Long Day’s Journey into Night just might be the most aptly titled of Eugene O’Neill’s wordy works. Uncut, the tragedy is a four-hour marathon deep into the fog of morphine addiction. Journey follows Mary Tyrone as she plummets down the opiate rabbit hole. The director Nathaniel Swift goes all-in with O’Neill’s dense masterpiece at Eclipse Theatre, leaving no work uncut and demanding some serious stamina of his audience.
I realize it’s presumptuous to criticize one of the best American playwrights ever to set pen to paper, but seriously, O’Neill could have benefitted from an editor. His words are inarguably poetic, but they can also be repetitive. That said, Eclipse’s production is anchored by the compelling Susan Monts-Bologna as Mary Tyrone. In Bologna’s feverish performance, we get a harrowing portrait of an aging “dope fiend” who lives in terror of the encroaching (both metaphorical and literal) fog. Bologna is a master of deterioration here, spiraling from restless lucidity into a wild-eyed narcotic haze. By the final scene, she’s little more than a spectre, a ghost haunting her own life.
Bologna is the primary reason A Long Day’s Journey Into Night works as well as it does. When the play is left to Mary’s husband James Tyrone (Patrick Blashill) and troubled sons Edmund (Stephen Dale) and Jamie (Joe McCauley), O’Neill’s Journey becomes ponderous. The men simply lack the intense emotional authenticity as their matriarchal co-star.
Still, Long Day’s Journey into Night plays out with a relentless, pile-driving momentum. And when Mary Tyrone plaintively cries that “(Morphine) is the only thing that stops the pain. All the pain,” you may well find yourself deep in a current of despair that won’t lift until the catharsis of the curtain call.
Long Day’s Journey into Night continues through December 9 at the Athenaeum Theatre. For more information go to eclipsetheatre.com.
Catey Sullivan is Chicago magazine’s theatre critic.
Photograph: Scott Cooper