There’s really no laughing matter in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” the epic play that has received an impressive revival at Everyman Theatre.
But at one point, as that night finally envelops the summer home of the Tyrone family in August 1912, the younger and sickly son, Edmund, lets out something that approaches a chuckle. His surprised father thinks Edmund is mocking him, but that’s not it. He’s laughing “at life,” Edmund says. “It’s so damn crazy.”
That certainly applies to the Tyrones, who put the “dis” and the “shun” in dysfunction, dissing each other mercilessly, shunning the truths about themselves as often and as forcefully as they can.
Still, through the din in the house and the fog outside — a fog horn sounds periodically, like a recurring pain — love looms, too, a bond that just might be strong enough to hold these troubled, frustrated, largely self-tortured souls together when the next day dawns, and the next.
O’Neill’s lengthy epic can feel like a long play’s journey into next week. But there will always be something spellbinding about this drama, fueled as it is by the playwright’s keen understanding of human ambition and frailty, not to mention his command of language. A good performance grabs hold of you and doesn’t loosen the grip easily.
Everyman rises to the challenge sturdily. For a start, there’s the valuable contribution of director Donald Hicken, who ensures that the roughly three-and-a-half-hour span (with two intermissions) passes quickly.
The production is fortunate to have Kurt Rhoads starring as the patriarch James Tyrone, who made good money as an actor and tends to turn even everyday chores into something theatrical.
With his rich voice and thoroughly natural approach to acting, Rhoads inhabits the character to the core. He deftly brings out every contradiction in James, how the man’s capacity for empathy is constantly challenged by innate selfishness mixed with dreadful stinginess. In the last act, as James veers between pathos and bathos and back again, Rhoads proves especially compelling.
Mary Tyrone, the morphine-addicted, profoundly lonely matriarch, is, in one way or another, at the center of everything that happens to the family. Deborah Hazlett may not dominate the stage in the role (there could be a few more layers, a little more variety of vocal inflections or gestures), but she nonetheless contributes greatly.
Chatting nervously with Cathleen, the family’s Irish servant (the excellent Katharine Ariyan), Mary says of her rheumatism medicine: “There is no other that can stop the pain — all the pain.” Hazlett lets you feel the full weight of self-deception in that line. And in scenes where Mary’s mind wanders to her early years in a convent, the actress achieves remarkable poignancy.
As the older son, Jamie, an actor whose weaknesses leave him more opportunities to drink and womanize than perform, Tim Getman gives a supple performance rich in colorful, telling nuances. The big drunken scene for Jamie in the last act, though, could use finessing; the character’s periodic bursts of sobriety come off too abruptly.
Danny Gavigan offers an incisive and affecting portrayal of Edmund, the poetically inclined son with the worrisome cough. The actor makes even O’Neill’s most baroque dialogue sing with an easy flow, and he likewise finds just the right tone when delivering Edmund’s quotations of Charles Baudelaire and Ernest Dowson.
The action plays out on Daniel Ettinger’s handsome set — maybe a little too handsome. It could use a hint of seediness around the edges to match Mary’s complaints about the place. But David Burdick’s costumes include an appropriately shabby suit for the tight-fisted father, along with expert detailing for everyone else.
Jay Herzog’s lighting design enhances the staging at every turn, right down to the lamps that the great James Tyrone, annoyed that an electric company might make money off of him, prefers to keep unlit. Living in the dark is something this family can do all too well.