Running just under three hours rather than the four of the last Broadway revival, it’s clear that helmer Anthony Page isn’t underlining the first word of the title of “Long Day’s Journey into Night.” But overstatement is central to O’Neill’s relentless method, and something has been lost in the trimming. Laurie Metcalf’s regal Mary Tyrone is indisputably at the center of this production, but her character should be defined by powerful opposition. As her husband James, David Suchet lacks threat. Without James dominating, the family — and the play — doesn’t fully work.
In the opening pre-set, lighting designer Mark Henderson’s sunlight glows on Lez Brotherston’s naturalistic, solid, wooden set. Given the literal and metaphorical darkness to come, the sheer heat of the image seems to herald a dramatic range sometimes denied by productions too easily addicted to O’Neill’s pain-filled doom. Oddly, that range fails to materialize.
Picking up on Page’s mood, Metcalf has, initially, a poise that is almost sunny. Her bearing erect, the incline of her head gracious, she never once stoops to display. She’s inhabiting a woman practiced in the art of deception. Not only does this give Metcalf room for development and deeply sad dissolution, it restores tension to a role that can be flattened by overstatement. When Edmund (a wired but taut Kyle Soller) admits that he heard her creeping around in the night and leaps to the conclusion that she’s back on morphine, it’s entirely possible that he’s wrong.
Trevor White’s lean, muscular James Tyrone Jr., is, as expected, more cynical. Flopping restlessly into chairs and leaping up to grab another swift drink, he ricochets about the furniture, physically fuelled by self-disgust.
“You put me in such a goddamn rage,” cries his father but, ironically, rage is exactly what Suchet doesn’t have. He’s impressively intent upon subtly delineating James’s shifting moods from exasperation to blind hope — all variants on self-delusion, the Tyrone family’s stock-in-trade. At his angriest, he drops his voice to a low, sharply bitten disgust, but boiling, terrifying rage is not in his repertoire.
He shows all James’s mood swings, but that degree of measured intent is antithetical to a man who has tyrannized his family for decades. It also flies in the face of a character who is, after all, a famous actor. Suchet is so careful not to fall into the trap of being overly actorly that he goes to the opposite extreme. Physical expansiveness is nowhere apparent. He’s contained, circumscribed. Suchet does show a man whose eyes light up when he talks about Shakespeare, but it comes across as the love of a man who collects first editions rather than using them to play the roles.
Page’s attention to detail allows scenes to be carefully calibrated and his actors to mine the monolithic dialogue for detail that roots them convincingly. But robbed of the pivot who has, to a degree, wrecked their lives or at the very least held them in dangerous thrall, the play rebalances itself in a way that is ultimately less moving. James’s nighttime confrontation never reaches a searing climax. It’s not Metcalf’s fault, but the result is that Mary’s final appearance isn’t the shattering coda, merely a very sad consequence.
O’Neill’s drama is forever remarkable for the way it anticipates much more recent examinations of addicts and the devastation they can wreak upon those who continue to believe in them. Tender though Page’s considered and considerable production is, you long for something more raw.