REVIEWS AND ABSTRACTS
4. TACKY JOURNEY IN TINSELTOWN.
A day with the Tyrones is no picnic. It is a sobering experience; at best, a somber journey. The playgoer may well leave depressed, enveloped by the dark night. The Aristotelian purgation may utterly fail: that strange satisfaction in the face of the tragic may quite elude the viewer. Journey can have that effect.
But what can be said of a poor production of a depressing, though magnificent, drama? What can one hope to experience when acting and directing, costuming and design all seem to unite to militate against the play's magnificence? The depression remains, but it seems so pointless. It becomes difficult to determine whether playwright, player, or playgoer most deserves our pity.
Such was the effect of a late spring 1982 production of Long Day's Journey Into Night at the Richmond Shepard Theater Studios in Hollywood, one of the countless little theatres scattered about the Los Angeles area, providing members of the professional theatre something to do when they are not more gainfully employed on stage, screen, oz television. Perhaps some other form of diversion might have been better than mounting a poor production of Journey.
From the first impression, everything seemed wrong. The set design appeared to cater to Mary's rude evaluation of the Tyrones' summer "home." It was a hodgepodge that made their lives appear almost shabby. True, Tyrone was cautious with his money—overly-protective of a wealth he never seemed to grow accustomed to—yes, even miserly, as Jamie constantly protests. But crude he was not; tastelessness was not a fault of his. W. Lansing Barbour's set utterly lacked that certain almost rustic charm that viewers have come to expect of the Tyrones' living room.
With the exception of Edmund's rather loud sneakers, the costuming by Halima McMaster seemed harmless enough. But, while it didn't detract from the total effect, it did nothing to lift the production from its general malaise either.
Perhaps the directorial weakness was the production's greatest fault. Even so simple yet vital a matter as blocking was full of defects. The actors bunched together as if, in deference to Tyrone's fear of the poorhouse, they were trying to conserve on lighting. And the weakness in direction was unmistakable in the evident confusion about where the front hedge was in relation to the living roan, as different persons looked out in different directions to see Tyrone's and Jamie's progress on their morning's chore. More defective in the area of direction was the failure to bring out the play's strong ambivalence, the very thing that makes the family the play's main "character," alternately threatening to fall apart and yet managing somehow to survive.
At best, Ford Rainey's performance as Tyrone was predictable acting, but it did seem to hold the production together. His voice, however, while it may not have needed a knife to cut its thick brogue, could certainly have used some sanding on the edges. Charles Parks, in spite of his yelling too much, was equally passable as Jamie. Eve McVeagh's performance as Mary was something else. Her wig seemed more platinum than silver, creating a rather confusing image. Far worse was her mask—an emotionless grin she wore throughout the play. But it was her tampering with a classic line that was her most unpardonable act. While O'Neill's language may well use some improvement, certain speeches are too familiar and too powerful to change. So it was nothing short of inexcusable for Mary to say, "Then Mother of God, why is it so lonely?"
Randall Brady as Edmund appeared to be doing a recitation of Edmund's lines. His strange way of looking down, a certain hangdog expression, was disconcerting, as if he were more ashamed than afraid of the gloomy future that faced him. His awkward posturing might have suited a younger Richard in Ah, Wilderness!, but not Edmund, with all his additional years and experiences.
To any performance, the playgoer brings layer upon layer of previous exposure to the play, and each new performance should enhance the total experience of that drama. If it only distracts from that experience, it has done the viewer a disservice. Perhaps Long Day's Journey is not meant for just any theatre company that chooses to produce it. Surely, the great classics deserve greatness in their treatment.
—Eugene K. Hanson
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