When is the past both the present and the future and nothing that is said is actually spoken – it’s when you are in the midst of Eugene O’Neill’s drama, Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
Greenbrier Valley Theatre (GVT) in downtown Lewisburg ran the Pulitzer and Tony Awarding winning play for three weeks, bringing to life a modern day version of ancient Greek fatalism at its best. O’Neill’s autobiographical drama depicts a family’s struggle with despair and multiple addictions. Although the action occurs on the stage, do not expect to walk away unscathed. This performance prompts the audience to face truths about life and the unspoken damage that can occur over the course of a lifetime.
The stage, transformed into the sitting parlor of an early 20th century summer home, is where a day in the life of Mary and James Tyrone and their two sons, Jaime and Edmund, occurs. Mary has recently undergone treatment for a morphine addiction. As the day progresses the audience realizes she is falling off the wagon and is back into her morphine induced craze. The youngest son, on the other hand, is struggling with a “summer cold,” which is actually a serious case of consumption. James and his eldest son Jaime are doing their best to cover up both Mary’s addiction and Edmund’s predicament, while seeking out diversions of their own. The theme of what is spoken and what goes unspoken within this home reverberates throughout the performance.
The cast, including Sara Morsey as Mary, Richard McWilliams as James, Max Arnaud as Jaime, and Cliff Miller, playing the role of Edmund, exemplified the emotional undertones of each character. Mary, wrought with hidden resentments stemming from a past that she cannot let go of, shows how shame has both driven her to addiction and kept her there. Morsey was so successful bringing this to light; it is almost uncomfortable to watch this character’s internal struggle. James, on the other hand, is angry with his eldest son, the character most like him, and his wife for her inability to fight her addiction. McWilliams carries this off while hinting to the audience of the characters love for whiskey and jovial partying nature, which the kitchen staff seems fond of. Jaime is the eldest son. Arnaud portrays him as the only family member honest about both Mary’s addiction and his brother’s health. However, he is not honest about his own character, another layer to the theme of what is spoken and what is not. Finally, Miller’s version of Edmund is that of a young man worried about his mother’s health above his own. Edmund is neither able to confront his mother nor let go of the past. When he finally is able to discuss his own health crisis with his mother, she in turn is unable to confront or accept it.
The entire performance ends, as we begin to understand, that there is no resolution to this family’s cyclical despair. They are caught in a revolving regiment influenced by their own coping mechanisms and the combination of past and present, which shapes their futures.
Mary will continue to use morphine and James and Jaime will continue to seek out diversions, playing cards and drinking whiskey, both talking and not talking about the serious things. Jaime reveals that he has always been jealous of Edmund, and we know that Edmund must go off to fight consumption on his own in a sanitarium. This is not a “happily ever after” ending. But the audience must ponder that it may be a realistic ending.
Mary said it best, “The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future, too. We all try to lie out of that but life won’t let us.” As is true in life, the ending of this play does not gloss over the obvious painful truths regarding the past, which comes back over and over and yet is never reckoned with.
Written between 1940 and 1941, this play did not make it to the stage until 1956, and is considered to be one of O’Neill’s greatest works. The play is hailed for bringing drama back to the stage.