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Long Day's Journey Into Night

  • Theater, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Elizabeth Marvel and Bill Camp in Long Day's Journey Into Night
Photograph: Courtesy Joan MarcusLong Day's Journey Into Night
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Adam Feldman

Can Long Day’s Journey Into Night work unless it’s long? Most productions of Eugene O’Neill’s booze-and-pain-soaked depiction of the Tyrone family—a quasi-autobiographical drama that was first produced, posthumously, in 1956—last nearly four hours; Audible’s heavily edited revival clicks in at under two, with no intermission. It’s a short cut into night, and most of the missing passages are not missed in and of themselves: the maid character, some back story, much swooning over Swinburne. But cumulatively, though still fitfully moving, the show loses an essential sense of weight. Some degree of boredom, some durational drag, is key to the tension that O’Neill builds into the play. Its longueurs are part of the journey.

Much of the cutting is in service to the production’s modernizing concept. Directed by Robert O’Hara (Slave Play), this version makes the most of parallels between O’Neill’s world and our own, abstracting most of the references that place its story more than a century earlier. The mutual aggravation of the Tyrones is situated within a world of COVID-era isolation: As designed by Clint Ramos, the house of skinflint paterfamilias James (Bill Camp) is cluttered with bulk-purchase crates and Amazon boxes, with a bottle of Purell on the table center stage; the family is mostly dressed in sweat clothes and shorts. The longtime opioid addiction of mother Mary (Elizabeth Marvel)—the result of a cheap doctor’s overprescription of painkillers—has clear modern resonance, and the troubling cough of her sensitive son, Edmund (Ato Blankson-Wood), is not the consumption of the original.

This somewhat literal approach, while clever and suggestive, is also limiting. Even with 40% of it excised, the text doesn’t quite fit the specifics of our current moment, and neither does it have its erstwhile grounding in 1912. The best parts of the production find ways to navigate this limbo, which is especially true of Marvel’s remarkable performance as Mary. As she proved years ago in her collaborations with director Ivo van Hove, Marvel has an astonishing ability to inhabit multiple planes at once within a theatrical space; she makes every word of O’Neill’s old dialogue sound natural from the mouth of a modern woman. And her warm, physically demonstrative relationship with the other members of the family—including real-life husband Camp—helps create an interesting dynamic among these Tyrones: The characters have always been enablers of a kind, but not with this much hugging. In the play’s last act, which is mostly given over to Edmund and his dissipated older brother, Jamie (Jason Bowen), you feel Marvel's absence acutely. Her volatile sense of emotional life is otherwise in too-short supply in a production that, rather than bringing us closer to the play, paradoxically keeps us at a safe social distance.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Minetta Lane Theatre (Off Broadway). By Eugene O’Neill. Directed by Robert O’Hara. With Elizabeth Marvel, Bill Camp, Ato Blankson-Wood, Jason Bowen. Running time: 1hr 55mins. No intermission. 

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Adam Feldman
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Adam Feldman

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