As mentioned last week, I timed my return from Mexico so I could attend the West Coast premier on “Long Day ‘s Journey Into Night.” at the Wallis Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills.
To be sure, I did so with some apprehension, as comment on public radio KBU 99.1 and websites everywhere.
I had last seen – perhaps witnessed is a better word — Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece some 50 years ago on Broadway, and had not forgotten the experience It was so raw and riveting, and moving.
I wondered whether it still would have the same dramatic effect on me, being so much older now, and in this day and age where I believe we sadly have become so unfortunately hardened to shock, to mention among other things the school shootings, the pervasive homelessness and the cruelty to children, of the current Republican misadministration.
From a critic’s and personal perspective, the answer is yes. “Long Day’s Journey,” is indeed a drama that will absorb you for 3 plus hours and haunt you after.
There are no stage gimmicks, special effects at the Wallis, no Greek chorus breaking into song and dance, just actors on a striking open set performing with such skill and speaking poignant lines with such convincing feeling you feel transformed, ease dropping a century ago on a dysfunctional Irish Catholic family, the Tyrones, exposing themselves on one long day and night.
The cast of the English Bristol Old Vic production is, in a word, magnificent, particularly the alcoholic patriarch Tyrone, played by Oscar, Tony and Emmy award winner Jeremy Irons, and the Morphine addicted matriarch, Lesley Manville, a recent Oscar nominee. The twisted relationship between the two crackles.
Her venomous delivery of the line, “I love you dear, in spite of everything,” is echoed by her husband in every aside and gesture, witnessed with an ebb and flow of emotion by their sons drifting in and out of the living room.
The performances of the sons played by Matthew Beard and Rory Keenan are equally emotional and convincing, in their love and hate for each other, and their tortured parents. You ache for them.
Eugene O’Neill once described the play as having been written in tears and blood”, a play of old sorrow, and was so baldly autobiographical that he left instructions that it not be performed for 25 years after his death, which came in 1953. His widow disobeyed. I saw it in 1956, and last week.
If you love theatre, you should, too, before the limited engagement ends July 1.