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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the May 28, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Broadway: `Long Day’s Journey’

The importance of director Robert Falls’ stunning staging

of Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical masterpiece "Long Day’s Journey

Into Night" goes well beyond any comparison that might be made

with any previous productions, even one that may be considered to

be definitive. I’m thinking, in particular, of the one in 1988 that

starred Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, under Jose Quintero’s

direction. The importance of this new production lies rather in Falls’

addressing what many consider to be the greatest play in American

theater literature with a new reverence for the personal and the shared

pain of the members of the Tyrone household.

Just as the previous production teemed up quintessential O’Neill interpreters,

Falls has brought together a formidable company that proves itself

second to none. So extraordinary is the performing of Vanessa Redgrave,

Brian Dennehy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Robert Sean Leonard that

whatever memories, ideas or fixed notions you may have about this

play will be forever altered. Indeed, if the American Theater can

be said to have been transformed by the works of O’Neill during the

first half of the century, then this production deserves a place for

its ability to reaffirm the greatness of this unwieldy and emotionally

excessive masterpiece.

Falls’ security with the text is notable in the unhurried pace that

allows the characters in this sorrowful, indeed, haunted play set

in the summer of 1912 to face their most tragic memories with the

greatest amount of poignancy. Be prepared for a long (four hours with

two intermissions) embroiled evening with the Tyrones, a family that

relishes its free-for-alls, but not one that necessarily makes the

one with the loudest voice the winner. It is important to know

that they are shades of O’Neill’s own family.

It is no overstatement to say that a legend is already in the making,

given the revelatory performance by Redgrave, as the hopelessly morphine-addicted

Mary Tyrone. The ever astonishing Redgrave, who hasn’t been seen on

a New York stage since she directed herself as Cleopatra for the Public

Theater, gives us a stinging new insight into Mary, both as a desperately

mean-spirited avenger and as a ravishingly noble spirit. This, as

we see her glide deeper and deeper into her hallucinatory meanderings.

We are kept spellbound by Redgrave’s movements, her increasingly nervous

fingers, the self-conscious fussing with loose strands of hair, and

a voice that resonates passionately when it isn’t trailing off like

vapor.

Behind the heavy-set facade, the implacable vanity, and the devilishly

Irish eyes that seem, at times, to know more than they care to share

is Dennehy, who, as the aging matinee idol James Tyrone, now a miserly

and alcoholic patriarch, finds enough dramatic contours in the aborted

dreams of his past and the pained realities of the present to commandingly

hold up his end of the incessant bickering, accusing, recriminating

and even lying household. Let us hope that this superb actor, who

won the 1999 Tony award for best actor in a play for the 50th anniversary

production of Arthur Miller’s "Death of a Salesman" (also

directed by Falls), continues to achieve more such milestones with

Falls.

Making waves as co-artistic director of the hotly talked about LaBrinth

Theater Company ("Our Lady of 121st Street"), as well as an

impressive number of Broadway and film roles, Hoffman is an explosive

presence. He is cynical dynamite as James Tyrone Jr., the wastrel

actor and alcoholic older son who has attempted to reach out to the

younger brother he both envies and protects.

Leonard, a Tony Award-winner ("The Invention of Love") who

also showed us he could also sing and dance as "The Music Man,"

is Edmond, the young, poetic and consumptive seafarer whose burning

love-hate relationship with his family is destined to make him the

autobiographical eyes and ears of the Tyrones. Leonard, representing

the young O’Neill, is splendid and touching as he emphasizes Edmond’s

sensitive brooding nature but even more brilliantly rises to challenge

each new tidal wave of emotion as it threatens to drown him. Fiana

Toibin has the right Irish flavor as the family’s summer servant whose

duties invite a little nip on occasion.

You can almost feel the fog rolling in outside designer Santo Loquasto’s

evocative setting, the gloomy living room of the Tyrone’s summer home.

Brian MacDevitt’s lighting masterfully considers James Tyrone’s unwillingness

to pay the electric bill. But who needs light when the stage is set

ablaze with such performances. Four stars. Don’t miss.

— Simon Saltzman

Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Plymouth Theater, 236 West

45th Street, New York. $60 to $100. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or

212-239-6200. To August 31.


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