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|A CurtainUp Review
Long Day's Journey Into Night
By Les Gutman
No matter how many times one takes this journey, it is never quite the same. By opening its season with Eugene O'Neill's only comedy, the autobiographical Ah, Wilderness! (our review), the National Asian American Theatre Company (NATCO) has cleared a path brilliantly for its audiences to follow to O'Neill's most intense self-exploration, Long Day's Journey Into Night. O'Neill called this a "play of old sorrows." Instead of seeing it as a snapshot, it now materializes as a link in a chain. Journey is a culmination, a final baring of O'Neill's soul, the last straw. Considering the two plays in succession creates a context that greatly enhances their meaning.
Long Day's Journey is a frighteningly raw play. Not only does O'Neill strip his characters of the niceties that make their tenderness seem genuine, he strips his play of almost all of its diversions. There is one family, one day, one room and virtually nothing more. Metaphors and symbols such as the fog and the foghorn are few and never complex. The set, here fairly faithfully and realistically designed by Sarah Lambert, affords little entertainment. (That's not a criticism. Indeed, the one flourish, some stylish representations of fog behind a brocaded scrim, seems unnecessary and almost out of place.) The props that are required dramatically include little more than a few books and quite a few bottles of whisky.
Few words are needed to describe Long Day's Journey other than the nouns and adjectives used to describe its characters. Father: cheap, drunk, actor. Mother: sad, deluded, lonely, addict. Elder son: unsuccessful, drunk. Younger son: philosopher/poet/sailor, drunk, sick. And so on. More than everything else combined, the words O'Neill has placed in his characters' mouths and the actors' ability to convey them are what is on display here.
Happily, the actors keep up their end of the bargain. Continuity between the two plays is provided by the smart casting of Andrew Pang in the autobiographical role in both plays (Richard Miller in Ah,Wilderness! and Edmund Tyrone here). [Both plays are also directed by Stephen Stout, about whom more later.] Once again, Pang has performed exceptionally well (probably the best of all in both casts). Playing the tubercular Edmund, what I wrote of his performance in Ah, Wilderness! can practically be copied here. He combines the spirit of his idealistic, poetic side with that of the frustrated, confused, doomed son. He scrupulously modulates his shifts in temperament, and reveals a brave front to the war being waged on his body and mind. His physical performance is exceptional.
As his father, Ernest Abuba brings a wealth of experience to an essentially one-dimensional James Tyrone, quintessential cheapskate and alcoholic. He nonetheless telegraphs the apologetic tenderness that fleetingly appears in his personality, a tenderness that echoes back to the final scene of Ah, Wilderness!. He maintains the bearing of an actor, a persona that never leaves James. Mia Katigbak plays wife and mother Mary Tyrone with an almost eerie ghostiness, and a reserve that force us to focus more on her feelings than her emotions. The elder Tyrone son, Jamie, is sensitively if sometimes aggressively represented by Paul Nakauchi. As the only character permitted to provide any real comic relief, Jody Lin's rendition of the family's Irish servant Cathleen (right down to the brogue) is excellent and welcome.
This is not a production that reaches for excesses. Director Stout has an obvious love of O'Neill's language, and lets it work its own magic. So much so that, here as in Ah, Wilderness!, that he seems more than willing to let the language take its time. The resulting 3.5 hour production -- with two intermissions -- could hardly be described as brisk. The emotional and physical toll is played out on the faces of the actors. Those seeking a free-for-all, the kind of production unleashes overwrought action and reaction, that causes shrieks or a good cry, will have to look elsewhere.