It took more than half a century, but the Guthrie Theater finally has brought Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” to the stage.
This production, which opened Friday in Minneapolis with a formidable cast led by Helen Carey and Peter Michael Goetz, finds the wounded heart of O’Neill’s autobiographical drama, even if director Joe Dowling keeps most things light in his relatively brisk and upbeat production.
At a time when addiction and dysfunction are center stage in our culture, the issues in “Long Day’s Journey” may seem ho-hum. But when it premiered in 1956, the drama was revelatory and galvanizing.
O’Neill’s play of hair-trigger recriminations is set at the seaside Connecticut summer home of the Tyrones in 1912. There, one-time Shakespearean actor James (Goetz) has gathered with his wife Mary (Carey) and their boozy adult sons: mediocre actor James Jr. (John Catron) and the tubercular Edmund (John Skelley). Another son was lost in childhood.
All the major “Long Days” that I have seen — Jose Quintero’s 1988 revival at the Yale Repertory Theatre starring Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, and Robert Falls’ 2003 Goodman Theatre staging headlined by Brian Dennehy and Vanessa Redgrave — were longer and murkier than Dowling’s. There are plenty of foghorns sounding in Minneapolis, but very little fog.
The lightness of Dowling’s interpretation shows up in the design palette (Tony winner John Lee Beatty did the spacious summer home, and Christopher Akerlind did the lighting). Dowling’s tone also is reflected in his casting of Goetz, an actor whose rat-a-tat delivery has made him a master of comedy, as the father. And Dowling uses a script that has been nipped and tucked.
The result is that a show that usually runs four or more hours checks in at just under three. Dowling achieves this compression by pacing and by having his outstanding acting company occasionally deliver lines atop each other.
Surprisingly, nothing feels lost. The production is conducted less for the solos, even though the cast is commendable, than for the effect of an ensemble that delivers at the top of their form.
Carey is superb as Mary, getting under the frail skin of a character that critic Kenneth Tynan once called an “emotional vampire.” She constantly fidgets and touches her hair, asking for reassurance from her husband and sons. Her character draws more sympathy than pity and the actor draws our praise.
Goetz also delivers a sympathetic character. Because I have seen him in so many comedies — last year he starred in “The Sunshine Boys” — he seems like a rider holding back his horse in “Long Day’s Journey.” The restraint serves him well.
Catron delivers an awesome performance. His turn as James Tyrone, Jr. (Jamie) has a lyricism that perfectly marries word with movement, dancer with boxer. He has a good sparring partner in Skelley, whose Edmund is a little delphic but still engaging.
The cast is rounded out by Laoisa Sexton, whose Irish brogue was the only thing that was dense about a production that certainly merits a visit.