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Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Long Day's Journey into NightBristol Old Vic
Review by Terry Morgan

Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville
Photo by Lawrence K. Ho
Famously, Eugene O'Neill didn't allow his masterwork, Long Day's Journey into Night, to be produced until after his death, perhaps feeling its persistent howl of despair and helpless love would be too much for both himself and his family to bear. One can see why—it's an aria of misery, albeit one underlaid with dark humor—and yet its tale of "ghosts haunting the past" continues to resonate. The current Bristol Old Vic revival demonstrates the play's enduring power with strong performances by Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville, although some of the other actors are less successful.

In 1912 Connecticut, the Tyrone family is gathered together in its cottage and slowly imploding. James (Jeremy Irons), a once-promising actor and constant miser, is trying to sustain his wife Mary (Lesley Manville) in her sobriety, but she is relapsing into morphine addiction. James Jr. (Rory Keenan) is proud of his life of drunken debauchery, while youngest son Edmund (Matthew Beard) receives the bad news that he has tuberculosis. Over one day, the family members reach out to and lash out at each other in a toxic mixture of self-deception and defeat.

Irons is superb as James and gracefully manages to illuminate all of the character's complexities. He shows the constant struggle the man is under to try and be a caring husband or father, but also how he keeps failing, and the toll this takes on him. The delicacy with which Irons portrays James trying to hide his increasing drunkenness is impressive, as is his hilarious cough of revulsion upon having to open his wallet. Irons, as a noted film and theatre actor, is great casting for the ex-matinee idol James and, in a brilliant scene in which he declaims some Shakespeare with beauty and passion, for an evanescent moment one can see James's faded glory.

Manville is quite good as the tragic Mary, with the unbearable guilt of letting down her family expressing itself through nervous agitation and an ultimate retreat into a perfect past that probably never existed. Beard is fine as Edmund, although his use of a New York accent which none of the other characters share is a misstep. Keenan is also fine as James Jr. for the bulk of the play, but his delivery of his character's big monologue toward the play's end is thoroughly misjudged, coming off as unbelievable and cartoonish.

Director Richard Eyre gets terrific, detailed work from his lead actors and uses Peter Mumford's continually darkening lighting design to create a sense of existential doom. One of the characters remarks that it's "as if I drowned long ago and was a ghost," and Rob Howell's airy set of see-through walls with a blue backdrop evokes a drowned dream, a watery stage wherein specters repeatedly reenact their fates.

O'Neill's play still works remarkably well, a tragedy not only about the suffering of addicts back when treatment was inadequate, but also the misfortune of people who can't talk to each other about what's wrong with their lives. "The past is the present, isn't it," he has one of his characters say. "It's the future, too." The power of this play is that inability to change one's destiny or to communicate one's true feelings, and the potency of this wish in this production is undimmed by the passage of time.

Long Day's Journey into Night, through July 1, 2018, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills CA. Tickets and information are available at

The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in association with Fiery Angel and Pádraig Cusack presents The Bristol Old Vic production of Long Day's Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill. Directed by Richard Eyre. Lighting Designer, Peter Mumford; Scenic and Costume Designer, Rob Howell; Sound Designer, John Leonard.

James Tyrone: Jeremy Irons
Mary Tyrone: Lesley Manville
Edmund Tyrone: Matthew Beard
James Tyrone Jr.: Rory Keenan
Cathleen: Jessica Regan