Review: Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Court Theatre)

| March 22, 2016

Mary Beth Fisher in Long Day's Journey Into Night, Euqene O'Neill, Court Theatre          

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Written by Eugene O’Neill 
Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis (map)
thru Apr 10  |  tix: $45-$65  | more info
Check for half-price tickets   


A definitive staging of an American masterpiece


Michael Doonan and Harris Yulin in Long Day's Journey Into Night, Court Theatre

Court Theatre presents
Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Review by Catey Sullivan 

Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking sociological page-turner “The Feminine Mystique” came out more than 20 years after Eugene O’Neill penned his magnum opus Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Yet in Court Theatre’s revelatory staging of the 1912-set drama, the story of morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone could be one of the thousands of case studies that led Friedan to define “the problem that had no name.”

Mary Beth Fisher and Michael Doonan in Long Day's Journey, Court TheatreIn director David Auburn’s staging, the doomed Mary (Mary Beth Fisher) is both intensely specific to upper-class, early 20th-century New England, and an Everywoman whose struggles are as ancient, universal and tragic as sexism itself.

O’Neill sets the brooding story in a sprawling coastal beach house. Mary flutters and twitches through the opening scene, nervous, resentful and fearful. Her husband James (Harris Yulin), older son James Jr. (Dan Waller) and younger son Edmund (Michael Doonan) are watchful and tense, but also clearly exhilarated and hopeful.

O’Neill gradually reveals the source of this fraught thicket of emotions: Mary’s recently back from a sanitarium, newly needle-free after years of shooting up in the spare bedroom when she thought no one was looking.

Edmund’s fragile health compounds the family’s troubles. He may be dying, but Mary is in denial as deep as the Egyptian river, snappishly insisting that her baby has nothing more serious than a cold. James Jr. isn’t dying, but he’s clearly an alcoholic, and in his early 30s, has nothing to show for his life but VIP status at the local whorehouse and a vicious desire to damage the people he loves.

The plot follows the family through the titular long day, and into a night when a hellscape of family traumas and ugly secrets surge through the house with a force that calls to mind that tsunami of blood that gushes from the elevator in “The Shining.” By dawn, the home feels as if it’s filled with fog and ghosts.

O’Neill uses fog as a metaphor throughout, a device that could be laughably melodramatic in the wrong hands. In Auburn’s direction, it’s chilling. “(Fog) hides you from the world, and the world from you,” Mary says in one exquisitely rendered scene, “No one can find or touch you anymore.” You can all but feel the cotton-soft shroud of opiates cushioning her synapses.

Of course opiates only last so long, and Mary’s placid sense of contentment is illusory. When the pain roars back, she’s defenseless. When she complains that she has no one to talk to, no place to go, and no purpose beyond managing the servants, she’s articulating the titular phenomenon of Friedan’s book: The soul-crushing realization that a spouse, a house and children often do not add up to anything even approaching fulfillment. The best James Sr. can offer to fill Mary’s emotional void? A used car.

Mary Beth Fisher and Harris Yulin in Long Day's Journey Into Night, Court TheatreDan Waller and Michael Doonan in Long Day's Journey Into Night, Court Theatre Michael Doonan and Mary Beth Fisher in Long Day's Journey Into  Night

It’s telling that Mary is drowning in the past before the night is out. Her happiest memories revolve around her teen years, when playing the piano and dreams of being a nun gave her some sense of agency. Never is Mary’s doom more apparent than it is when she tries and fails to play the piano. With hands crippled by arthritis, her memories curdle into mockery.

Fisher powers the production with a virtuosic performance. Mary Tyrone is wildly overwrought for much of Long Day’s Journey, and like the repeated references to fog, her florid state makes it easy for the role to degenerate into ham. There’s not a false note in Fisher’s performance. The emotion is huge, but it is never overinflated.

Mary Beth Fisher in Long Day's Journey Into Night, Euqene O'Neill, Court TheatreAs James Sr., Yulin is also truly memorable as a man who deeply loves his wife, but treats her like a child. He chalks up Mary’s addiction to a lack of willpower, with all the moral failing that conclusion implies. Notoriously cheap and equally vain, James Sr. could be reduced to two-dimensional peacock. Instead, Yulin shows the layers of sorrow that shaped James.

As James Jr., Waller gets a soul-baring monologue in the final act, a drunken requiem he delivers with an impact that sears its way down to your bones. Doonan’s tubercular Edmond is haunted, a feverish sheen to his eyes and a bearing that subtly indicates a body under siege by sickness.

As the maid Cathleen, Alanna Rogers shows a woman as simple and straight-forward as the Tyrones are tormented and self-deceptive. Her scenes pepper the production with comic relief.

Set designer Jack Magaw’s spacious interior evokes one of New England’s grand, shambling coastal estates, a beautiful place battered and scoured by salt, wind and time. Toy Deiorio’s sound design makes a dirge of that all-important foghorn. And with a hint of crying gulls, she evokes the drowning expanse of ocean mere steps from the Tyrones’ house.

After O’Neill finished Long Day’s Journey Into Night, he locked it away with orders that it wasn’t to be published until after his death. Given that, it’s tempting to surmise the piece is deeply autobiographical. Whether that’s the case or not, you’ll recognize these people and their battles. And you will surely recognize that Auburn has helmed a definitive staging of an American masterpiece.

Rating: ★★★★

Long Day’s Journey Into Night continues through April 10th at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis (map), with performances Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 3pm & 8pm, Sundays 2:30pm & 7:30pm.  Tickets are $45-$65, and are available by phone (773-753-4472) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 3 hours 30 minutes, includes intermission)

Michael Doonan and Dan Waller in Long Day's Journey Into Night, Court Theatre

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




Harris Yulin (James Tyrone), Mary Beth Fisher (Mary Tyrone), Dan Waller (James Tyrone Jr.), Michael Doonan (Edmund Tyrone), Alanna Rogers (Cathleen), Charles Stransky (u/s James Tyrone), Susie Griffith (u/s Mary Tyrone), Josh Hambrook (u/s James Jr. and Edmund Tyrone), Amanda Fink (u/s Cathleen).

behind the scenes

David Auburn (director), Jack Magaw (scenic design), Melissa Torchia (costume design), Lee Keenan (lighting design), Toy Deiorio (sound design), Cree Rankin (casting), Amanda Weener-Frederick (production stage manager), Erin Albrecht (stage manager), Jeri Frederickson (asst. stage manager), Charlie Marie McGrath (asst. director), Adam Goldstein (dialect coach), Matt Hawkins (fight choreographer). Christina Carlson (wig design), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Dan Waller and Michael Doonan in Long Days Journey Into Night, Court Theatre


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Category: 2016 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Court Theatre, Eugene O'Neill, Video, YouTube

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