Dysfunctional families do not know about time or place.
We may all know too well that reading Eugene O’Neill’s plays can be truly devastating and pulverizing, but watching it on stage performed by Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville can definitely be a one-life experience. Long Day’s Journey Into Night is so full of autobiographical elements that the playwright established that it could only be performed after his death. Richard Eyre’s production is a painful and bitter reminder of what dysfunctional families can cause to each other.
The play is set in a seaside town in Connecticut, where the Tyrone family is forced to come to terms with a past and present life full of miseries, difficulties, illnesses, and addictions. The curtains are drawn and the scorchingly brilliant Lesley Manville, as if floating in the air and dressed in light pale clothes, joins the scene. She holds the characteristic enthusiasm of someone who has not yet learned how to put her emotions together: she is unable to hold her innermost anxieties and fears back resulting in a sudden burst of bitter recriminations and dissatisfactions. Her first appearance on stage is a clear reminiscence of an always-prevailing troubled Blanche Dubois.
Her two grown-up sons, brilliantly represented by Matthew Beard as Edmund and Rory Keenan as Jamie, suffer when they see their mother behave in such a disruptive way but still have an innocent childlike faith in their mother’s full recovery. In the aftermath of such long rooted storms, both young men will have to find a way to tackle their coughing series and alcohol abuse. The patriarch figure, mesmerizingly portrayed by Jeremy Irons, attempts to restore order but fails to do so when he realizes there are situations beyond his control culminating in mercurial furies.
Spectators watch the play with a detectivesque eye trying to figure out who is responsible for the downfall of an apparently stable, wealthy American Irish family, only to realize that their miseries and sufferings are the product of long and old silent prayers and of a doomed inescapable destiny. O’Neill proved with this piece that he was the master when depicting vertiginous lives and mirroring the decay of the American dream. After a three-hour play, the audience leaves the theatre shattered and profoundly touched by the playwright’s carefully crafted lines and the actors’ performance who magnificently transmit an ordinary family’s devastating record marked by the contradictions of a life dragged in love and pain.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.