The Eugene O’Neill Festival continues at Arena Stage with Long Day’s Journey into Night. Thanks to Nima Aghdam for sharing his review with us today. He writes plays and short stories while attending Georgetown University school of medicine in Washington DC.
Long Day's Journey into Night at Arena Stage
The 19th century Russian neuropsychiatrist Sergei Korsakoff described a collection of symptoms in people with chronic alcoholism characterized by severe memory loss and a penchant for confabulations. While each character in Eugene O’Neill’s seminal play, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, seem to have a weakness for alcohol or other substances, none suffer from loss of memory. In fact, it is the memories that make the Tyrones sick. A dust of decay covers their summerhouse, their garden, even the painting of Shakespeare on the back wall, and no matter how many glasses of whiskey James Sr. and his two sons knock back, facing the past doesn’t get any easier.
This spring, Arena Stage is treating O’Neill’s fans to a strong staging of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Helen Carey as Mary Tyrone finds ample grace and vanity in her character throughout the first half of the play. She is so sincere in trying but condemned from the start by O’Neill’s dark vision. This makes Carey’s performance all the more heartbreaking. Her memories are the ones we mourn the most. Recalling her days as a schoolgirl in a convent playing the piano, or reminiscing about James Tyrone’s charm as a young and promising actor, would make for little plot in lesser hands. But with O’Neill’s language and Helen Carey’s delivery, memories propel the plot into an uncomfortable terrain, where, as James Joyce puts it, “driven and derided by vanity,” the Tyrones must face their undoing.
Edmund Tyrone, the younger son, deftly acted by Nathan Darrow offers yet another side of the family’s misfortune. Where Mary, his mother, digs deep into her past to find a vestige of her lost and happy youth, Edmund recalls only a single moment of joy on a long journey at sea. His only sin was to be born, and he is reminded of it time and time again. His ethereal presence offers the best chance at redemption, but from the start, we are waiting to be let down.
It is difficult not to make the usual connections between Eugene O’Neill’s family and the Tyrones. More startling is that the play itself is O’Neill reckoning with his past, and even though each character makes half sincere efforts in reconciling with the past and each other, he was fully committed to face the awful truth. The summer cottage of Tyrones on the Connecticut shore may be obscured in fog, but O’Neill dared to look and he saw everything.
See Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Arena Stage through May 6.