The ghost of Eugene O’Neill hovers over the Geffen Playhouse’s production of Long Day’s Journey into Night. Chances are O’Neill, seen between the scenes in a large super-imposed photo and heard on tape reading portions of the play (plus a relevant Swinburne poem), would, if he were alive, have approved of what transpires on stage. The Geffen’s production, directed by Jeanie Hackett, features an outstanding cast headed by Alfred Molina (as James Tyrone) and Jane Kaczmarek (as his wife Mary). The Tyrone family’s two sons, James Jr. and Edmund, are played by Stephen Louis Grush and Colin Woodell, respectively. Angela Goethals is the comic relief (the whiskey-swilling maid, Cathleen).
Journey, as most theatergoers know, deals with a crucial and tragic day in the life of the Tyrone family. Mary, after a long abstinence, begins shooting up with morphine again; Edmund learns that he has T.B. Old arguments and resentments keep boiling up; the failures and pressures of the past will not let the present live. The four Tyrones tear into each other angrily and savagely, only to suddenly break off and become remorseful and guilty, beg for forgiveness.
A slightly fictionalized portrait of O’Neill’s own family, the play was written (“in sorrow”) in 1940 but was not produced until three years after the playwright’s death in 1953. Jose Quintero directed the Broadway premiere with Frederic March and Florence Eldridge in the leads.
In this memory play, alienation, loneliness and the specter of death stalk the Tyrone seacoast house. Molina as the famous actor James, star of The Count of Monte Cristo, is solidly if not showily convincing as the patriarch of the disintegrating family; Kaczmarek as his tormented yet sweet-natured wife gains in power and believability as the four-act play unfolds. Grush as the failed-actor, whore-mongering James Jr. and Woodell as the sickly would-be poet Edmund are superb supporting actors.
Long Day’s Journey into Night is one of the finest things the Geffen has done, a homegrown production that excels in every respect.