It’s a long summer day’s journey into the darkest nighttime of their souls for the illness-and-addiction-plagued Tyrones of Eugene O’Neill’s 20th-century classic Long Day’s Journey Into Night, now getting a superbly acted and designed Geffen Playhouse revival under Jeanie Hackett’s inspired direction.
Family dysfunction was scarcely ever written about let alone discussed back in the play’s 1912 timeframe nor was it when O’Neill wrote it in the early ‘40s and perhaps even less so in the Eisenhower ‘50s when Broadway finally debuted O’Neill’s look at the miserly father, troubled mother, and drunken older brother who influenced the future writings of a then 20something Eugene, rechristened Edmund here but suffering from the same life-threatening illness that seemed to portend an early demise for the young man who went on to write a series of theatrical classics over the next thirty years.
Alfred Molina stars, and brilliantly so, as 65-year-old patriarch James Tyrone, an actor whose early promise failed to lead to lasting success No wonder, then, that this product of a poor Irish immigrant family hoards every penny he’s earned, that is when he’s not reinvesting his savings in the purchase of new property and leaving his family to live a nearly threadbare, nearly electricity-free existence.
Jane Kaczmarek is equally stunning as Mary Tyrone, once fresh and untainted and full of hope and promise but recently released from one of the many sanatoriums she’s spent the past few years in and out of for an affliction danced gingerly about by fellow family members till a day’s worth of whisky finally frees their tongues, though by that point Mary’s ailment has become painfully obvious.
Stephen Louis Grush provides electrifying support as James Tyrone, Jr., aka Jamie, the couple’s older son, a thirty-three-year-old wreck whose life has been a series of failures and disappointments, drinking and whoring, and alternately protecting and tormenting his younger brother.
2014 USC grad Colin Woodell gives a star-making performance as twenty-three-year-old Edmund, who like O’Neill spent several years as a sailor before returning to the family homestead, the victim of depression, alcoholism, and more recently of the illness we now call T.B.
At three-hours-and-twenty minutes, Long Day’s Journey Into Night runs perhaps an hour longer than a 21-century playwright would have it, and I’ll wager I’m not the only one wishing that the O’Neill estate would allow trimming for contemporary tastes, pre-intermission Acts One and Two featuring much talk about not all that much.
Still, there’s no denying the power of the tale O’Neill has to tell, one that despite its pre-WWI setting proves that the more things change, the more they remain as they were, the Tyrones’ very human failings proving every bit as recognizable as our own even a century after young Eugene suffered through them.
Hackett’s direction brings out the best in each of her cast members, from a towering Molina’s outwardly blustery, inwardly self-doubting patriarch, to Kaczmarek’s harrowing single-day descent into drug-induced nothingness, to Grush’s heartbreaking depiction of a man unable to love without destroying, to Woodell’s compelling grab-bag of hopes, fears, anger, resentments, and love, and the lovely Angela Goethals is a feisty delight in her all too brief appearances as Irish maid Cathleen.
Tom Buderwitz’s richly detailed set, Elizabeth Harper’s dazzling lighting, Michael Roth’s mood-enhancing original music and soundscape, and Jason H. Thompson’s striking projections are all stunners, and never more so than in the eerie, memory play-esque sequences linking the production’s five scenes, with Denitsa Bliznakova’s just-right period costumes completing the production design mix. (Kudos also to fight director Peter Katona and movement coach Jean-Louis Rodriguez.)
Casting is by Phyllis Schuringa, CSA. Taylor Cerny, David Garelik, and Joseph Kathrein understudy the roles of Cathleen, Edmund, and James. Jr.
Though a shorter day’s journey would likely prove a better fit for contemporary tastes, even at nearly three-and-a-half hours, Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night packs potent emotional punch, and with Alfred Molina and Jane Kaczmarek adding their own stage-and-screen star power to the mix, this is one more Geffen Playhouse production not to be missed.
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood.
February 9, 2107
Photos: Chris Whitaker