The past haunts the present and the future in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” now on stage at The Rogue Theatre.
The Tyrone family — the patriarch James, his wife, Mary, and their two sons, Edmund and Jamie — sort of define dysfunctional. Sure, they love each other. But they cannot forget or let go of past transgressions, real or perceived. There is lots and lots of passive-aggressiveness going on in the Tyrone family. And they are Irish, so guilt is always present, justified or not.
They all have coping mechanisms: The men drink and ary spends much of her time in a morphine haze.
The play takes place over one day. It’s a day of remembering old wounds, heavy drinking, anger and old wounds again. And there’s a disturbing sense that this day is not unusual. This is how the Tyrones spend every day.
O’Neill, who based this Pulitzer Prize-winning play on his own family, uses language that is lush and languid, and this work is infused with his trademark realism.
The Rogue has a troupe of strong actors, and a few of their best were on this stage. However, director Cynthia Meier, perhaps in an effort to make the 3-hour play seem shorter, moved the action at a quickened pace. Which meant the inner turmoil that each of the characters felt — the anguish, the anger, the wounds, the guilt, the sadness — were not given the air to breathe. Without a deeper sense of their inner demons, the play’s tragedies — because each of these characters is a tragedy — did not have the impact they should have had. It was as though subtext was thrown out the window, and O’Neill is all about subtext.
Theresa McElwee took on the challenging role of Mary, who starts the play free of her morphine habit but descends back into it as she relives a past that is mostly full of disappointments, guilt and pain. She is delicate, vain and tries to inflict as much hurt as she feels. McElwee, who teaches voice and speech at New York University, perhaps came closest to making us feel and understand her turmoil.
The men in the family all try to drink away their fears and failures. They are portrayed by Hunter Hnat as the youngest Tyrone, Edmund, who is dangerously sick with consumption; Ryan Parker Knox as his older brother, the carousing Jamie, and Joseph McGrath as the patriarch James, an actor who is bitter about his children, his wife and a career he squandered playing easy, shallow characters.
As the day turns to evening, the acrimony increases with the drinking.
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is a painful, tense play and a huge undertaking for a theater. While The Rogue’s production didn’t fail, it didn’t give us the depth and weight in O’Neill’s work.