Bravo to all that produced Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. What a wonderful theater experience. Addiction, resentment, blame, regret, denial, and conflict–all stripped bare in each character, created the O’Neill masterpiece.
Many and even most families struggle with hidden demons in their past and the Tyrone family in Eugene O’Neill famous, classic play, Long Day’s Journey into Night fight enough demons for several families in the Kansas City Actors Theatre (KCAT) production now playing weekends at Union Station on the City Stage.
KCAT continues to bring classic plays back to life and present them to present audiences with determination to allow audiences to revisit or discover masterpieces not generally performed. Picnic, William Inge’s classic blazed in their ninth season. Now, Long Day’s Journey into Night opens as the second of their four productions.
The O’Neill classic gives audiences a strong hint of the drama when the word night appears in the title, signaling dark circumstances. Amazingly, the Tyrone family encounters dark and gloomy circumstances throughout the play. Within the first few minutes of the play the audience engages and transports itself into the lives of the early 1900's family and their daily struggles with forces of darkness. Give total credit for this travel and engagement to the cast and crew that guide the journey.
Long Day’s Journey into Night presents the Tyrone family of Mary, James, Jamie, and Edmund along with their housekeeper, Kathleen. Director John Rensenhouse selected a topnotch ensemble to recreate the dark play that looks at addiction and desperation. And, with O’Neill’s penchant to explore the depth of demons, the cast and direction excel.
Leading the journey through the family problems Paul Vincent O’Connor portrayed James, the patriarch of the family with gusto. He climbed into the character and slowly unveiled the character’s flaws one by one. His addiction to alcohol seems minor when played against his greed and avarice. Money, money, money and more money drive his character with little and no regard for his family. What’s amazing in the performance is the depth of love for the other characters, even through arguments and bitterness. Audiences feel his love even though his miserly ways hinder his persona. O’Connor slowly reveals the feelings as he attempts to overcome his demons. The performance is strong.
Next, Mary, crafted by Merle Moores, hides her inner conflict from all to see. She, too, faces demons or a carefully hidden addiction. Moores shows a layer of love and compassion before the script allows her to start peeling away layer upon layer of anguish, depression, guilt, pain, uncertainty, and broken dreams and general brokenness. Moores slowly allows the audience to peek into the layers of her darkness. Scene by scene Moores shows just a bit more and keeps the audience guessing at her “dirty little secret.” Moores continues throughout the play to display her love and devotion while unveiling the questions and shattered dreams of her past. The audience buys in immediately to her devotion and continues to wonder at her inner problems. Moores character development shows a slow and careful masking of the inner tragedy and questions of a tormented soul. Her performance grows deeper and more complex. Moores turns in a wonderfully crafted performance.
An oldest son, Jamie, created by Brian Paulette, intrigued the audience from the start with his arguments with his father. Paulette’s character quickly opens to the dark side of his nature and his failures to please his father. Addiction to booze and whores comes out early, but Paulette’s character does not unveil the depths of his darkness until late in the play. He does not slowly unveil his character, he strips his character naked toward the end of the play and shows the inner ugliness of his failures. Paulette grabs the character of Jamey and rips through it with a strong stage presence and “in your face” style. He jumps fully into character from his entrance and gives the audience a rough ride through his time on stage. Paulette creates the character of interest that does not appear in several scenes, causing questions about where and when his character returns. Well developed and portrayed, Paulette’s performance will remain with audiences.
The youngest member of the Tyrone family, Edmond, serves as another focal point of Long Day’s Journey into Night, portrayed by Doogin Brown. Brown creates his character with a gentleness pitted against the anger and disarray of the other characters. He is careful and slow in unveiling the darkness within. He is the slowest of the cast to show his flaws. He builds his character from a gentle shower to a violent storm. The anger and pain show as just peeks in the first act. Not until the second act does Brown turn up the heat within his character. He gives an outstanding performance with subtle clues throughout to build upon.
Outside the Tyrone family, Kathleen, played by Jessica Franz, gives the only escape from the family problems. Franz dons an Irish accent that sounds like she just arrived from the Emerald Isle and her character provides the only departure from the drama of the play. Though small, her part gives some important clues to Mary’s hidden problem. Franz gives a very believable performance of an Irish house worker surrounded by darkness and addiction.
Overall, KCAT’s Long Day’s Journey into Night opens the audience’s eyes to the darkness of the human heart. Slowly the story illuminates the passion and insecurities of each of the Tyrone family. The direction, the ensemble, and the creative team set a high bar for any future outings. The show comes highly recommended but with a warning. The show is a drama. It contains some strong language and caters more to adult audiences than young. Any drama student should see the show and learn from masters. That’s what is seen–masters. And, it’s not just what is on stage, the mastery comes from the sound, stage design, lighting, props and stage management to create this piece.
Long Day’s Journey into Night continues at Union Station on City Stage through Sept. 15. Check the website: kcactors.org for details and tickets.