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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Manville + Irons

Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville. Photo: Hugo Glendinning
By Harry Haun

In 1941, for their 12th wedding anniversary, Eugene O’Neill gave his wife Carlotta a gift that’s kept on giving—more to the world than to the wife: a quasi-autobiographical “play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood.” When Long Day’s Journey Into Night was publicly unwrapped at last on Broadway in 1956, it won the playwright—posthumously—his fourth Pulitzer Prize (more than anyone else) and his first Tony.

Generally regarded as O’Neill’s masterpiece, the drama has been consistently performed throughout the world. Two years ago, while Gabriel Byrne and a Tony-winning Jessica Lange were charging away on all cylinders in the play’s sixth Broadway production, director Richard Eyre was jump-starting a Bristol Old Vic edition in England with Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville. The trio recently reactivated that version on the West End at London’s Wyndham’s Theater and will be bringing it to the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater May 8—27.

“A friend who’s seen various productions of Long Day’s Journey saw ours, thought it was definitive and said, ‘If you took this to Broadway, you’d clean up,’ but we aren’t—we’re coming to the wonderful BAM,” said Manville in a phone interview during the London run. “When the West End producers got the BAM offer and learned Richard and I had a relationship with BAM, they were keen to take it there.”

Jeremy Irons, Matthew Beard, Lesley Manville, and Rory Keenan. Photo: Hugo Glendinning
Manville and Eyre’s previous brush with BAM was their revival of Ibsen’s Ghosts (2015) which they imported from London’s Almeida Theatre. It won them both Olivier Awards, and Manville remembers it rather acutely. Eyre accidentally dropped his statue on her foot, and she spent her entire night of triumph—immobile—at an after-party table.

She was spared that particular pain this year when she took a quick break from the show for a long day’s journey to the Oscars where her performance of Daniel Day-Lewis’ uber-devoted sister in Phantom Thread contended unsuccessfully for Best Supporting Actress honors. (Her ex-husband, Gary Oldman, won Best Actor.) They’d moved the Sunday matinee to Wednesday so she could make that whirlwind trip and—thanks to the eight-hour difference—boomerang back to Mary Tyrone.

She’s looking forward to BAM. “It’s such a beautiful theater—and small. You can be intimate there. It was the perfect space for Ghosts, and it’ll be perfect for Long Day’s Journey. You don’t want a big barn of a place if you’re doing a tragic family saga.”

Having Irons as co-star is the cherry on her sundae. “He’s passionate about the work and excited about being back on stage. I think he feels a little bit like James Tyrone about the decisions he’s made—not wrong ones, but he’s steered his career in a way that maybe now he wishes he had done more theater. He’s definitely grabbing James Tyrone and delivering a very interesting version of the character. Also, it is certainly wonderful casting because he really does look like he had been a matinee idol.”

Irons pleads guilty as charged, “but,” he adds, “I don’t have regrets, which James Tyrone does—he keeps them deeply hidden, and we only get them in the last act—but I’ve always picked what interests me. That’s why I picked this. I’m touching 70. I’m not going to have the energy and the mental agility to learn this whole thing for that much longer. None of the big Shakespeare roles interests me. People are always saying to me, ‘Do a Lear,’ and I don’t ever want to do a Lear—but this, I thought, was something I could sink my teeth in, hone myself again. I’ve been away from theater too long, really. You do get a bit lazy as a cinema actor, and I wanted to get fit again."

“I think what’s so good about Long Day’s Journey Into Night is that it’s an imperfect piece. O’Neill wrote it not to be performed—he didn’t even want it to be published for 25 years and never performed, but his second wife went against his wishes—so it contains all the, one could say, weaknesses and strengths of something written from the heart and not for an audience but in the form of a play. I love its imperfection.”

Long Day's Journey Into Night comes to the BAM Harvey Theater May 8—27, and great tickets are still available.

Harry Haun has covered theater and film in New York for more than four decades for such publications as Playbill Magazine, New York Daily News, The New York Observer, Film Journal, SDC Journal, Where Magazine, and TV Guide.

© 2018 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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