Well, dear readers, it was a long day’s journey into night, although mostly it was a long night’s journey into night. That is because last night I saw a production of Mr. Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey into Night, which is about a long day’s journey into night for the Tyrone family. First my history with this thing: Back in 1962 I’d become a regular theatergoer at the Huntington Hartford Theater and had seen The Tenth Man and A Thurber Carnival. I was also in my first year of high school and in drama class. So, I was surprised to see that the Huntington Hartford’s next engagement wasn’t a play but a film, a reserved seat engagement of Sidney Lumet’s film of Long Day’s Journey into Night, starring Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards, Jr., and Dean Stockwell, with a spare piano-only score by Andre Previn. Of course, I got my reserved seat for opening day. It felt weird to be in this temple of theater to be seeing a film, but even though it was a film, it was also a film of a play and a highly theatrical film at that, despite the occasional opening up to the porch and other areas of the Tyrone house.
The first viewing was revelatory, I was hooked, I knew the play was a masterpiece. I thought Ms. Hepburn did a fine job of it, although a bit weepy at times, Mr. Richardson was a fine James Tyrone, all bluster and actorish, Dean Stockwell was good, and Jason Robards, Jr. was an incredible Jamie and I became a huge fan, finally seeing him onstage in that same theater in O’Neill’s Hughie and meeting him after the show, which was a real treat. I believe I’ve told the story of my extreme chutzpah with Mr. Robards and how kind he was in the face of it, but I shan’t repeat it here other than to say I was but a youngster. I saw the film about five times, which, given it’s three-hour length, is pretty good (the film did away with about twenty minutes of the play). I bought the play, which I was surprised was in the very unusual form of four acts. Jamie’s late in show monologue spoken to his brother became a piece I did throughout high school, winning several awards for basically imitating Mr. Robards. Go know.
The following year I saw Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and that became my second favorite modern play, following Long Day’s Journey. Over the years I’ve seen the film a few more times, but I do not believe I’ve ever seen a production onstage – timing has never worked out. I think I did see the other film with Jack Lemmon, which I didn’t care much for. So, seeing this production, directed by Richard Eyre and starring Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville was my first time seeing it live. Of course, I love the play still, so let’s begin there. Despite it’s hugely excessive length, the dialogue is so beautiful, the characters so expertly drawn and complex, that the three-and-a-half hours never ever felt long. Whereas I’ve seen ninety minute shows that have seen an eternity. First thing was, of course, no front curtain, a practice I absolutely hate. You spend all that time looking at the set of the play before the play begins – I just don’t get it. I like the magic of the reveal, but that has gone the way of the dodo bird and I find this new way to be jerky and rather stupid.
Which brings us to the set, which is some weird abstract thing with really high ceilings, all glass and a peculiar perspective. As one critic put it, perhaps the intention was people in glass houses, but I found it kind of nonsensical since the house is described several times during the play. I thought it was a distraction rather than some amorphous statement. The costumes were fine. It took me a very long while to get with Mr. Irons, but I ultimately liked him – it’s just a very odd approach to James Tyrone and it was really unclear if he was actually trying to do an American accent – if he was it wasn’t good. If he wasn’t, I’d be curious to know what it was he was doing. But he’s a wonderful actor, and he does have several very powerful moments, and some very subtle moments that have even more power than the powerful moments. My favorite of those subtle moments was the look that crosses his face the moment he stops being in denial about his wife having gone back to her habit. Just great.
The performances of the actors playing the two sons were the most problematic for me – not sure what the intentions were, but it should all come to a head in their final scene together, but I could not for the life of me figure out what it was they were trying to convey in that scene. Then again, once you’ve seen Jason Robards, Jr. it’s very hard to see some kind of really bold and weird approach to Jamie, but also for Edmund. I was happy that they were not afraid to go for the humor that’s clearly in the play that a lot of productions won’t go anywhere near. But the sons just didn’t work for me – too mannered and too outré.
And that leaves Ms. Manville as Mary Tyrome, whose play it is (I’m not sure why some critics over the years don’t seem to comprehend that rather obvious fact). And I am here to tell you that Lesley Manville gives one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen on the stage. She has such an understanding of this complex woman, and the way she plays her from moment one to the final great curtain line (no curtain, of course) was such perfection I was just blown away. It was, in short, a performance for the ages. Aside from the set and that a lot of the show is played in very dim light, Eyre really paces the long ninety-minute first act beautifully. The second act, during which Ms. Manville is offstage for quite a bit, became a bit of a slog for me due to the interpretation of the brother scenes. But then Ms. Manville returns and all is well. The show is in two acts here – acts one and two are act one, and acts three and four are act two – I presume that’s how most productions do it today. Anyway, I love the play, I love Ms. Manville, it was great seeing Mr. Irons onstage, and I was never sold on the other two performances – there’s also the actress who plays the maid and she got some solid laughs. It was long but worth every minute.
Prior to that, I’d gotten almost eight hours of sleep, had several telephonic conversations, picked up a couple of packages, put gas in the motor car, came back home, listened to some music and answered e-mails, then got ready.
I moseyed on over to the Hills of Beverly at four with virtually no traffic. I found a great free parking space, then walked down to the Cheesecake Factory to sup. I ordered the small Caesar to start, and then the chicken, roasted garlic farfalle pasta, which I love. I hadn’t been in years. Well, the small Caesar could feed about six people – I couldn’t believe it. I ate about a quarter of it and had to put it to the side. Then the pasta arrived and I could barely eat half of it so I had the other half boxed up. Then I went back to the salad and ate a bit more of that but just had no more room at the inn and had to stop.
Then I took a long walk around the Hills of Beverly. As I told you last time I did the same walk down Beverly Drive and Canon Drive, I don’t even recognize what Beverly Hills has become. Until the 1980s, it really was just a quaint little place. It wasn’t tarted up with super expensive jernts, it was just a homey little burg for the wealthy denizens who lived there. There were three nice movie theaters, two great bookstores, Hunter’s and Martindale’s, some really nice down-home restaurants including the Ontra Cafeteria, and lots of mom-and-pop shops. All the movie theaters are long gone, replaced by hideous multi-use complexes that frankly give me a complex. Beverly Hills is no longer a movie people burg, it’s a middle East burg and also a burg to show off in at the horrid trendy restaurants that dot Beverly Drive and Canon has become like a restaurant row. As I walked by all these jernts, all of which have patio seating, I did not see one thing I would actually ever put in my mouth. And both Beverly and Canon are literally filled with for rent signs, every other store is for rent from all the failed businesses there who can never afford to stay in business thanks to the money-grubbing disgusting property owners. It is disgusting.
After the play, I came right home, finished the pasta, and began these here notes whilst listening to a great Partick Williams album called Threshold.
Today, I need to relax, finish the commentary, have a couple of telephonic conversations, hopefully pick up packages, eat something very light, and then I’ll probably watch something.
Tomorrow is our second Kritzerland rehearsal, Saturday is our stumble-through, and Sunday is our sound check and show, and then next week I begin the serious road to the Richard Sherman event on July 21 as well as figuring out the August show.
Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, relax, finish the commentary, hopefully pick up packages, eat, and watch something. Today’s topic of discussion: What was the first play (non-musical) you ever saw on the stage and what impact did it have on you. And what was the first play you ever saw in a national tour or on Broadway? Let’s have loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, happy to have finally seen Long Day’s Journey into Night on the stage, and more than happy to have seen the brilliant Lesley Manville.