A few weeks ago Arena Stage revived Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness, a gentle nostalgic comedy believed to portray the family life Mr. O'Neill wished had been his own. Now Arena Stage opens Long Day's Journey Into Night the painfully autobiographical play in which Mr. O'Neill lays bare the demons of his own upbringing. It is a powerful production during which the troubles of the barely fictional Tyrone family are in the hands of the masterful direction of Robin Phillips and the taut emotional performances of his acting ensemble.
In the late summer of 1912 in a beachside summer home in Connecticut, Long Day's Journey Into Night takes place on one privital day. Awaiting word from the family doctor on the health of the youngest son, Edmund, the Tyrone family tries unsuccessfully to maintain the facade of the loving family. The father, James, a renowed actor in his day, has made choices and his miserly behavior have deeply affected his family's lives. Mother Mary recently returned from the turn-of-the-century version of rehab slips into a morphine haze. Elder son, Jamie blunt about his family's denial of their deep-rooted problems buries his anger in alcohol. The ill Edmund, well aware he is not suffering from a summer cold, also turns to alcohol, yet throughout this anguished day finds a way to come to an understanding particularly with his father before facing his life-threatening illness.
Robin Phillips steers his actors with a firm hand. The play unfolds in such a way that the various revelations that help the audience understand from where the characters' issues flow is organic and natural, not histrionic. For a good portion of the three hour running time the actors are seated and it is a credit to their performances and their director's skill that their tales are mesmorizing and engaging.
The set designed by Hisham Ali envelops the Tyrone sitting room with walls that are translucent, yet not clear, the characters as they travel to the porch or upstairs appear shrouded in fog making manifest the metaphorical fog that cloaks the house and the alcohol and drugged minds of the family.
Andy Bean has the right mix of intolerance, anger and despair as the eldest son who has no patience for sugar coating the family's crisis. Nathan Darrow starts emotionally mild as the ill Edmund who feels out of place in his family into which, but for fate he might never have been born. Yet in a late night alcohol-fueled showdown with his father, Mr. Darrow boils with a kaleidoscope of emotions.
As the gruff miserly James, Sr. Peter Michael Goetz commands the family and our attention. While the character is deeply unlikeable, Mr. Goetz manages to convey a deep understanding of the man, shaped by his upbringing and well aware that many of the choices he has made damaged his family.
Helen Carey delivers an outstanding performance as the morphine-addicted Mary. A poignant portrayal of a woman unraveling in front of our eyes, Ms. Carey is heartbreaking as she flits between nervous choices that do not fool anyone in her family and are painful for the audience to witness. By the end her Mary transforms into an embodiment of the fog, shrouding her mind, her family and her hated home.
Long Day's Journey Into Night is being performed as part of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. Performances take place in the Kreeger Theatre at Arena Stage's Mead Center for American Theater through May 6, 2012. For tickets, performance information and information on the Eugene O'Neill Festival please visit www.arenastage.org.