiences would have a very difficult time sitting through a four or four-and-a-half hour play.”
Ghost & Spice Productions presents Long Day’s Journey into Night Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 8-10, 15-17, and 22-24, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 11, 18, and 25, at 2 p.m. at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $14 ($12 students and seniors). 888/239-9253. Ghost & Spice Productions: http://www.ghostandspice.com/. . Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=5526. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056196/. Study Guide for Long Day’s Journey into Night: http://www.eoneill.com/companion/ldj2/index.htm [inactive 2/09] (9th-12th grade English students) and http://www.eoneill.com/companion/ldj/index.htm [inactive 10/09] (11th and 12th grade English students). The Eugene O’Neill Society: http://www.eoneill.com/ [inactive 10/09].