CRITICS
New York magazine|January 31 - February 13, 2022
Helen Shaw on Long Day’s Journey Into Night … Kathryn VanArendonk on The Gilded Age … Alison Willmore on Belle.
HELEN SHAW, KATHRYN VANARENDONK, ALISON WILLMORE

THEATER / HELEN SHAW

Speed-Dating Eugene O’Neill

A drastically cut Long Day’s Journey Into Night with Elizabeth Marvel and Bill Camp.

EVERYONE IS SCARED of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Even Eugene O’Neill: Once he had written this “play of old sorrow,” he locked the script in a vault and instructed his heirs not to publish it until 25 years after his death. His widow overruled him almost immediately, resurrecting O’Neill both as a force in the American theater (he won a posthumous Pulitzer in 1957 for this play) and as a genius after audiences and critics had dismissed him from the pantheon. Something in this too private, too honest masterpiece rolled the stone from his tomb.

Protected by what he thought would be a quarter-century of secrecy, O’Neill barely disguised the O’Neills as the Tyrones: His father, the blowhard, skinflint theater idol James; his mother, Mary, drifting back into morphine addiction; his charming older brother, Jamie, drinking himself to death; and himself, renamed Edmund— the youngest, raddled with tuberculosis and his family’s curdled hopes. The operatic play condenses their tragedy to one summer’s day, the day the family learns Mary has relapsed and Edmund gets his chilling diagnosis.

For the Audible-produced version now at the intimate Minetta Lane Theatre, director Robert O’Hara and his company (led by the theatrical power couple Bill Camp and Elizabeth Marvel) have made some daring adjustments to take the edge off an intimidating, unassailable monument. They have pared it down and sped it up, performing it in two intermissionless hours instead of the usual three and a half. They have contemporized the setting from 1912 to 2020, using design—Clint Ramos litters their Connecticut house with Clorox wipes and Amazon boxes— and clever cutting. They eliminated the maid, Cathleen, so now Mary (Marvel) reminisces to an empty house instead of a chatty Irish girl, and they swept out many period phrases and literary allusions. This last choice does leave the brothers, Edmund and Jamie, without much to say to each other since poetry was their shared love. But Swinburne and Wilde date. So out they go.

The show’s casting disrupts old ideas of the characters, suggesting new avenues of meaning. Camp, king of the character actors, takes on matinee idol James, while Marvel, always a tower of evident strength onstage, must find a way to dissolve as Mary. Jason Bowen plays the dissipated Jamie as a noisy drunk instead of a weak one, and Ato Blankson-Wood’s wry Edmund is, unusually, a little cool to his family’s pain, not a thin-skinned reflection of it. O’Hara has said the casting was color-blind, rather than color-conscious, but there’s something pointed in watching a white James shout at his two Black sons about riding his coattails. Casting without regard for type also makes possible some illuminating against-the-grain readings. For instance, according to O’Neill, the real James sold and cheapened his talent, corrupting his theatrical gift to make money. Every other James I’ve seen obeys the playwright’s description: They boom Shakespeare quotes at their children in the plummy voice of a man turned ham. But Camp’s a trickster and dazzler in every moment, and when he says those same lines, we think, God, he’s good. What if everyone believes he’s a joke, but secretly he’s not? As with other hints of hope, it just tightens the tragedy’s noose.

The family’s drama of four-way blame and regret doesn’t progress so much as grind down; it’s a dirge written with the dogged, repetitious rhythms of addiction and self-delusion. Each family member has at least one monologue that’s like an aria—they cannot stop confessing and remembering and tearing one another apart. Given all this language, a modernization, even where carefully thought through, will bump against its original circumstances. We roll with it for a long time, untroubled at first when Edmund’s tuberculosis is conflated with covid, nodding at how precisely Mary’s addiction maps onto the modern opioid crisis. There are plenty of places in which the updating gives us something new and precious, something fresh to consider about this old, frightening story. In the final quarter, though, as we hear more about the particulars of the family’s medical issues, this mapping slips.

Perhaps we notice the anachronisms because the production’s electricity dims in the last section. Marvel’s exquisitely observed performance of an addict losing touch fingertip by fingertip is riveting, but eventually the text shifts toward Edmund and the show hasn’t quite worked out his role. At first, it seems as if we’re turning from covid and opioids to another 2020 problem: isolated young people’s precarious mental health. But after the inventive treatment of addiction, here the show falters. Even in the brothers’ theoretically climactic scene, in which Jamie snatches his support away from the desperate Edmund, O’Hara doesn’t give Blankson-Wood and Bowen the same choreographic or emotional attention he bestows on the rest of the production. The actors are at sea, and though Bowen does some excellent drunk acting, their moments together don’t strike deep notes.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM NEW YORK MAGAZINEView All

The Guru Burns Out

Mark Manson sold 12 million copies of his self-help hit. Then he started taking his own advice.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
June 20-July3, 2022

They, Then and Now

Identifying as nonbinary once felt punk: I'm not playing your game. But now all we do is talk about my pronouns.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
June 20-July3, 2022

Teenage Justice

A list of boys “to look out for” appeared on a high-school bathroom wall last fall. The story of one of them.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
June 20-July3, 2022

173 Minutes with… Jane Rosenthal

The impresario of the Tribeca Festival now has Murdoch money. And, yes, they still show movies.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
June 20-July3, 2022

She's Their Biggest Fan

A Marvel-worshipping show about a Marvel-worshipping teen that somehow rings true.

4 mins read
New York magazine
June 20-July3, 2022

Fantasy Friends

The guys of my generation are hooked on fantasy sports. When it comes to maintaining meaningful relationships into adulthood, that might not be a bad thing.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
June 06 - 19, 2022

True Originals

There would be no Yola without rock-and-roll architect Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Now Yola gets to become her in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis.

6 mins read
New York magazine
June 20-July3, 2022

The National Interest: Jonathan Chait

They Will Do It Again Republicans have not been chastened by the revelations of the January 6 committee.

6 mins read
New York magazine
June 20-July3, 2022

Ottessa Moshfegh Is Praying for Us

The author has been hailed as a high priestess of filth. Really, she wants to purify her readers.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
June 20-July3, 2022

Laura Linney Resists Interpretation

She lives for the stage, loves film crews, and treasures her co-stars. Just don’t ask her about the ending of Ozark.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
June 20-July3, 2022
RELATED STORIES

The Dream Is On

An all-star team creates a bayside home where art, design, and landscape are perfectly aligned.

3 mins read
Elle Decor US
Summer 2022

Harmonious Hues

Author and style editor Fifi O'Neill demonstrates the magical ability of white to act as a blank canvas for any home, regardless of theme or lifestyle.

2 mins read
Cottages and Bungalows
February - March 2022

VEHICLE PRICES REMAIN HIGH THIS LABOR DAY WEEKEND

If this were a normal year, Labor Day would traditionally kick off the start of end-of-model-year vehicle clearance sales. Consumers can often find good deals as dealerships are eager to sell their remaining inventory to make room for next year’s models. But this hasn’t been a normal year in the car business.

3 mins read
AppleMagazine
September 03, 2021

DISTRICT 9 - ULTRA HD BLU-RAY

DISTRICT 9 rises above its disparate components—there are multiple strong influences, everything from Alien Nation to the faux-documentary feel of The Office—to deliver a socially resonant story that’s even more relevant a decade after its release.

2 mins read
Sound & Vision
December 2020 - January 2021

10 THINGS YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT COLMAN DOMINGO

CELEBRITY NEWS

1 min read
Globe
October 19, 2020

WHY ELECTRIC VEHICLE RANGES VARY FROM EPA ESTIMATE

You’ve probably heard the phrase “your mileage may vary” with regard to how your real-world fuel economy compares to the EPA estimate. The adage refers to gasoline-powered vehicles, but the same applies to electric vehicles.

3 mins read
AppleMagazine
September 25,2020

The economics of racism

Mainstream economics has many ideas about getting beyond racism. Which lessons apply in real life?

9 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
June 08, 2020

Clipwing Monocoupe

The Monocoupe Corp. built only seven Monocoupe 110 Specials (or 110 SPL), also called the Clipwing Monocoupe. The most famous was flown by legendary airshow pilot Woody Edmundson, who, in 1946, replaced the original 145 hp Warner Scarab engine with a 185 hp one that had an inverted flight carburetor and an Aeromatic propeller. He nicknamed the plane Little Butch and flew it for the next 19 years.

2 mins read
Flight Journal
June 2020

JOHN CALLAHAN PASSES AWAY AT 66

John Callahan, best known for his 1992-2005 run as ALL MY CHILDREN’s Edmund Grey, passed away after suffering a massive stroke at his Palm Desert, CA, home.

3 mins read
Soap Opera Digest
April 20, 2020

The Small Hare and His Famous Destiny

In the current exhibition, “THE EPHRUSSIS. TRAVEL IN TIME,” the Jewish Museum Vienna relays the saga of the Family Ephrussi based on the bestseller, “The Hare with Amber Eyes,” authored by Edmund de Waal, a descendent.

3 mins read
Art Market
Issue #45, January 2020