Eugene O'Neill's masterwork presents a family divided in more ways than one.
In the latest installment of the Sydney Theater Company’s presentation of classic American plays, Eugene O’Neill’s masterwork “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” presents a family divided in more ways than one. As ever, the Tyrones are shown to be clouded with denial and dysfunction years before the terms were popularized. They suspiciously niggle, claw and scratch at other’s shameful family secrets even as they try to protect their own sore spots. But in Andrew Upton’s production they don’t dress like a family, sound like a family or look like a family. Worst of all, they don’t act like a family. A collision of thesping styles mars Upton’s occasionally schematic effort to present the play anew.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Visiting American thesp William Hurt inhabits aging alcoholic patriarch James Tyrone so completely that, at times, his performance just skirts indulgence. The Irish-American accent coupled with an assumed hangover may be authentic, but his murmuring is initially difficult to decipher. There does seem to be purpose in Hurt’s method. As James’ boozing increases, Hurt likewise incrementally increases vulnerability and lucidity. The famed thesp offers many small flashes of brilliance, but they remain uncoordinated over the play’s duration.
As Tyrone’s son, fellow alcoholic and namesake, James Tyrone Jr., Todd Van Voris plays the drama bigger than life. Another Stateside import, from the co-producing Artists Repertory Theater of Portland, Ore., Van Voris seems the most in tune with Upton’s intention to give O’Neill’s work some lighter shading. A well-performed comic presentation of Junior’s extended drunk scene in the final act offers a dark levity that prevents the drama from bogging down before the play reaches its climax. Unfortunately, this introduced playfulness also means that some vital intensity has been jettisoned.
The requisite intensity is delivered in Mary, played by the production’s powerhouse, Robyn Nevin. Unloved by the movie camera, this formidable thesp remains little-known internationally, but is an Oz legit treasure. Nevin’s every move is nuanced, intelligent but profoundly natural as she drives the emotional rollercoaster that is Mary’s morphine-addicted life.
Unlike the alcoholic males portrayed, Nevin gives the impression of a real person trapped in addiction’s vortex. In contrast, Nevin’s colleagues — with varying degrees of mastery — merely perform. Least successful is Luke Mullins. His academic consumptive Edmund is bland and unsympathetic.
Michael Scott Mitchell’s gloomy stone gray vision of the Tyrone home is viewed through a girder-like arch with a blood red inner lining. The deceptive perspectives and expressionistic angles of the oppressive residence is part M.C. Escher mausoleum and Doctor Caligari madhouse.
Max Lyandvert’s ambient-style music is used sparingly as the two acts close, giving thesps a gentle support that is refused them during the body of the play.