KPBS AIRDATE: MAY 18, 2001
It’s a good thing Eugene O’Neill is dead. Or, at any rate, a good thing you didn’t know him. His masterpiece, “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” arguably America’s greatest drama, is painful to watch as fiction. But as fact, it is almost unbearable, voyeuristic, more than you’d ever want to know about someone you knew. The play is unabashedly autobiographical, one day in the life of the Tyrone family — those stand-ins for the O’Neills — that exposes all their symbiosis, dysfunction, co-dependence, disillusionment and despair.
Like the mythical Greeks, with their inescapable fate, these family members are doomed to destroy each other. Except here, the devastation is psychological. Practically every element of the gut-wrenching play is based in reality. Like the Tyrones, the O’Neills sported a tight-fisted, Irish-born actor/father, a morphine-addicted mother, one dissolute son and one consumptive, who was Eugene himself.
O’Neill places them in a claustrophobic space, their rundown summer home in New London Connecticut, in August of 1912. They’re on each other’s backs, and at each other’s throats. They are pitiful, pathetic, maddening and, like their mythical forebears, unable to control themselves, wanting to love and connect, but needing to challenge, confront and devastate at the same time.
O’Neill’s plays have been criticized as too long and too wordy, but it’s amazing how fast 3 1/4 hours can fly, and how much of the inner workings of a family one gifted playwright can convey in one condensed day. A day when too many truths are revealed, when brutal candor alternates abruptly with denial and dishonesty. It really is a magnificent play, too rarely produced, too difficult to mount. But the fledgling Renaissance Theatre is committed to bringing back the modern classics, and once again, they’ve scored and soared. Director David Ellenstein has done a masterful job, and assembled an incomparable cast and magnificent design. Marty Burnett’s set is a beaut, down to every weathered wood detail. Karin Filijan’s lighting and Jeanne Waterman’s costumes are wonderfully evocative. The total effort is outstanding. And the performances are breath-taking, from Jonathan McMurtry’s crusty, misguided father, to Brendan Ford’s cynical drunkard son, to Sean Robert Cox’s darkly consumptive Edmund, and Rosina Reynolds, brilliant and heart-breaking in her portrayal of poor, sad, regret-filled mother Mary.
It’s a play you should certainly see and a production you dare not miss.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.