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Long Days Journey Into Night: Theater review by Adam Feldman
As the morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone in the latest Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s bitter masterwork, Long Days Journey Into Night, Jessica Lange brings stunning colors to the role of a woman clawing her way through fog. You can’t take your eyes off her; it’s a mesmeric performance. But don’t look here for the “simple, unaffected charm” described in O’Neill’s stage directions. Lange’s Mary is a desperate fighter, defensive and manipulative, switching in an instant from self-pity to sneak attack. By turns, she is loving, wistful, lonely, proud, vicious and confused—but above all, she is an addict. Her dodging and feinting may not fool anyone for long, but they buy her some time on credit that she ran through long ago.
In Jonathan Kent’s production, the other actors orbit around Lange’s blazing star turn in painfully believable patterns of resignation. Gabriel Byrne plays her husband, James, with striking weariness and restraint; his heartbreaking account of his impoverished childhood helps explain (if not excuse) the miserliness that has cost his family dearly. As their dissolute oldest son, Jamie, the riveting Michael Shannon infuses his climactic drunk scene with acrid dark humor and reluctant, wounded tenderness toward his consumptive younger brother, Edmund (a willfully sincere John Gallagher Jr.). In their ruined dreams and undelivered promises, they are trapped in grooves they have dug for themselves and each other.
Although Long Day’s Journey is nearly four hours long, and deals centrally with stasis—note how Mary’s blue-gray dress blurs with the walls and the 1912 Connecticut seaside landscape outside the window—it passes quickly. Only in one patch of Act IV, when the literary-minded Edmund is rhapsodizing about the ocean, does the play seem adrift. Otherwise, you’re grateful for every minute you get to spend in the beautiful, miserable company of a family whose abiding devotion is hopeless.—Adam Feldman
American Airlines Theatre (Broadway). By Eugene O’Neill. Directed by Jonathan Kent. With Jessica Lange, Gabriel Byrne, Michael Shannon, John Gallagher Jr. Running time: 3hrs 45mins. One intermission.
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