By David Walters
“… always be a little in love with death.”
O’Neil’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Audible Theater at Minetta Lane Theatre (Jan 23-Feb 20), directed by Robert O’Hara, and starring: Elizabeth Marvel (Mary), Bill Camp (James), Jason Bowen (Jamie), and Ato Blankson-Wood (Edmond).
There’s a lot of stuff that worked well in this production, and some stuff that didn’t. I want to say upfront that I do feel you should go see it (mostly to watch Elizabeth Marvel’s performance), as this whittled-down version intensifies the conflicting love and angry bitterness that is the psyche of each character. Don’t worry, it’s okay to see Long Day’s Journey Into Night several times throughout your life as the depth and reach of the play gets clearer each time you watch it.
In this production, it is no longer 1912. Thanks to director Robert O’Hara’s vision it is now 2020 and everyone and everywhere is masked for Covid (save the privacy of your own home). And thanks to his sharpened shears, it is now half its original length, two hours instead of four.
From before the audience is admitted there is a large television projection screen of CNN pre-election 2020 news clips depicting Hurricane Laura, the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, the upcoming elections, NBA cancellations, and President Trump purporting a medical breakthrough for Covid and blaming protestors. We have become so charged politically that even a hurricane sets off political lightning bolts. I found this expository setup to be quite agitating as news is now politics, so when the screen gets turned off by Mary Tyrone at the beginning of the play, never to be used again, I had to come out of that agitation in order to be with the play. Covid masks and FedEx boxes are enough to establish time and know that we aren’t in 1912.
Speaking of Covid masks, their place in this production is distracting, and call me a non-masker, but it is not needed. It becomes a weighted blanket and the arms and knees of inconsistency poke out from under the covers confusing the play’s themes. This family does not all stay in the house because of a pandemic, they stay and keep returning to their “home” because of persistent intermingled psychological addictions culminating in an indifferent fade to black at the end.
What this modern depiction of the play has done though, is sprung free the character of Mary from the corseted restrictions of the period, both physically and emotionally. It has allowed the actress, Ms. Marvel, the chance to open a bigger window into Mary’s soul and brought her up front and center to this play. She is the invalid that everyone charges themselves with, but are only capable of drunkenly stumbling around, and not at all physically or mentally able to catch her as she falls. Innocence, once lost, is incapable of being regained, but through Ms. Marvel, Mary strives for it in every interaction, seeking solace only when reality and crooked observation prevail. In a lesser actress’ hands, this freedom would have become self-indulgent. Elizabeth Marvel’s work as Mary Tyrone is stupendous.
When she was on stage, she made me forget the angst of the close quarters the audience is in, with my fellow theater goers’ elbow jostling for the armrest between the seats and the coughing from the one on the other side. If you can, go with two friends who you Covidly trust and put them on either side of you so reality won’t pull you out of this wonderful production.
Hint: When you do get tickets, do try and get row I. Although the stage at Minetta Lane is raised somewhat, the theater seats are not raked enough to be able to see over the heads of the audience in front of you when the characters are sitting in chairs or acting laid out on the stage proper.
At the Minetta Lane Theatre -18 Minetta Lane – through February 20. TICKETS