Long Day's Journey Into Night.
Town Hall, Provincetown, Massachusetts,
August 15, 2003.
forthcoming O’Neill Conference in 2005 in Provincetown may seem a long way
off, but there is excitement in the lovely seaside town already. And, as
usual, O’Neill is getting attention by both Provincetowners and visitors
from elsewhere. Outstanding events will take place in the next year and
recently a really wonderful event drew an elated crowd to the Town Hall.
This was a dramatic reading of Long Day’s Journey Into Night by
Norman Mailer and members of his family on August 15, 2003.
To many O”Neillians used to thinking of Mailer in terms of being a novelist,
this appearance as James Tyrone may come as quite a surprise. In fact,
Mailer has been involved in readings in Provincetown before, and his wife,
Norris Church Mailer has only recently resigned her long-time post as
artistic director of the Provincetown Repertory Theatre in order to devote
her time to writing her second novel. In the reading, she played
Mary—coincidentally she is 54, appropriately for Mary Tyrone’s age.
Edmund was played by Norris and Norman’s son, John
Buffalo Mailer. He, too, has largely been involved in theatre. He began at
the age of twelve when he performed in two plays for the Actors Studio
Playwright/Directors Unit. Since then he was a founding member of Back House
Productions. Jamie Tyrone was played by Stephen Mailer, Norman’s son. His
acting career has been split between regional theatres, New York City
productions, television and film. In 1993 he created the role of Lucas
Brickman in Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor. In case you
thought there were no more Mailers to complete the cast, the role of
Cathleen was played by Kate Mailer, another of Norman’s children. She has
had extensive experience as a actress in plays she has written, and in
Strawhead, written and directed by her father at the Actor’s Studio. She
also appeared in Peter Brook’s The Cherry Orchard at BAM.
With all that talent, audiences looked forward to a sensational evening in
the theatre. The performance was to benefit the Provincetown Repertory
Theatre with tickets at $50 and $150. The gala evening concluded with an
elegant private reception following the performance. Audiences in
Provincetown are accustomed to such events, including a recent reading of
George Bernard Shaw by Mailer and his literary foe Gore Vidal. The audience
was composed of long-time residents of Provincetown as well as notables from
the publishing and theatre worlds of New York and Boston.
Of course the performance was highly publicized and the Mailers were
interviewed regarding their thoughts on O’Neill in general and the play in
particular. Norris Mailer said she was glad she hadn’t seen Vanessa Redgrave
perform the role as it “would have colored her own interpretation of the
play.” Mailer, himself, was full of ideas about
the play, describing it as “human” with “not a phony line in the whole play.
O’Neill is not dealing with creeps or weirdoes, but with all the pluses and
minuses of a family.” He added that it is a “dark play, but not without
humor. You always laugh if you recognize yourself or your parents in a
character.” The novelist had read and re-read the play and thought it was a
good fit for his family. His only misgiving was that at age 80 he was
playing a man of 65. Still, he felt he was up to it and could turn out “a
touch of the very edge of an Irish accent.”
The performance did not attempt to include the entire play, but selected key
scenes, focusing on the later parts of the play. It was viewed not only as a
successful event and a fine contribution to the Repertory Theatre, but as a
welcome foreshadowing of O’Neill events in the future. Many of the people in
Provincetown are already working on the forthcoming conference, as well as
working with scholars to who come to Provincetown for research on O’Neill.
For example, Stephen Borkowski, whom many of us met in Tours at the recent
O’Neill Conference, contributed his efforts to making this evening a success
and is looking forward to future events with great pleasure. Leona Rust
Egan, a member of the O’Neill Society who has written on O’Neill,
also contributed her efforts. In fact, one could say that Provincetown as a
whole is working to make the 2005 Eugene O’Neill Conference a memorable
occasion in the most appropriate location possible. Even as O’Neill lived in
Provincetown, his spirit lives there today as this extraordinary performance
of Long Day’s Journey Into Night demonstrates.
Yvonne Shafer is
Professor of Speech, Communication Sciences
and Theatre at St. John's University, and author of Performing O'Neill:
Conversations with Actors and Directors.