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NYC Theater Review—Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night”

Long Day’s Journey into Night
Written by Eugene O’Neill; directed by Sir Richard Eyre
Performances through May 27, 2018

Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in Long Day's Journey into Night (photo: Richard Termine)
Long Day’s Journey into Night, Eugene O’Neill’s greatest play, is an epic-length exploration of a self-destructive family—the father, retired stage actor James Tyrone; his morphine-addled wife Mary; and their sons, alcoholic Jamie and poetic but sickly Edmund (the author’s self-portrait)—in which  the four characters take turns psychologically and emotionally pummeling one another and themselves, building into a dramatically potent accumulation of vitriolic acid that, in the right hands, makes for a shattering theatrical experience.
O’Neill himself went to a sanatorium for TB around the time the play is set (1912), which lends credence to the notion that this incriminating but insightful glimpse into the disastrous effects of a family’s self-destruction helped lead to his own successful playwriting career. (Ironically, although he wrote this play in 1941-2, it wasn’t staged until three years after his 1953 death, for which he posthumously won the Pulitzer and Tony Awards.)
Sir Richard Eyre’s London production, in the cozy confines of the Harvey Theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, has many faults, led by Rob Howell’s angled and expressionist set, which though it generously allows for Peter Mumford’s gorgeously textured lighting, is too refined and elegant for what should be a semi-rundown Connecticut summer cottage. Although aware of the broken music in O’Neill’s painful, at times melodramatic words, Eyre too often overemphasizes the tragic aspect of these people bumping up against one another like small craft in a tempest-tossed harbor, allowing wincingly overdone moments among the capable cast. 
While Rory Keenan makes an aggressively cynical Jamie, Matthew Beard’s Edmund is a lanky, blurry portrait of a would-be artist; neither actor either acquits himself admirably or embarrasses himself. Similarly, Jeremy Irons is too boisterous as James, with overly hammy line readings and gesticulations getting in the way of his performance—that despite the fact that James Tyrone is an actor…and an elderly, hammy one at that.
Lesley Manville’s Mary should be the heart of this Journey, and despite a distractingly flat American accent, she often has searingly dramatic moments as the drug-addicted wife and mother in denial about everyone, including herself. It’s too bad, then, that Eyre coaxes her into forced or overstated histrionics, which end up giving her final, poignant lines of dialogue far less resonance than they—and O’Neill—deserve after 3-1/2 hours of unparalleled emotional devastation. 

Long Day’s Journey into Night
BAM Harvey Theatre, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY

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