Robert Falls’ revival of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” the latest in the Chi helmer’s vaunted series of collaborations with actor Brian Dennehy, was the subject of much advance speculation and Broadway talk. But a starry supporting cast didn’t come through in the end. The resulting production is a clear, dignified, thoroughly competent and occasionally revelatory production of O’Neill’s descent into family hell, but the casting isn’t as pitch-perfect as with “Death of a Salesman,” the last time Falls and Dennehy got together. This is hardly a shabby production, but it lacks the emotional fireworks necessary to give a 3½–hour show commercial appeal.
Falls’ “Salesman” was, of course, a revisionist production that excised some of the familiar trappings of the play. That’s harder to do with “Long Day’s Journey,” a play that operates on a personal — rather than a macroeconomic — canvas and has no equivalent of a famed Mielziner set in its past. Nonetheless, this incarnation of the Tyrone saga would need an injection of fresh zest — and probably some cast changes — for Broadway viability.
Played on a soaring wooden Santo Loquasto set that struggles to capture the claustrophobia of the Tyrones’ summer house, Falls’ staging nonetheless feels capable and intelligent, especially in the stronger first half of the evening. But as the family agonies play out, problems emerge in terms of the play’s delicate power structure and in its interwoven machinations of love and hate.
Dennehy, who now sports a beard and Wellesian girth, has the requisite magnitude for Tyrone. He’s entirely credible as a second-rate leading man, destroyed by the rigors of the road, and as a drunk whose hardscrabble youth led to an obsession with the value of a dollar. In the magnetic scenes where Tyrone declares his love for Shakespeare, Dennehy unleashes great emotional heft and creates some splendid moments.
But while Dennehy’s Tyrone has obvious — and moving — poetry and pain in his soul, his necessary anger and destructive need for control are less clear in this production. And in the scenes with Edmund (David Cromer), it feels too consistently like the consumptive kid always has the upper hand.
Cromer, an eloquent and spunky young Chicago actor, offers a rich characterization, but one struggles to believe this smart-as-a-tack guy would go cheerfully off to whatever lousy sanitarium his pop was willing to spring for. Steve Pickering, as James Tyrone Jr., gives the most effective performance overall; he looks and feels like an emotional wreck stuck in an alcoholic cycle, even as he has flashes of lucidity.
In the fiendishly tough role of Mary Tyrone, Pamela Payton-Wright offers a detailed, gut-wrenching portrait of an addict, but shows little evidence of why James Tyrone married her in the first place. She appears to have been the family aggressor from day one.
The Tyrones are of course a tricky bunch. Dennehy, one senses, could be great in this part. But he’ll need to stand up to his wife and sons.