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"Long Day’s Journey Into Night" Gets an Intense and Inspired Production by Actors Co-Op

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Selah Victor, David Scales, Daniel J. Roberts, Bruce Ladd and Nan McNamara in 'Long Day's Journey Into Night' at Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre. (Photo: Lindsay Schnebly)
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William Faulkner once said: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” Eugene O’Neill took that thought a step further when he wrote: “The past is the present. It’s the future too, isn’t it?” O’Neill knew whereof he spoke when he wrote his autobiographical masterpiece Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a play he allowed to be produced only after his death so as not to have the past overwhelm his family’s present and future. The play is a box of noisy ghosts that O’Neill is simultaneously trying to forgive and to exorcise, a tricky balance that the impressive new production at Actors Co-op gets just right.

For those who haven’t seen or read the play, it takes place in 1912 at the summer home of the Tyrone family over the titular long day. Famed stage actor James (Bruce Ladd), the father and husband of the group, is dividing his time worrying about the health of one son and berating the other one for a dissolute lifestyle. Younger son Edmund (Daniel J. Roberts) hopes he just has a bad cold, but he knows it’s probably consumption. His brother Jamie (David Scales) unsuccessfully hides his self-loathing by drinking and carousing with prostitutes. They could deal with all of this, however, but mother Mary (Nan McNamara) has a surprise that will make their communal downward spiral that much faster.

McNamara’s performance as Mary is revelatory—both as an astonishing piece of acting and a genuinely new take on the character that reveals unforeseen facets. Every other Mary I’ve ever seen has been dreamy, lost, flailing about in a haze, but not this one. McNamara’s Mary is angry, her dark eyes flashing and her face contorting with demonic intensity, a woman out of control and spoiling for payback. The amazing thing is, this take completely fits the character as written, and brings to the foreground how miserable and miserably treated Mary has been. As the evening progresses, Mary loses the anger and dives deep into her past, fleeing her present, and McNamara is equal to this too, Mary’s eyes not seeing what is in front of her but instead reliving her youth as if watching an inner movie so much better than her present.

Ladd is appropriately bluff and blustery as James, and he hits a high point with a monologue about growing up desperately poor, where his character’s horror of dying penniless is made sympathetic and understandable. Scales’ Jamie is more internalized and less showy than others I’ve seen, but this actually makes more sense, because he’s supposed to be beaten down. He nails the famous speech in Act 4 where Jamie warns Edmund against trusting him, delivering the self-sacrifice and love, but also knowing that Jamie never does anything for completely unselfish reasons. Roberts, in a strong performance, also plays up the anger of Edmund in a way that usually isn’t done, and it similarly works, making Edmund more vivid, fighting for his life. Finally, Selah Victor brings some sharp comic timing to the show as the house servant, Cathleen.

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Director Marianne Savell turns up the heat in this dramatic pressure cooker, showing the play to be a predecessor to No Exit, a more personal version where hell isn’t just other people, it’s family. She gets extraordinary work from her cast, so much so that even though it’s a long play, the time speeds by as you are mesmerized by the production. Gary Lee Reed’s set, a home divided into three areas by myriad bookcases, both works realistically and symbolically, a maze these specters haunt, in which can be heard O’Neill’s elegiac cry, a mournful howl reverberating through the past, present and future.

"Long Day’s Journey Into Night" plays at the Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre through April 29. Tickets are available online.