- Long Day’s Journey Into Night dir. by Nathaniel Swift
A spirited Long Day’s Journey Into Night culminated the Chicago’s Eclipse Theatre Company’s 2012 season, dedicated exclusively to Eugene O’Neill. In Eclipse’s sensitive and faithful production, no single character is featured. Rather, each Tyrone is given the space to lash out, retreat, attack, evade, and endlessly circle each other in a maelstrom of recriminations, booze, and morphine. The family entity was the main character, and it was divisive yet indivisible. In a post-performance interview I conducted on December 2, 2012, director Nathaniel Swift said one major challenge was that the company’s daily three-hour rehearsal schedule did not allow for a full run-through of the four-hour play. Mindful of the length and demanding nature of Long Day’s Journey, Swift moved his characters through a rapid, though not hurried performance. He pointed out that for him, “a big issue was stamina, for the actors as well as the stamina we knew we were going to be asking of our audience. So it was important for me that things moved quickly, that the actors spoke overlapping each other’s lines, and spoke with a really quick rhythm.” With this approach, he moderated to a degree the demands of O’Neill’s lengthy drama.
Indeed, the production was briskly paced without sacrificing significant moments for the audience to absorb the Tyrones’ individual and collective heartache, which the cast delivered with the deftness and power of a graceful boxer. Patrick Blashill as James Tyrone and Joe McCauley as Jamie were well paired as father and son. Blashill was gruff, blustering, and unyielding, while [End Page 269]
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McCauley’s antagonistic physicality and callousness came to the fore. His wise-guy cynicism at times bordered on menace, markedly in the final act. His brotherly concern easily slipped into venomous contempt when he spit out, “Mama’s baby, papa’s pet!” In contrast to his father and brother, Stephen Dale as Edmund looked appropriately pale and sickly, in an oversized suit that emphasized his consumption. His lines were often delivered with a pleading cadence, struggling in vain against the weakness of his body and spirit. Comic respite was found in the performance of Jaimelyn Gray as Cathleen, the servant. For example, at the outset of act 3 it is clear she had been drinking and, as she enters, she feels her way along the wall to steady herself.
If there was one standout in the Eclipse production, it was Susan Monts-Bologna as Mary Tyrone. The audience palpably felt the loss—of her happy life, of her former skill at the piano, of her religious faith, of all three of her sons. While wanting to condemn her addiction, Monts-Bologna allowed the audience to understand the anguish that kept her going back to it. Her hands were aflutter throughout the play, waving away anything too painful, stroking her husband’s face, or hiding away suddenly when she became aware of them. [End Page 270]
During a talkback, Monts-Bologna said she wanted her portrayal not to evince a stereotypical drug addict but to invite a compassionate response in the audience. She pointed out that, at the time of the play, a doctor’s prescription for morphine was not uncommon for any number of “female” maladies, mental or physical. Harsh judgment, she argued, should be tempered with sympathy. Indeed, her performance captured the naturalness and perhaps the inevitability of Mary’s dilemma. Cast members also said it was revealing how all four Tyrones often were guilty of the same faults—like substance abuse, selfishness, and cruelty—that they accused the others of, as well as having many of the same positive qualities of periodic kindness and honest compassion.
In a similar vein, director Swift described...