Ben Brantley takes a decidedly optimistic view of the upcoming Broadway season in his recent piece for The New York Times: “Shame and Guilt Drives Several New Productions, Which Is Good for Us,” in which he outlines some of the classic dramas and contemporary works coming our way this Spring, including, of course, O’Neill’s towering achievement and the play we are going to see in May, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, starring Gabriel Byrne and Jessica Lange, with support from John Gallagher Jr. and Michael Shannon.
Mr. Brantley loves drama on the stage. He is a big fan of Mr. Byrne. I love quoting him, so:
Until the snake slithered into the picture, the Garden of Eden was a drama-free zone. It wasn’t just that theater requires an audience of more than beneficent animals and foliage. How could anyone put on a gripping play without the essential elements of sin and the feelings it inspires? Where’s the drama, in other words, in a world without guilt?
The notion of culpability — in both its subjective and objective senses — has been center stage in Western theater at least since the days when Aeschylus portrayed the homicidal domestic life of the House of Atreus. Such tragedies aimed for catharsis, and audiences were meant to go home purged of nasty emotions, grateful that someone else had done their suffering for them.
Fast forward a few millenniums, and guilt is still the star of the show. The roster of productions opening in New York during the next several months is dense with accounts of lives crippled by shame. They include classics by repertory gods like Eugene O’Neill (“Hughie,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”) and Arthur Miller (“The Crucible”), and by contemporary masters like Kenneth Lonergan (“Hold On to Me, Darling”) and David Harrower (“Blackbird”).
About THE play, he says:
O’Neillian truth and illusions are spread over a broader canvas in his masterpiece, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” which is being given a star-stoked revival, directed by Jonathan Kent, by the Roundabout Theater Company. This greatest of family portraits in American drama shows how reciprocal guilt both binds and rends the members of the Tyrone clan through the course of one day that manages to seem both thoroughly typical and apocalyptic.
Mr. Kent is working with an ensemble to die for (or at least commit mortal sin for), with a quartet of performers known for their willingness to dig deep in the pursuit of authentic pain. Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne, as the toxically codependent parents, and Michael Shannon and John Gallagher Jr., as their terminally unhappy sons, will be enacting a cycle of accusation and retreat, of blame directed outward and inward, that can never be broken.
The play goes into rehearsals this week, according to an article in The Washington Post which I cannot share with you because it is behind a paywall and I only got a quick look at it! Sigh. Previews of Long Day’s Journey Into Night begin April 3 and tickets are on sale now at the Roundabout Theatre for a run that ends on June 26.
Fortunately, we do not have to commit mortal sin to see the play–our tickets are purchased, hotels identified, landmarks noted on the map. This production of O’Neill’s masterwork is shaping up to be an epic achievement and our trip to New York City this Spring will be epic, too! Hope you can be there. Stay tuned for more details and promotional images as they become available!