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Saturday, May 5, 2018

In Context: Long Day's Journey Into Night

Sir Richard Eyre directs Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in Eugene O’Neill’s devastating Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork about love, illness, and addiction. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of related articles and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought by posting in the comments below and on social media using #LongDaysJourneyIntoNight.

Program Notes

Manville + Irons (BAM blog)
“I think what’s so good about Long Day’s Journey Into Night is that it’s an imperfect piece," reflects Jeremy Irons in this production primer.

1 Son, 4 Overdoses, 6 Hours (The New York Times)
Drug deaths draw the most notice, but more addicted people live than die. For them and their families, life can be a relentless cycle of worry, hope and chaos.

Swept Away By a Dark Current: The Plays of Eugene O’Neill (The New Yorker)
"Perhaps we are desirous of O’Neill’s brutal intensity now, when our everyday lives can seem bombarded by craven inauthenticity," notes #BAMNextWave alum Howard Fishman.

Watch & Listen

Eugene O'Neill - his life, work and legacy (YouTube)
This short documentary from London's National Theatre looks at the life and work of Eugene O'Neill, and why he is one of the most celebrated playwrights of the 20th century.

Now your turn...

How did you enjoy the show? Likes? Dislikes? Surprises? Tell us what's on your mind in the comments below and on social media using #LongDaysJourneyIntoNight.


  1. Shattering drama; brilliant performances. Should sell out immediately. All three of us were struck dumb, overwhelmed, and sooo grateful to the wonderful actors who sustain this intensely painful story to its anguished end.

  2. BAM ticket prices are too high and you can’t hear Jeremy Irons in the row Q. It’s a general issue w seating under the balcony in the Harvey theatre. But one can hardly afford the closer to the stage seating

  3. Stunning production with uniformly brilliant performances.

  4. I’ve seen every.version of this, my favorite play, for the last 40 years. Jason Robards, Colleen Dewhurst , Vanessa Redgrave , Gabriel Byrne , Jessica Lange. etc. Loved them all. I disliked everything about this production . The set design has no relevance to the atmosphere , the mood, or the period . The lighting is garish and does not echo the somber moodiness. None of the actors are in synch with each other. Jerry Irons tried his best but could not overcome the overwhelming mediocrity surrounding him. At the center is poor direction. The accents are universally bad . There was a dialect coach credited in the program but he was obviously absent. Mary Tyrone had no change in her perfectly groomed appearance from the beginning to the finale and delivered her lines like a tommy gun with no arch of emotion or descendance into a ghostly unkempt apparition that is essential to her devastating and painful final appearance . The brothers relationship was weak and their heartbreaking climactic scenes never materialized.. I expected an exhilarating three and a half hours of brilliant O’Neill as I’ve experienced so many times before. Instead three people around me were asleep including a snorer which I totally understand.

    1. Spot on! A thoroughly disappointing evening from beginning to end.

  5. Speechless. One THE BEST performances ever brought to BAM or an American stage for that matter. Wonderful production. Flawless. Acting was sheer perfection. Also, the staging and lighting worked magnificently. We were on edge throughout as the angled walls and dramatic (soft at times) lighting worked to propel the drama relentlessly forward. Thank you BAM for this wonderful treat. It will not be soon forgotten.

  6. Outstanding production and superb performance by all! We have seen a few in the past and this one is the top!

  7. This was an a powerful and exceptional performance. It must be a very difficult play to sustain, but this cast brought a very engaging and poignant production. So many of the nuances and powerful points of the play were brought out and hit me in ways that they hadn't at other times. I;m very glad that I saw this.

  8. What an unmitigated mess. What a disappointment! The direction of the play was completely misguided. All four actors raced through their lines. I could hardly understand one work that Jeremy Irons was saying for the entire first act......75 minutes of garbled lines......all of them trying so hard to sound American! So many actors in the 1890's and early 1900's sounded British anyway, why fight it so hard that you lose all meaning?
    Leslie Manville stayed on one note throughout all 3 1/2 hours. R.Eyre gave her the show.. And she was not able to carry the weight of such a difficult role....
    The two sons were dreadful. I can't believe that they couldn't find two better actors in all of England to play them.
    All four actors were "touchy-feely" and affectionate that I think O'Neill wouldn't have recognized his family at all. I've seen at least three other James Tyrone's and never have I seen him played as a nice, retired, old skinflint who openly loves everyone around him: so supportive except for the occasional out burst which he immediately regrets. He is the cause of so much unhappiness in the family that this whole approach made NO SENSE whatsoever. Where was the supremely self-centered, disappointed classic actor who made everyone's life a misery? And drove them all to drink and become morphine addicted?
    Where was the angst? Not ONE moment of heartbreak......
    I tried for 3+ hours to really get into it......I was so looking forward to the last great scene between the brothers and it was just thrown away and made to seem comic to boot. arrrggghhh.......
    I saw the great Philip Seymour Hoffman play Jamie to Robert Shawn Leonard's Edmond, and they brought me to tears during that final scene. I'll never forget it. Vanessa Redgrave was heartbreaking as the mother, & she knows something about having a father who is so self obsessed and difficult to live with. Brian Dennehy was James and I thought quite good...he certainly knew how to be Irish and tough and not quite understanding of how his family got into such a mess.
    And I always liked the Hepburn/Richardson movie but it's been years since I saw it. Now I need to revisit it.
    Also we hated the set..... made no sense as well. Very distracting reflections on the walls and ceiling glass panels.....some nod to something psychological I"m sure.....all in all a very depressing production for all the wrong reasons.

    1. I’m honestly baffled that you found a problem with “psychological” lighting in a play where 4 characters can’t help but haunt each other 24/7. It was brilliant that they were there, even when they weren’t physically present. The glass represents the insubstantial nature of their home. The set, the fog that has invaded the house. It was obvious as soon as I sat down.

      I also saw the production with Vanessa Redgrave. I liked her best, then Brian, but the kids were all wrong. Hoffman was completely miscast. Too old! I preferred this cast, although I agree with some accent choices. And I was in the first row of the balcony. I didn’t find it too fast or Lesley too intense, in fact she was the only one I could consistently hear.

      Where was the angst? Forcing the melodrama is bad acting. It was all over this production. Less is more. I didn’t see Jeremy as too nice at all. His good looks made him more believable too as the matinee idol. What’s the point of doing this play if you don’t push boundaries?

  9. I couldn't hear most of the dialogue, which was disappointing. The 2 sons were boring and uninteresting. I hope to see a better production.

  10. Tact and Humor.

    By counterexample, Eugene O’Neill shows us how essential these two conversational attributes are in preventing family life from turning toxic.

    Instead, the vicious, overlapping dialogue that deluged the entire first half of the production of O’Neill’s posthumously-published play, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, at BAM Harvey, demonstrates the disaster that ensues when no family member knows when to button her lip and tactfully count to ten, when none can see the funny side of the predicament he finds himself in.

    For O’Neill’s thinly-veiled autobiographical Tyrone family, dialogue is fighting talk, used as a weapon of war rather than a means of communication. O’Neill’s post-Freudian insight -- the play may have been set in 1912 but its final draft was written in 1941 -- was to make his characters vivid by erasing the conventional conversational boundary between their conscious words and their unconscious ideas. Instead, from one line to the next his characters lurch, by turns insulting and apologetic, revelatory and dissembling, affectionate and brutal, direct and devious, honest and delusional, accusatory and resentful -- saying what they mean and backtracking in regret.

    Much of this excruciating back-and-forth derives from the fact that keeping secrets is foundational to Tyrone family life -- and that lip-loosening whiskey is foundational to the Tyrone family diet. This play certainly gives alcohol a bad name: the inhibitions that alcohol are supposed to loosen are those that restrain conviviality and conversation; here booze loosens inhibitions that prevent cruelty and quarrels.

    The two major secrets that cannot be spoken in Tyrone family lore are coded by the euphemism Sanatorium: mother Mary has just been released from the sanatorium after unsuccessful treatment for her opioid addition; son Edmund (O’Neill’s nom be theatre) is headed for the sanatorium to treat his tuberculosis. The suppression of those secrets is what passes for compassion in this benighted family.

    If we in the audience are constantly kept off guard by their whipsaw of moods -- their seamless switches between sincerity and deceit, their delusion that secrecy is the soul of compassion -- imagine the bitterness that O’Neill imparts to his writing some thirty years later when he reconstructs all that remembered toxicity.

    So it is no criticism of this Bristol Old Vic production to say that the audience arrives at intermission having been battered by two bitter and brutal acts, tactless and humorless. The play was being performed the way O’Neill wrote it...(continued)

  11. (continued)...Nevertheless, the numerous time gaps that director Richard Eyre encounters in this text do pose problems. Among the sprawling set of issues that the play touches on, some would have resonated in the 1910s, when the play is set; some in the forties and fifties, when it was written and first produced; and some are those that face us today.

    For example, son Edmund’s tuberculosis no longer looms large to contemporary society, so must be rendered only symbolically; with the social safety net that the New Deal built, father James’ anxiety about poverty in his old age no longer resonates -- his miserliness now seems petty rather than definitional. Similarly, the explicit rendition of son James’ predilection for obese prostitutes has lost its ability to outrage an audience’s broader-minded sensibilities; the artistic crisis of father James over his choice between high art (impoverished) and low (remunerative) seems oh-so-mid-century. Nevertheless, there is a pair of central themes: mother Mary’s addiction; and son James’ poisonous unresolved Oedipus complex, which is expressed as murderous sibling rivalry. They remain as fresh as ever.

    Since the play was unperformed before O’Neill’s death it remains unedited, untested in the cauldron of out-of-town tryouts before live audiences. As such, the text must be considered unfinished as a dramatic work, even if complete as a literary one.

    Hence the change in mood after the intermission in the third and fourth acts: the crackling, unsettling violence of the dialogue is phased out; the narrative velocity grinds to a halt. Instead, the rhythm of the play is converted into a procession of prose poems, lengthy lyrical monologues. This must be why actors love this play: each is assigned voluminous and rhapsodic internal disquisitions on the state of his soul. O’Neill, as an envoi to his career, makes them the gift of uninterrupted, sumptuous, indulgent paragraphs.

    The casting of Jeremy Irons, the onetime cardigan-clad poster boy of Brideshead Revisited, is so apt for father James’ monologue about the regrets of the onetime matinee idol who frittered away a chance to play Prospero. Matthew Beard as son Edmund responds with two monologues of equal quality -- on Baudelaire and the profundity of life on the ocean wave. Rory Keenan, as son James, actually has some drama to enact playing out his sibling rivalry, but not until he too has donated an interminable disquisition on Violet, the fat whore.

    “I thought he’d never stop talking,” says father James, who had been waiting for his cue off stage until his son crashed out drunk. That’s what we thought too.

    The star of this production is Lesley Manville as Mary, the dope fiend mother, whose narcotic desire to extricate herself from the cursed family culminates in a fantasy of cloistered virginity. Her lengthy monologue about young love, addressing the maid Cathleen at the start of the third act, enjoys quicksilver mood changes of yearning and regret, nostalgia and knowingness. She might as well have been Winnie, up to her neck in Samuel Beckett’s mound of earth rather than Mary, addled by morphine.

    Both halves of the play belie O’Neill’s reputation as a realist: the dialogue in the first is aggressively asocial; the set pieces in the second are extravagantly poetical. The first half of Long Day’s Journey Into Night seems to be a precursor of the murderous dialogues of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Manville, in the second, foreshadows Happy Days. It’s a play that needs a cut, as Beckett himself would surely have advised. When its copyright expires and it reaches the public domain, we trust it will get one.

  12. Disappointing show. Perhaps there was a reason it was unpublished? More of a cri de coeur than a play, it’s not in the same league with Moon for the Misbegotten or Strange Interlude. It felt a bit rushed and I agree, the set was a bit self-consciously modern for my taste. But I think the real problem is this play has no drama, no momentum. And O’Neill’s pretty words can only go so far. For me, anyway.

  13. I thought it a brisk and bracing JOURNEY, with excellent performances across the boards and especially from Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville. Yes, there was a specific approach here--the pacing was meant to reflect the sense of anxiety that permeated the Tyrone household, with everyone walking on eggshells just hoping to get through another day. Family members in their frustration continually spouted out emotions and resentments they had not planned to share against their wills in this unsettled atmosphere. And yet you also felt that these people loved each other even while they hated what they had done to each other. I also liked the expressionistic cage created for the set that both exposed the outside world as well as revealed the lonely inner trap which the Tyrones had built for themselves. I've known the play and its background for years, but nonetheless found myself totally engrossed for the duration. Commendations also to BAM and the Harvey--the first time in years that I was comfortable in that space (much better seating) and I could see and hear splendidly. Thanks for bringing this production to Brooklyn--one that approached LONG DAY'S JOURNEY through fresh eyes versus handling it like a fragile classic.

  14. Was very disappointed with this production. I didn’t have any trouble hearing the lines like other people wrote, even though I was in the last row in the corner (literally against the wall), but I agree with what others are saying about the accents. Everyone was doing a completely different accent, with a Jeremy Irons completely giving up his attempt part way through the play. I also tend to favor more naturalistic styles of acting - everyone in this show was Speaking Like An Actor. It makes sense for James Tyrone to be doing this, but not the rest of the family. It made you very aware that you were watching people act, instead of letting you be immersed in the story. I think I would have felt more impacted by the play if I had just read it myself, sadly.

  15. I thought the perforances of Jeremy Irons, Lesley Manville, Rory Keenan, and Jessica Regan were excellent; as a result, I enjoyed the play very much. Two problems: the direction and the casting of the two brothers. They didn't seem to be related to each other or to their parents. The directing was poor, especially in the second act. James, Edmund, and Jamey come in drunk but almost immediately become sober. James Sr. and Jr. tried to hold onto it for a while but lost it after Edmund was clearly suddenly not drunk. So the arguments and fighting that happened subsequently were not believable. I was impressed with Mary's segue from a little bit of high in the morning through increased use of the drug in the afternoon and evening and night: very subtle and believable. I'm sorry that the direction was so poor because Irons and Manville deserved a better foundation. Keenan was very good but he didn't seem to belong to the same family. And Beard tried but was very miscast. It's such a great play and Irons and Manville were so good (and well cast) that I could easily forgive the issues with the others; it's just too bad.

  16. I saw the play on the 27th and it was outstanding. I have seen this play many times (including the productions with Vanessa Redgrave and Bryan Dennehy (2003); Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne (2015).) I loved this one best because the superb actors Jeremy Irons and Leslie Manville were able to achieve the expression of love, frustration and empathy they had for each other and their sons in a way much more realistic and compelling when compared to other productions. In addition there was a bit more humor portrayed than usual which was a perfect counterpoint to the overall poignancy of the script. Beard, Keenan and Regan were also on point. Kudos to all, to BAM for hosting, and especially to Sir Richard Eyre, on a brilliant production.

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