Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Long Day's Journey Into Night
The play, completed in 1940, was O'Neill's chance to exorcise the demons of his family, four people with individual sorrows and disappointments who clearly loved each other but constantly brought out the worst in themselves and each other. Where Ah, Wilderness! showed warmth and forgiveness among family members, not to mention tolerance of personal weaknesses, the Tyrone family of Long Day's Journey Into Night exists in a world of despair and bitternessand very dark humor, which keeps the play from becoming unbearable.
The family members are James Tyrone Sr. (Peter Michael Goetz), a financially successful actor who nonetheless lives in fear of returning to the poverty of his childhood; his wife Mary (Helen Carey), who grew up sheltered and educated but later had to deal with loneliness on the road with her husband, the death of one of her children, and morphine addiction; older son Jamie (Andy Bean), a sometime actor who mostly lives through whiskey and whores; and Edmund (Nathan Darrow), the author's surrogate, home after working as a sailor and suffering from consumption.
While the three men are onstage more than Mary, Carey is the breaking heart of this production. From the joy and wariness of her first entrance, to her growing self-isolation (broken by a riotous scene with Helen Hedman as a blunt maid), to her final appearance as a ghostly version of her younger self, she dominates the action through her warm memories, her self-protective denial of reality, and her way of speaking hard truths with a smile.
Goetz, stocky and florid, brings the necessary solidity to Tyrone: one sees his surface charm and easy conviviality and understands at once that this man was an idol to a generation of theatergoers. Bean is best in Jamie's most lacerating moments, specifically his verbal and physical brawls with Edmund, and Darrow gives a rhapsodic reading of Edmund's evocation of life on shipboard and becoming one with the world around him.
Hisham Ali has designed a monochrome set with translucent walls and an interior all grimy gray and dusty tan; one realizes instantly why Mary says she has never considered it a real home. Michael Whitfield's lighting design shifts easily from early sun to encroaching fog and the claustrophobic darkness of the last act.