Thursday, October 04, 2007

REVIEW: Long Day's Journey Into Night (The Gaiety, Dublin)

Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night is an epic of unrelenting misery, all but devoid of any but the dimmest light, stripped of any emotion that isn't so mixed that it is hard, really, to give it a name at all. And every shred of that pain and meanness, every degree of recrimination, is in place in Garry Hynes' latest stern Druid production.

A former Shakespearean actor-turned-skinflint hack, James Tyrone (James Cromwell) and his deliriously dysfunctional family are about to enter four of their darkest hours. Mother Mary (Marie Mullen) is back on the morphine. For a while there, things were looking good; she seemed to have kicked for real this time. But now she's sneaking off again for a shot.

It's Dad's fault say the boys-who-might-be-men, Jamie (Aidan Kelly) and Edmund (Michael Esper), for being so mean. It's your fault for being such wastrels, counters the old man. No, it's yours -- for being born at all, honks mom from deep within the chemical, literal and metaphorical fog.

But that, of course, is the heart of the problem here: the Tyrones are addicted to blame. They will blame themselves if really forced, but, in general, they'd far rather lay the grief at each other's door. And what a lot of grief there is. Over the hours, scraps of injustice, rationalisation, hurbis and savage hurt pile up, until there is a monumental bonfire of human suffering filling the stage.

Hynes' approach on all this is, remarkably, to play it down, to take the epic bitterness and make it, somehow, everyday. It is a tack that makes sense, since allowing this play the full tilt emotional meltdown could easily leave contemporary audiences feeling rather detached. The alternative, however, which seems to happen here, is that the performances can seem a little small for the characters, so that even though there nothing here is short on quality, it sill feels as though everyone is trying on a suit that is simply a size too big.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Aidan Kelly's mini-marathon

“It’s a bit like a marathon,” says Aidan Kelly about preparing for his festival show this year, Druid’s epic production of A Long Day’s Journey Into Night. “It’s not like you start out running 26 miles on the first day. You get one scene together, then two. And then you start running them together, and next thing you know…right now I’d say we’re match fit.”

Eugene O’Neil’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, is undoubtedly one of the biggies of the American theatre – in artistic stature, but also when judged by its running of around four hours. It ought to be, you might imagine, a pretty intimidating play to perform. While Kelly doesn’t spend quite as much time on stage over the course of the evening as James Cromwell, who plays the patriarch of a dysfunctional Irish American family, as Jamie, the most prodigal of sons, he is taking on the role that has made some notable careers.

“There have been so many great actors who have taken the part, Jason Robards was in the original, Kevin Spacey played Jamie, and Phillip Seamore Hoffman. Some really amazing actors…” Not that Kelly is intimidated. The actor, who is on something of a roll, after a barnstorming performance in Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus, figures any actor’s confidence would get a tremendous boost simply by getting cast in Druid’s production. “When someone like Gary Hynes offers you a part, that all the running start you need…”

Kelly’s experience with other festivals, such as at Edinburgh, where he has been with (among other things) the Abbey’s infamous production of The Barbaric Comedies, is that how ever impressive the bill of international theatre on offer, it’s still pretty unlikely he will be seeing very much of it. “It’s hard to imagine even. When you’re in the theatre all night, the last place you want to be, if you get any time off, is another theatre…”

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Friday, May 19, 2000

REVIEW: On Raftery's Hill (Peacock, Dublin)

Is this the 21st century’s theatrical dream team? Druid director and Tony-winner Garry Hynes directs the latest from By The Bog of Cats author, Marina Carr. Together create a nasty kind of magic, telling a mythic tale of incest and cruelty.

Is it possible that Galway's Druid theatre could repeat the success they enjoyed with Martin McDonagh's The Leenane Trilogy? It's a question that hangs in the air as the company opens Marina Carr's On Raftery's Hill, a production destined geared up for a globe-trotting stint.

Some of the key factors in McDonagh's success are back in place. Garry Hynes (who became the first woman to win a Tony for direction for her work on McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane) directs again and London's Royal Court Theatre once more co-produces. But these off-stage arrangements are not the only things that the new production shares with its much-lauded predecessor.

The action of Raftery's Hill unfolds, as it might in one of McDonagh's plays, in a rural Irish cottage. As with McDonagh's dramas, the set-up requires a mental double-take. Is this drab radio-and-TV-less cottage situated the 1930s? Or the 1970s? Has Tom Hickey's Red Raftery entered the 21st century in the coat his father wore in the early year's of last century? Does the present really resemble the past so closely?

Carr's interests, despite the unrepentantly grim set, clearly do not lie in realism. Instead, the writer creates a world in which urban and Greek myths collide and the most sociopathically dysfunctional of all families comes under the microscope. The result is, naturally enough, a bleak, and at times horrific drama, elevated by Carr's broiling dialogue to a kind of shimmering evening of nastiness. Whether shimmering nastiness will be in fashion on Broadway this century remains to be seen.

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