By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: Approx. 3 hours and 15 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions
Some of the best fodder for plays, movies, television, or any form of entertainment is the family. Every family is different and every family has their ups and downs where sometimes the ups last for years with a few downs in between or vice versa. Who has the perfect family? Do you? I certainly don’t and if you do, please tell me what your secret is. Family can drive you crazy, at times, and Everyman Theatre’s latest production, Long Day’s Journey Into Night by the incomparable Eugene O’Neill, Directed by Donald Hicken, gives us a peek into a small family’s dysfunctional relationships at the beginning of the 20th century and, lo and behold, this production exhibits that family structures and dynamics haven’t really changed much throughout time.
Briefly, Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a semi-autobiographical piece about O’Neill and his own family and revolves around the fictional Tyrone family, including James, it’s patriarch and famous actor, though he is really only known for one particular role, Mary, his wife, who loves to reminisce about her perfect childhood and never really fit in with her husband’s life in the theatre, and their two sons, the older but disappointing Jamie, who seems to have never really grown up, and the unassuming and sickly Edmund. Taking place during one full day from morning until midnight, we are presented with a family at odds with each other and with their individual selves as they try to grasp what is left of their small family, all the while dealing with addiction, sickness, alcoholism, and all the other fun things that keep a family going. In the end, it’s family so… what can you do? What impressed me the most is the authenticity of the dialogue and relationships within this family. For instance, a nice peaceful game of cards can turn into an all-out shouting match, then just as quickly as the shouting match began, it ends with a query of whose turn it is, as if the shouting match never happened. THAT’S family. That’s how things work. When it’s family, you forgive what you’d kill others for and no one seems to know why, but that’s the way it is and in this piece, O’Neill is on point.
Everyman Theatre has yet to disappoint with the production sets and this Set Design by Daniel Ettinger is no different. He uses his space wisely and his attention to detail is second to none. From the period furniture to the dark wood and insinuation of high ceilings, Ettinger hit the nail on the head with this design. The audience is transported to a turn of the century home that wants to look exquisite, but is really falling to pieces under the surface… much like the family who lives in it. Kudos to Ettinger for another successful design.
Jay Herzog’s Lighting Design works in tandem with the action of this piece and sets the mood and time of each scene flawlessly. Herzog’s use of subtle shifts and placement of the lighting gives the audience a sense of exactly what time of day it is which helps keep track of when the action is taking place in each scene. The shift from morning to afternoon, then afternoon into night is gradual and natural, just like a real summer’s day making for an impeccable design.
Costume Design by David Burdick is spot on as this ensemble looks like they stepped right out of the early 1900s in their stuffy, but stylish duds that conservatively covers them pretty much from head to toe, so Burdick’s eye for authenticity is apparent and his talent for period pieces shines through in this design.
Donald Hicken takes the helm of this production and, being a well-known piece to many as well as a heavy piece, the challenges are vast, but Hicken tackles them and presents us with a well thought-out and well-paced production that hits home. His comprehension of the material is apparent and his casting is superb with apt and able actors who take this text and present it purely and intensely as is required. Hicken’s vision is clear and the message of learning the raw truth of your family isn’t always nice or comfortable but necessary to understand the ones closest to you is strong thanks to the performances he pulls out of his actors. Hicken should be applauded for his efforts with this complex, epic piece that he has presented beautifully.
Moving into the performance aspect of this production, it’s clear these actors enjoy working together and off of each other and all have great chemistry with his or her fellow castmates. If I didn’t know any better, I’d definitely believe this was your everyday, run-of-the-mill family down the street and that alone makes for a delightful evening of theatre.
I’d be remiss not to mention Katherine Ariyan, who takes on the supporting, but very important role of Cathleen, one of the spunky seasonal maids for the Tyrone family. Ariyan makes the most of her short time on the stage and is absolutely believable with her strong Irish accent and quick, natural delivery. Her character, at one point, acts as a fill-in for Mary, while her family is off on their own business, and is vital in bringing to light the addiction of which Mary gives into. Ariyan takes on this supporting role with gusto and gives a strong performance.
Tackling the significant roles of the Tyrone brothers are Everyman Theatre Company members Danny Gavigan as Edmund and Tim Getman as Jamie. The chemistry between these two actors is superb and authentic making for a natural brotherly relationship. Gavigan has a clear understanding of his character, who seems to be the “peacemaker” of this family even though he’s suffering from an ailment all to familiar to the era and he gives a confident performance, even when his delivery seems a bit lazy where I lose some of his dialogue. Though both are fine performers, Tim Getman, as Jamie, is the stronger of the two in this production. Getman hits the ground running with this loafing, seemingly caddish character, that he plays near perfectly, making his performance a highlight of this production.
The parents of this dysfunctional crew are played by Deborah Hazlett as Mary and Kurt Rhoads as James. These two actors are quite believable as an older married couple who were probably very much in love at one time and the husband/wife chemistry between the two is splendid. Hazlett has a deep comprehension of her character and, it seems, of women in general of this early 20th century era and plays it to the hilt. I want to feel sorry for this character, but it’s clear she has found a way to deal with the lot she’s been given with the addiction she’s let take hold. Hazlett is sure to portray Mary as a caring soul, but with past and present demons she must deal with. The emotion she exudes as she tells this character’s story is poignant and real making for a stellar performance, overall.
Kurt Rhoads, as James Tyrone, the loud, control-craving father of the brood, is the definite standout in this production. His impressive, booming voice makes one stand up and take notice when he is on the stage and his presence is strong and confident, as it should be for this role. He, too, has a great comprehension of his character and its flaws. In his scenes with Gavigan and Getman, he’s totally believable as the domineering father in his delivery and gestures while he is more subdued in dealing with Hazlett’s character. He gets this character and plays him near flawlessly making him one to watch in this production.
Final thought… If you’re going to check out Long Day’s Journey Into Night at Everyman Theatre, brace yourself! Go to the restroom, get settled, and be ready to make an entire evening of it. It is, after all, an O’Neill drama. However, that being said… this is a show you don’t want to miss! I went in with hesitations because of my modern-day short attention span, but this production is top-notch and engaging. The pacing is on point and the performances are superb. Over half a century later, this story of family relations is still relevant and very relatable. Even though this play is set in the early 1900s, it’s interesting to see how very similar family relationships are even today. Styles may change, but, in the grand scheme of things, human nature stays the same and Eugene O’Neill had an uncanny knack of putting it down on paper. With a great script and production value, this is not a show you want to miss this season.
This is what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Long Day’s Journey Into Night will play through March 4 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.
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