JG is a performer and deviser

Linoor is a director and dramaturg

In Our Pockets:

Linor

One of the things that was most definitely in my pocket was this strong sense of dread about how long the production is. I’ve read this play before, but never seen a performance. I have no relationship with anyone at Quintessence.

 

JG

I’m a company member at Quintessence. I had not read the play before. Also, I thought it would be three hours and was surprised to hear that it was a four hour run time.

 

Linor

I definitely expected three hours too – only because I didn’t think that modern audiences could handle the whole play in one sitting. I was nearly wrong – some folks left towards the end during the performance I attended, but other than that, the audience was very engaged.

 

JG

I’ll second that on engagement.

 

The Take-away

  •  Epic performances

  •  Spare design

  •  An overall sense of devastation.

  •  Mental and societal ills with no room for hope.

  •  This play? Still?

 

The Design:

Linor

I appreciated that the design elements only served to enhance the characters’ journeys. It certainly made me focus on the acting. I did feel like it straddled an interesting line – if it had gone a little further into realism, I would have seen the set as another character. If it had held back, I would have appreciated the subtle placeholders for a period piece. As it was, I didn’t really feel anything about it – and I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.

JG

I found myself at times thinking the transition music hedged on the modern like it was coming from a different place than the story. The set. I wondered specifically with the chairs if I was going to be on a patio at one point and in a waiting room the next.

 

Linor

That makes sense. I think I agree. In general, the design seemed inconsistent with the overall vision, which made me focus on the performances and the writing.

 

JG

I have a suspicion that part of that is by design, knowing the respect Burns holds for the text of each piece.  I’d prefer a bolder move in one direction to give more definition and not leave me wondering.

 

Linor

I agree with that. I noticed some subtleties with the lighting that I liked – how I didn’t notice it changing until it had already changed, matching a character’s mood. That felt very strong to me.

 

JG

Agreed.

 

The Direction

Linor

Where I think Long Day’s Journey really works is when Mary’s unraveling comes at an even, steady pace, because we are watching her journey into the fog, and how her family copes. There’s a lot of signaling in the play about what’s coming, and constant rebuttal from Mary. What disappointed me about this production was that it seemed like Mary came to a place of devastation very quickly, and so there wasn’t a lot farther she could go. Likewise, I think the play is at its strongest when we don’t know who to believe – Mary or her family – and are walking that fine line with a nuanced performance (only to come to the dreadful realization that her family was right all along, and she is past helping). I just couldn’t feel that with this production.

 

JG

I see what you mean.  The cat comes out of the bag rather quickly and so we’re caught in an endless cycle of flips before the problem is truly revealed.

 

Linor

That being said, there were really, really strong moments of this piece. I think – similar to how I felt when reading the play – it cracked wide open for me when Edmund (James Davis) really got to talking. It was a window in Eugene O’Neill’s soul, which is exhausting and devastating and beautiful.

 

JG

Yes, I was struck by the maddening flippancy with which the family deals with Mary (E. Ashley Izard), who had me in her grip at every turn – when she gets close to the truth of her predicament, when each character comes to a place of truth only to be shut down as trivial or inappropriate. Though I didn’t have much sympathy for the father.

 

Linor

I did by the end. That level of extreme poverty, especially at a time when Irish people were institutionally unwelcome in specific parts of the United States – I understood it, even if I was really irritated by the father’s inability to see past himself. I think in some ways this play is so brilliant because it is structured to be inevitable – we know how it will end before it does and we’re just hoping that each character will make a highly uncharacteristic move to change something, but they never do.

 

JG

Oh, The timely metaphor of it all! That last sentence alone is what irks me today. I suppose that my dislike of James (played with honesty and vulnerability by Paul Hebron)  likely stems from my frustration with the things he represents (capitalism, theatre, patriarchy, misogny, racism,  self loathing, etc.)

 

The Performances

 

JG

I know you spoke earlier of James Davis portrayal of Edmund, I found his glimpse behind the veil to be quite beautiful. The real surprise performance for me was that of Jamie (Josh Carpenter) the reveal of his secrets was heartbreaking. I did not see that coming,  or I didn’t want to believe it was true.

 

Linor

Oh yeah, Josh Carpenter was great. I really appreciated his performance – I think it was nuanced and strong. I found myself rooting for Jamie in a way that I never did when reading the play, and in a way that surprised me. I think that’s a testament to Josh. In general, while I could see that the actors were all skilled and strong, it was the direction that left me wanting more.

Why this play now?

JG

My frustrations noted in the above, and my own lived experience tell me that this play is relevant. Yet, I also wonder at the idea of presenting only that,  the play which, yes is diving deep into substance abuse, mental health, and a host of other ills wrapped up in the American dream that are deep, ugly, and ultimately accepted to be the way of the world. I yearn for it to be coupled with conversation, resources, or an organization that is actively working to combat or rehabilitate the issues that persist. Without something like that it feels just like it’s adding more fuel to the commentary fire.

 

Linor

I feel similarly. I can see and recognize that this play is brilliant, but to be honest, I crave a new voice that dissects the same things, and perhaps in a way that speaks to specific parts of our culture as it has evolved and grown since the time of Long Day’s Journey. I think this is an important play, but in general, I bristle at the production of old white plays like this. If we’re going to do an old play, why don’t we do something from black playwrights, or female playwrights, or Hispanic playwrights? There are “classics” that don’t have to fall into the tired, over-produced list. Which is not a disparagement on the play itself.

 

JG

Indeed.

 

Linor

Sure, this play is relevant, but is it adding something new to the conversation?

 

JG

Can I get a Phillis Wheatley?!

 

Accountability

Linor

This play represents a very real problem in this corner of American history, and likewise it is limited by the social parameters of its’ time. I see that, I get it, I can respect it. But we’re no longer in that corner of American history, we’re in ours. And I feel a sense of urgency for us to have explicit conversations about a lot of the themes and topics that O’Neill had to dance his way through as a mid-century American playwright. At the end of the day, it makes me feel like this play isn’t necessarily being produced to contribute to the conversation about addiction in America, but because it’s famous and will sell.

 

This play is a testament to the writing of unresolved familial, generational, national trauma that cannot be fixed by vice, or packed under a bandaid of shame/complacency. My question is: if after seeing this piece over and over again do people leave this piece inspired to work on their own issues or is it an accidental tool of oppression, just normalizing that behavior over time?

 

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