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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