Long Day's Journey Into Night

Court One, Christchurch

22/07/2006 - 19/08/2006

Production Details

By Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Sue Rider

Set design: Tony Geddes

Every family has its secrets…Semi-autobiographical, with striking parallels to O’Neill’s own family, Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a terrifying example of the games families play. One minute you’re laughing, the next you’re gasping in disbelief. It’s what happens when fiercest love is pushed to the limits.

Featuring celebrated Christchurch actors David McPhail and Yvonne Martin, Long Day’s Journey Into Night follows the Tyrone family through an extraordinary day and night as they tease each other, argue, form alliances, rub salt into old wounds and battle to come to terms with two events which threaten to tear them apart.

In this masterpiece of American theatre, O’Neill skilfully weaves the threads of avoidance and addiction with moments of great tenderness, deep compassion and surprising humour.

Returning to direct is Sue Rider, whose previous Court credits include Milo’s Wake, Vincent In Brixton (name Best Production 2004 by NZ Listener) and most recently the sell-out season of The Blonde, The Brunette And The Vengeful Redhead.

David McPhail
Yvonne Martin
Stephen Papps
Damon Andrews

Theatre ,

3hrs, incl. interval

Long night's struggle to identify

Review by Ron Kjestrup 23rd Jul 2006

Long Day’s Journey Into Night is an American classic – many say the American classic. Eugene O’Neill wrote it in 1940 at the height of an extraordinarily successful career but it is such an intensely personal work that he demanded it not be produced until after his death. He died in 1953, it was first performed and published in 1956 and it posthumously won him his fourth Pulitzer Prize.

The play’s themes of personal isolation, the influence of family relationships on our psychology, drug addiction, personal history laid bare and family secrets, read like a tabloid front page now but in the context of its time, having these subjects appear on a stage in such a personal way was groundbreaking. The realist nature of the writing and the way this particular story reflected universal truths provided a platform in American theatre for the whole movement of dramatic realism.

Long Day’s Journey is a true psychodrama in that O’Neill recognises each of the characters in his family is a part himself. In a series of duologues the Tyrone family confront their relationships with each other as family tragedies are slowly revealed.

Mother Mary’s unbearable loneliness resonates with the isolation of each of the characters. Tyrone, blamed by his family for their problems, drinks to blunt the pain of his waning career and disintegrating family. Elder son, Jamie, is unable to find success as he sabotages his own career and younger son Edmund searches vainly at sea for the thing that is missing from his relationships with his family.

Each is self-centred and sometimes self-pitying. None seem to know what they want from life but blame the others for their position. None of them can avoid dragging up the past to try and understand their present as they simultaneously deny the reality of the tragedies that beset them.

Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical wedding anniversary present to his wife is also a monster, not just in its nearly five hours original duration but in the demands (even when edited) a production makes on its actors. This story of O’Neill’s family’s journey through a day infected by their failures, faults and fallacies relies entirely on the actors’ abilities to carry the enormous emotional weight of the piece as expressed by O’Neill’s cyclical, carefully constructed language. I don’t think this production entirely manages this responsibility.

It is not through lack of trying by the actors. In fact all of the performances are good. David McPhail as the sad, miserly, Tyrone is excellent. In the opening stanzas, particularly, he captures an easy realism that draws us in and makes us believe in this tired and broken man. In several of his scenes with Yvonne Martin as his wife, Mary, they capture (again, more in the opening scenes) the reality of a loving relationship struggling to maintain the joy amongst the blame and betrayal.

Unfortunately, in the hands of director Sue Rider, the actors too often seem to be in different productions. O’Neill wrote the sons’ roles in a deliberately different rhythm and diction to their elders but here this stylistic difference seems awry and gets in the way of us truly believing the characters.

As we struggle to identify with the characters of Jamie and Edmond (Stephen Papps and Damon Andrews respectively), we can’t enter the relationships that are the core of the play. It’s not that these actors don’t have some powerful moments together, it’s just that the whole doesn’t gel. It is here that the play is most difficult and, in this production, unsatisfying. The relationships have to be maintained through three hours of quite intense scenes and if we are not carried along with the piece those three hours can become a struggle.

The set doesn’t help much, either. A stripped back version of the living room in the Tyrone’s run down summer house in which all the action takes place. It is plonked down on the Court stage and just looks wrong and unfinished. It seems stolid and clunky. Because the play is essentially a psychodrama and all set in one location,  the opportunity is there to place the action almost anywhere and it seems an odd choice from the usually excellent Tony Geddes. Perhaps he was looking for a claustrophobic, decaying feel but it looks more as though they’ve dragged out some old bits of set, stuck them together and hastily painted them. Likewise the costumes seemed a bit rushed and there were obvious mistakes (black shoes/brown suit) which are out of character for the Court.

I am going to break a reviewers’ rule here and blame the audience for some of my dissatisfaction. To the enthusiasts at the Court on opening night and indeed any audience at a drama I say this – it is not a musical. You do not need – nor should you – clap at the end of each scene. Your interruptions break the mood and drag us out of the world of the play. Save the expression of your pride in your friends’ and families’ work for the curtain call and after match function.

O’Neill worked in an age and an art form when it was possible to be both a genius and popular. The revelations of his play were all the more powerful for the fact that they offered an insight into the life and mind of a man whose work had already profoundly affected a great many people. Today the play is still a powerful text and presents the opportunity for audiences to open a door on their own relationships.

There are moments in this production when that genius is apparent. On opening night we were moved and captured and taken to feelings and thoughts of our own lives, our own families. Unfortunately, at this early stage of the run, we were not carried for the full 180 minutes and for this play to work, we have to be.


Ron Kjestrup July 28th, 2006

Thanks, Steve, it's great that we get a discussion going. I've bitched about the standards of NZ reviewing for years and I'm delighted to enter into discussion about the qulaity of my own. I have to say the production has triggered a fair bit of discussion amongst my aquaintances! The set. Yes,as I said, I think it tried to reflect some of the text. But I just felt as a design it lacked inspiration and looked clumsy. We could build a facsimile of the house described in the text if we wanted but unless it adds to our experience - why would we? And, as I say,- it isn't up the Court's usual high production standards. It didn't look like an effort to reflect "neglected" it just looked badly painted. I don't agree that Sue Rider's direction is stunning. I have seen great shows she's directed. I felt this production lacked structure. It was one of the reasons I found it difficult to get involved. I also felt that there was a lack of a common vision among the actors and that surely is the director's role. The "outside eye" aspect of her job seemed to be under realised. And I agree that the show should bed in. There are rhythms there that will make for a much more coherent production once the actors have been together longer. It's my constant complaint about our theatre and there's no solution - there is never enough time. In big populations - Europe, Britain, USA that show would have been to Brighton or Poughkeepsie for a frew weeks before Broadway or the West End. We don't get that luxury, I know, and I think in this case it shows. I did say I thought all the performances were good. I don't know Damon's or Amy's work so well but the others are certainly, as you say, talented - we know that. In this case - in my opinion- the whole was not as great as the sum of its parts can be.

Steven deWitt July 26th, 2006

Ron, where you at the same performance as me? This was a truly fascinating evening. Sue Rider's direction is gifted and Tony Geddes set stunning. It is indeed the summer house that is spoken of by the characters. You say “…unfinished and plonked on the stage'”. How ridiculous! It is the neglected, sparsely furnished room that the character Mary quite clearly states “… is an embarrassment”. This atmospherically lit set is perfect. I agree that the actors did not have quite the full command required but I look forward to seeing it again because the talent that is on that stage will work its magic once the show beds down. Steve deWitt

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