‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ at Arena Stage

Illustration by Rob Carter.

Arena Stage continues to explore the work of one of America’s greatest playwrights with a very well-done production of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Long Day’s Journey into Night.

The play takes place entirely in the Tyrone home in 1912. The mother, Mary Tyrone (Helen Carey) is addicted to morphine while her husband, James Tyrone Sr. (Peter Michael Goetz), is a tightwad and an alcoholic. Their son, James Tyrone Jr. (Andy Bean,) like his father is an alcoholic. His brother, Edmund (Nathan Darrow) is suffering from consumption and is going to be placed in a sanatorium. The housemaid, Cathleen (Helen Hedman) is actually the normal one in the group.

I feel that this is a play more about the characters rather than it being plot driven, because the way I have described the characters, actually sets up the plot. The acting in this production is first rate all around. Helen Carey as the addicted mother gives an astonishing performance against Peter Michael Goetz’s understated James Sr. The couple, when performing together, have the chemistry that Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst had in this play many years ago, particularly in the scene where James confronts Mary about her morphine addiction. While I enjoyed Goetz’s performance, I did find him a little one note, particularly in the beginning. As the play moved into the second act I began to enjoy him more.

Helen Carey as Mary Tyrone and Nathan Darrow as Edmund Tyrone in Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater’s production of 'Long Day’s Journey into Night.' Photo by Scott Suchman.

Andy Bean’s James Jr. is riveting and is a case study on how to play an alcoholic properly. His performance is never played like a cartoon with the stereotypical staggering or slurring.

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Nathan Darrow’s Edmund is quite sympathetic and gives us someone to root for during the evening’s proceedings.

Although Cathleen does not have a lot to do in this play, Helen Hedman makes the most of it and delivers a fine performance.

Robin Phillips has directed the play at a good clip without it feeling rushed. Anytime you do O’Neill there is a tendency to get through it as fast as possible or to draw it out. Phillips makes the dramatic scenes dramatic enough without hitting you over the head with angst.

Production elements match the fine cast. Hisham Ali’s set depicting the Tyrone Home is reminiscent of the homes of the time and is complete with period lighting fixtures and furniture. Susan Benson’s costumes also match the period and serve the production nicely complete with long dresses and period suits. Michael Whitfield’s lighting is subtle but it does what it needs to do to create the atmosphere. James Suggs’ soundscape is minimal but effective.

Long Day’s Journey into Night at Arena Stage is a must see for O’Neill enthusiasts and for people who just want a good night in the theatre.

Running Time: Two hours and 50 minutes including one intermission.

Long Day’s Journey into Night plays through May 6 , 2012 in the Kreeger at Arena Stage at The Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth Street SW, Washington DC. For tickets, call 202-488-3300, or purchase them online.

This production is part of the Eugene O’Neill Festival. For a full list of events click here.

About Elliot Lanes

Elliot Lanes has been a professional stage manager/sound designer/board op for over 20 years. After relocating to Washington, DC from the New York City area and marrying the girl of his dreams Jennifer Perry, he has been privileged to work on productions at Theatre J, Synetic, Prince George's Community College and Studio Theater to name a few. He has contributed designs for many shows in the last three Capital Fringe Festivals, two of which garnered critical raves. He is also the creator of MD Theatre Guide's highly successful 'A Quick 5' column.