Friday, May 13, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: Long Day's Journey Into Night


Jessica Lange Steers a Complex Mary Tyrone Through a Foggy Journey
By Lauren Yarger
“Once you’ve learned a lesson, it’s hard to unlearn it.”

That’s just one of many thoughts to ponder in Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Thank goodness actress Jessica Lange didn’t take it to heart and give us the same portrayal of Mary Tyrone everyone seems to have learned over the years for this Roundabout Theatre Company revival on Broadway.

Instead, two-time Academy-Award winner Lange breathes new life into Mary and makes her the center of this autobiographical family drama as a family reluctantly comes to grips with her decision to take drugs, knowing the horrible consequences her choice will have on them all.

Mary, we learn, became addicted to morphine by accident when an incompetent doctor prescribed it for her after the difficult birth of her second son, Edmund (a lackluster John Gallagher, Jr.), and he is made to feel, if subtly, that he is to blame. For years, she and her husband, James (Gabriel Byrne), and their eldest son, Jamie Jr. (Michael Shannon), hid her condition from Edmund, but later, that proved impossible. Mary just recently has returned to their summer home in Connecticut after a hospitalization and she and her family are happily in denial that anything is wrong. Until Mary starts spending time in the spare room – a portent that she is giving in to her need to escape the pain. Even if that pain is more emotional than physical these days.

Lange is mesmerizing as the “normal” Mary, the keep-up-appearances woman, joking with the boys and flirting with her husband whose actor’s good looks swept her off her feet and veered her away from her the path she desired – to be a nun. Lange gives us a glimpse of what a carefree, happy girl she once was with evidence of affection for James.

She transitions, sometimes in the blink of an eye, however, to a paranoid, cold, selfish woman hardly able to mask her contempt for those around her and for the miserable existence she lives in a house that never has felt like home to her. Set Designer Tom Pye pays homage to O’Neill’s boyhood home, Monte Christo Cottage, still standing and open to visitors in New London, CT, without meticulously recreating the living room. Lighting Designer Natasha Katz creates a mostly dark atmosphere capturing the brooding darkness about to engulf this family, despite the lonely warnings of a fog horn (though the additional sounds of insects become annoying -- Sound Design by Clive Goodwin).

Everyone is walking on eggshells (right from the get-go thanks to O’Neill’s sharp writing), trying not to face the truth about anything, whether it is Mary’s relapse into the frightening hold of narcotics, James’ stinginess and refusal to pay good money for anything from an extra energy-using light bulb to a doctor’s care (that might have saved Mary from the quack and his morphine solution). Edmund’s serious health issues get swept under the carpet too lest they remind Mary of her beloved father died, or give , Before long the sound of cracking shells is all that can be heard as the brothers and their father allow their anxiety and pent-up frustrations with each other to boil over.

I usually refer to Long Day’s Journey as a perfect play. There is little I would change, except for maybe some tweaking of the three-and-a-half hour length and it appears Director Jonathan Kent already increased the pace in some areas (some versions are almost four hours). Usually, though, the play is all about the Tyrone men with Mary wandering in and out of their angst. In this version, however, the focus is on Mary – and so it should be. In her flawed way, she has always been what held the family together and now that she seems to have lost her faith and be forming a tighter embrace with her addiction and depression, the bonds between the Tyrones are threatened.

Byrne and Shannon give solid performances and Colby Minifie as the family’s maid, Cathleen, gets a few laughs. Gallagher’s Edmund doesn’t seem charged with any emotion or even very frail except when he appears to give a few coughs on cue. Without Lange’s portrayal, I am not sure this revival would be able to stand on its own in memory of the last fabulous revival led by Brian Dennehy.

Lange, however, is a delight to watch. It’s a pleasure to see a well-known character in a new light as she takes the long journey into night and makes it personal for us.

Long Day's Journey Into Night plays through June 26 at American Airlines Theatre, 227 west 42nd St., NYC. Perfromances are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7 pm, with matinees on Wednesday and Sunday at 2 pm and Saturday at 1 pm. Tickets are $67-$152: http://eclipsedbroadway.com212-719-1300,

Additional Credits:
Costume Design by Jane Greenwood; Hair and Wig Design by Tom Watson, Fight Direction by J. David Brimmer.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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