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Review: Long Day’s Journey into Night is a poetic tragedy

When Eugene O’Neill finished writing his autobiographical play Long Day’s Journey into Night, he never intended it to be seen on the stage, and in his will, he decreed that it not be published until 25 years after his death. 

Having seen Auckland Theatre Company’s production this week, I think I can understand the reason. This story lays bare the heartache and self-destructive nature of himself and his family in excruciating detail. Perhaps he wrote it for catharsis, a purging of the demons from his past. 

Despite his instructions, however, this is a tragic story of a family blighted by drugs and alcohol, ruined dreams, and intense emotion that was in the end published shortly after his death. 

Watching it unfold is mesmerising. In the hands of the experienced and well-seasoned cast, this lyrical and poetic script dances along and swings from light to dark and back again. 

While each character is well-formed, the entire play revolves around Mary, the mother. She is the fading matriarch who compromised her dreams and is still grieving the loss of a child. Desperately trying to hold on to her sanity and family, but failing due to her addiction to morphine.  In playing her, actress Theresa Healey brings an interesting mixture of vulnerability and irascibility that captures one’s attention. When she is on stage, it is impossible to not watch her, even when she isn’t speaking, when offstage, she leaves behind an emptiness.

That is no disrespect to her cast mates, it is just that ‘she’ is the presence that is at the heart of the family, and the play, and it is her pain and sadness that permeates everything. Although her husband and her sons have their own issues, all of them are concerned about Mary’s needs.

Each member of the family does demonstrate tenderness to the others, but anger, bitterness, and jealousy erupt from each of them at times. Sadly, they cannot contain their negative thoughts and emotions, and these spill out of them in shocking ways. 

This creates some fascinating scenes between the characters, and since they all seemed to be sauced most of the time, they deliver some very funny, yet tragic moments. Jarod Rawiri’s portrayal of a very drunk Jamie in the second half of the play is a masterpiece. He gets the nuance just right and creates a moment that while unsettling is also quite amusing. 

In many ways, this is a bleak story, but it is also an intimate portrayal of a family in crisis who get the chance to finally be honest about what they’ve each been hiding from one another. At the start, we see an attempt to cover over the cracks, but by the end, there is no hiding them. Nothing is fully resolved but there’s no longer any deceit. 

While at times shocking, Long Day’s Journey into Night, is a beautifully poetic, raw, and deeply emotional voyage into the heart of family life replete with all of its complications. 

Photo credit – Andi Crown

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT by Eugene O’Neill

Q Theatre, 305 Queen St, Auckland

5 – 30 July 2022

Tickets and info or call 0800 ATC TIX

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