“There’s nothing like watching the slow unraveling of another human being,” my friend said as we stepped out of Everyman Theatre after the opening night of Eugene O’Neill’s widely-acclaimed play, “Long Day’s Journey into Night.” The Tony-award winning piece, which was published after O’Neill’s death, has been regarded as his magnum opus, a masterpiece told in three acts chronicling a day in the life of a family dealing with a mother’s morphine addiction and a son’s tuberculosis diagnosis.
A three-and-a-half-hour play — Everyman moved its usual 8 p.m. start time up to 7:30 to offset the length — “Long Day’s Journey” feels just as long as its title suggests, its characters constantly digging up the family’s litany of demons, which often turn out to be closer than the audience is originally led to believe.
Set in a lovely summer home, the cheery, wallpapered exterior turns out to be a cheap alternative to the more expensive homes throughout the country. Daniel Ettinger’s design is simply gorgeous; however, it is its own façade, reflecting the life the Tyrones like to make believe they have.
The family’s matriarch and “dope fiend,” Mary Tyrone (Deborah Hazlett), spends most of the day trying to forget her past, fussing over her sons (Tim Getman and Danny Gavigan) and husband (Kurt Rhoads) and at some points, even her servant (Katharine Ariyan). She commits to putting on a brave face that quickly deteriorates as the day wears on, a façade that grows increasingly difficult to keep – and for the audience to watch.
Hazlett, who celebrates her twentieth year with Everyman this season, plays Mary with devastating realism, sometimes to the point of discomfort. It is hard to watch her unravel because of the toll it takes on her and how much she believes she needs to forget. And at the end of the day, when she falls into a morphine-addled trance in front of her sons and husband, the family seems condemned to an endless cycle of hurt and forgiveness.
The last act, and the closest to night, is particularly full of this cycle, as Gavigan and Rhoads share most of the stage after Gavigan’s character, Edmund, is officially diagnosed with tuberculosis (or as they refer to it in the play, consumption). As they quote plays and poetry back and forth, snapping at each other and making ill-timed jokes, it is almost as if they are to remain in that state forever, dealing cards for their truest thoughts about each other and living in what they would rather forget about the past.
But the Tyrones come around to forgiveness, or something very close to that by the end. Perhaps understanding, perhaps love — but by that point, it no longer matters. They are together again and finally understand each other far more than they had at the beginning of the day. While that might not make any difference, it is still a comforting thought.
“Long Day’s Journey into Night” is running through March 4 at the Everyman Theatre. Everyman features a $10 student rush for B location seating 30 minutes before every scheduled performance and is offered to those with a valid student ID. Additionally, all Sunday evening performances are $10 for students in B location seating with a valid ID. Full price tickets can be purchased for $43-65.