In a bright stroke in director Robert O’Hara’s intriguing but not always persuasive take on Long Day’s Journey into Night set in Covid-era 2020, Mary Tyrone spends the opening moments silently practicing yoga. Dressed in leggings and a long-sleeve hoodie, the morphine-addicted matriarch motors through poses — downward dog, cat-cow, pigeon. Welcome to Lockdown’s Journey into Night.
Yoga actually turns out to be an apt activity for Mary in Eugene O’Neill’s 1957 Tony winner. She is always posing. When she swears to her husband and sons she’s off the stuff, it’s all just a well-rehearsed act. Before long, she inevitably slinks upstairs for, as a son bluntly says, “another shot in the arm.”
Along with the present-day setting — FedEx boxes, CNN reports, an edition of Newsday, and hand sanitizer are seen in the living room — O’Hara’s handling of Mary’s addiction stands apart from other revivals. He delivers a dose of raw reality: We watch Mary as she rolls back her sleeve, ties off her arm, and, just out of view, shoots up. She does this several times.
It’s unsettling the first time. Subsequently the idea self-sabotages. To illustrate that Mary is doped up, psychedelic projections designed by Yee Eun Nam are beamed on the wall as the former convent girl slumps into narcotic submission. At best, trippy visuals are unnecessary. At worst, the imagery is gimmicky. Specters that materialize on the wall also backfire. No doubt they’re inspired by family members referring to Mary as a ghost. In my notes I scribbled, “Scooby Doo.” Presumably that’s not the desired impact.
In the end, whether it’s a traditional revival of the play set in August 1912 that runs four hours or an experimental time-leaping vision with deep cuts to the repetitive script adding up to a 110-minute running time, special effects aren’t needed to make the drama click. As the Tyrones shatter illusions and trade regrets and accusations, a consistent tone and tight connection by the actors to their characters and each makes the story harrowing. The links forged in this Audible Theater production at times go slack.
As Mary, Elizabeth Marvel, a fearless stage actor, shows off her physical and vocal dexterity. She opts for a baby voice when Mary repeatedly talks about finding her glasses. With the character of the maid left on the cutting room floor, she’s left to deliver some long passages to herself and that works well enough. Mary, as always, gets the play’s final line — and it makes you shudder.
Like Mary, who’s hooked on drugs, the Tyrone men grapple with alcohol. As James, an actor whose penny-pinching is blamed for being the root of the family's ruin, Bill Camp conjures an air of theatricality and both love and contempt for his wife and his sons. At pivotal moments, Marvel and Camp, real-life spouses, trade volume for depth. And in the heat of noisy arguments they sound like they’re playing George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Jason Bowen makes a credible Jamie, a so-so stage actor who owes his minor successes to his father and has a love-hate relationship with his brother. Ato Blankson-Wood’s low-key, lived-in performance as Edmund, an aspiring writer who’s facing the reality that he’s dying of tuberculosis, hits the right chords. He’s quietly affecting.
Periodically during the show, the time of day is projected on the set, designed by Clint Ramos, who also handled costumes, and lit by Alex Jainchill. The countdown clock recalls The Shining. As always, time is not on the Tyrone family’s side.
Photo credit: Ato Blankson-Wood, Bill Camp, Jason Bowen, and Elizabeth Marvel in Long Day's Journey into Night. (Photo by Joan Marcus)