Monday, November 8, 2010

LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT • Muddy Waters Theatre

Eugene O'Neill's plays are no joke.  They tend to drift toward tragedy, where life guarantees struggle, and people born into this world are doomed.  LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, a semi autobiographical drama, is considered to be his masterpiece, and it's currently receiving a striking production from Muddy Waters Theatre.

The play takes a look at a day in the life of the Tyrone family at their Connecticut summer home, starting at around 8:30 on an August morning in 1912.  First there's James Tyrone (Robert Ashton), the patriarch of the family.  At one time he showed promise as a Shakespearean actor, but he chose to join a more lucrative touring production that travelled from city to city doing one-night stands.  Now he's a third-rate actor, and an alcoholic miser.  He has two sons, also alcoholics.  Jamie (Joshua Thomas), followed in his father's footsteps pursuing a career in theatre, but in the eyes of his dad he's little more than a "Broadway loafer", content to sponge off of the family for his drinking and whoring around.  The youngest, Edmund (Aaron Baker, representing Eugene O'Neill), is the sensitive one -- a poet with a fondness for Nietzsche, Ibsen and Baudelaire.  He also has a horrible cough -- a likely sign of consumption in those days.  Last but not least, there's the matriarch, Mary (Kari Ely).  She has recently been released from a sanatorium, put there for the treatment of her morphine addiction of many years.  After she's released, her decline doesn't take long as Edmund's cough persists, and her need to escape returns.
Robert Ashton (James Tyrone) and 
Kari Ely (Mary Tyrone). Photo credit: John Lamb
The increasing tension created as the family waits to hear definitive news about Edmund's health heightens the dysfunction of the Tyrone clan.  The brothers, along with their father, to try conceal Edmund's probable prognosis from Mary as best they can, fearing this might send her beyond hope of kicking her addiction, but as the liquor lines around dad's bottles of whiskey sink lower and lower through the day, the men's jabs at each other become increasingly malicious, and Mary visibly sinks deeper into her returning dope habits.  Her trips upstairs "for a nap" are met with suspicious looks, and her time spent with the rest of the family go back and forth between ramblings of her lost youth and leveled, bitter accusations.
Joshua Thomas (Jamie), and
Robert Ashton (James Tyrone).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This is a beautiful production admirably directed by Cameron Ulrich, and I have never seen so many stunned faces on the way out of the theatre.  But stunned in a good way.  The performances were rock solid across the board, including Jennifer Theby as the "summer help", Cathleen.  She's a welcome safety valve and pretty funny -- Irish brogue and all.  The rest of the cast have their moments to shine, and each make the most of them.  Joshua Thomas as Jamie really makes an impression in the last act as his love/hate relationship with his brother is revealed.  Aaron Baker as Edmund comes across as pensive, with his fair share to shoulder, trying to find normalcy within the walls of his messed-up family's dilapidated summer home.  Robert Ashton epitomizes the familiar "dad vs. his sons" generational conflicts, but shows a deep sense of an almost constant underlying dread along with some residual bravado from his matinee-idol days.  Kari Ely as Mary Tyrone was remarkable.  She seems grounded just enough in the beginning, that watching her gradual decline and resulting dope-induced detachment by the end is absolutely gripping.
The set is simple -- a handful of furniture and a few stacks of books, but in the second act, there are partial panels of a scrim-like curtain drawn in front of parts of the Kranzberg's thrust stage.  By the final act, around midnight that night in the play, this scrim completely surrounds the stage, obscuring the players in a haze as the fog lays thick outside along the seaside.  Lovely conception.  The costumes clearly inform the characters, and the lights were low and provocative.  The creative contributions, along with additional music between the intermissions by Ryan Spearman, all contribute to the overall mood of the play.
Aaron Baker (Edmund)
and Kari Ely (Mary Tyrone).
Photo credit: John Lamb
I'd never seen this play before, but I can't imagine it any differently than the way it was presented.  Now, it is long, clocking in around three and a half hours with two 10 minute intermissions, but please don't let that stop you from checking it out.  This glimpse into this complex family is well worth it.  It's a classic!  And one of the most captivating pieces of drama I've seen in awhile.

Go see it.


LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT

Written by Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Cameron Ulrich
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through November 21 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Kari Ely* (Mary), Robert Ashton (James), Aaron Baker (Edmund), Joshua Thomas (Jamie) and Jennifer Theby (Cathleen).
*Members Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Costume design by Theresa Loeb; scenic design by Mark Wilson; lighting design by John Ryan; original music by Ryan Spearman; stage manager, Maria I. Straub.

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