LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
Yes, of course Eugene O’Neill’s very old school play Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a classic! And, also of course, it’s never been my cup of tea. I hate sitting still for three and a half hours, even to watch sports! But I am a fan of great acting; that’s magical to me. And I rarely get to see it in person; it’s usually in a film.
So, to see the Master Class that is Lesley Manville right before my very own eyes was indeed a treat this past week-end. And, since she’s right here in our own Los Angeles backyard, at The Wallis in Beverly Hills, anyone who misses this opportunity is foolish. (Just give yourself permission to get your nap in during the long period in the second act when she’s not on stage.)
Here are the scoops: After a limited run in London’s West End, followed by a very brief stay at my favorite theatre growing-up, Brooklyn Academy of Music, this acclaimed Bristol Old Vic production has finally arrived in Los Angeles. And it’s the last stop, (after which star Jeremy Irons has hinted that he’ll retire,) so I really recommend that everyone who can, see this play now. Even Mr. X says there’s no better place to do so than The Wallis because of the “superb sightlines from every seat in the house!”
I’m admitting something right up front: Even as a life-long student of theatre, and an occasional actress, and having taken advantage of so many cultural events that first New York and surrounding areas, and then LA, have had to offer since I was two-years-old, I have never, ever seen, nor read, Long Day’s Journey Into Night! And that’s by design. I know that plays by all the old masters, (O’Neill, Williams, Inge, Odets,) are considered classics, especially this one, but I can’t take stories like that. The few I have seen (some as films rather than plays) have proved to be confusing and depressing. I’ve always had my own family dramas to deal with; I don’t need to absorb those of others, especially fictional characters. (But you know what? At least none of my relatives have ever been drug addicts, alcoholics, or miserable misers, which, by the way, is all I’m going to tell you about the plot of this work. So there’s that bit of cheeriness that I took away from this tale!)
Because of my known aversion to this genre, all my friends, and even acquaintances, were shocked that I was jumping out of my skin to see this show now. And I gave-up many, many other events on the day and night of its opening, ones that you all know are more up my shallow alley, in general, than a depressing play, (such as a catered extravaganza, a pool party, and a strawberry festival,) and all for just one reason—actress Lesley Manning! Trust me–you have got to see this woman’s brilliance! Even though she’s not as known in the states as she is in England, I’ve long been a fan. And when I saw her Oscar-nominated performance in this year’s Phantom Thread, (a film I disliked otherwise, which caused me to never be able to eat mushrooms since,) that put me over the top in my admiration of her. (And she should have, by far, won that award!!! Crazy American Academy voters.)
It was also a privilege to witness Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons work in person. I loved discovering that, especially for a movie star of his magnitude, his stage presence is just as masterful as his many screen personas, which is far from always the case with major film actors. And to see the pair of them on stage was an attraction that I could not turn down.
Even with the uber-long presentation, and totally depressing narrative, I’m so grateful that I took advantage of this opportunity. And all of you Southern Californians need to do so, as well. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
So, let’s delve into the particulars of this production, in no particular order:
Again, I must laud Lesley Manville for her genuinely breathtaking performance. Mr. X pointed-out that “she had unending truthful moments,” an assessment with which I totally concur. [Note: The only other living actress I go as nuts over is Meryl Streep because…who doesn’t?]
Because this play takes place in America, (Connecticut, to be exact,) I was a little disappointed at not getting to hear the two stars’ beautiful real-life English accents. Jeremy doesn’t totally get rid of his, but his character is an actor, anyway, and even American actors spoke like they were British back in the day. (And still do, if they’re Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, or the late Linda McCartney! And I’m sure Meghan Markle will, as well, soon enough.) Lesley does lose hers, though. But her American accent is okay with me because she sounds a lot like Mary Martin or Betty Hutton, and it does not get better for me than those two.
When I saw a stage production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf many years ago, (starring Glenda Jackson and John Lithgow,) I was shocked at how much humor was in that otherwise-too-tense-for-me drama. (Whenever Mr. X and I used to fight loudly, I’d tell the neighbors that we were rehearsing that play. They must have wondered why it was taking so many years to perfect!) And I’m happy to report that this rendition of Long Day’s Journey Into Night similarly surprised me with many laughs. So, major kudos to the revered director, Richard Eyre, for those bits of mirth amongst all the pages of dreariness inherent in this dysfunctional family saga.
Speaking of things about this show that made me smile, Rob Howell’s set is stunning! I actually gasped as I entered the theatre and first laid eyes on it. But I found it to be a bit too modern in places. The play takes place in 1911, but the house looks like something out of Showtimes’s current series The Affair! (Actually, even better.) And I wasn’t a fan of all the reflections on the many shiny surfaces, particularly on the “ceiling.” (Mr. X thought that perhaps the choices had something to do with the saying, “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” and he’s more intelligent than I, but I don’t agree.) Also, it’s confusing that the mother keeps saying that it’s such a cheap and embarrassing house. I thought it looked pretty close to exquisite and upscale! I’d be happy to live there! (Except there is no way I’d be dusting all those books!) But these are not negatives—I always love and applaud a gorgeous visual.
In the first act, (which is actually two acts in one because O’Neill wrote Long Day’s Journey Into Night as a four act play, but it’s usually presented with just one intermission, possibly so no one will leave!,) the family all rocks beige wardrobe. The designer (Mr. Howell again) did a great job with those costumes because I feel the same as Dame Edna does about that shade. In one of her shows, upon learning of an audience member’s beige living room, Edna slowly said, “Beige? I’ve forgotten all about beige!” My sentiments exactly. But I loved the outfits in this show, especially against the blue-themed set.
I understand that the lighting, designed by Peter Mumford, is true to the time of day/night, (and historic times, and the patriarch’s thriftiness,) but a dark stage just puts me to sleep. I realize it’s part of the story, but it actually hurt my eyes, so I had to sort-of squint through the darkness, and then it’s Rip Van Winkle time for me. The interesting thing is that Ms. Manville was off the stage during most of that nighttime period, which prompted me to write a note that “the light went out when she left the stage,” and it turns-out that I meant that literally as well as figuratively!!!
Speaking of words, the second act is full of way too many monologues for me. There are usually two characters in each scene, but one of them is often going on-and-on by him-or-herself. I always turn down reviewing one-person shows because they are just not up my alley. I can’t take listening to just one person for so long. So they lost me quite a few times during the mini-monologues, except for Lesley’s. She makes hers so riveting that I wouldn’t have even minded if it was longer! (She’s one of the few people I’ve ever seen who could actually do my former television show, where I talked by myself for a half hour. And guess what—she would have been way more interesting!)
Okay, so we know that in the technical categories, I loved the set, appreciated but was not a fan of the lighting, and now I have to tell you that there was one effect I absolutely abhorred–the sound of the foghorns tortured me! I applaud the authenticity, but I was jarred every time they came on. I kept thinking it was the sound of the air-conditioning or some emergency generator being used in the theater. Very annoying.
I had read that this production is performed more quickly than in the past, but I really can’t imagine it being longer than these three and a half hours. (And now I know how Eugene O’Neill must have felt–this review is taking me even longer to write than the play took to watch!!!)
My one negative, (outside of the length and subject matter,) is the portrayal of the older son by Rory Keenan. I hate to say it, but in the five character show, he’s the weak link. He reminded me way too much of Bobby Moynahan’s “Drunk Uncle” character on Saturday Night Live, only less believable! Throw in a little Robert Morse in How To Succeed In Business, (an acting job of which I’m a major fan, but it doesn’t work for a drama in 1911,) and you have his portrayal, which is a caricature, not a character. Mr. X said that Rory’s portrayal is “anachronistic to the time frame of the play.” (So, what he said.)
Okay, now to the fun, colorful part of the event. Since this was the opening performance of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, there was a lovely post-show reception on The Wallis’ big side patio. The passed tidbits were delish, the servers were very sweet, and everyone seemed happy and upbeat, (which was a tad surprising after such a downbeat show. Maybe everyone was just relieved that the play scenario was not their lives!)
But the absolute best thing that happened all day is that I got to meet Lesley Manville, and tell her what a fan of her work I am!!! She’s lucky I had somewhere else to be, or else I might still be there, extolling her acting virtues!
My last bit of business here is a plea to the theatre-goers of Los Angeles to please dress appropriately for the theatre at all times, but especially on opening night! Seriously, this was the biggest theatre opening in years, with the classiest cast and pedigree, and I saw audience members in dirty sneakers, wrinkled skirts, and—I can barely type this insult to the rest of us—Bermuda shorts! Ugh. Shorts, on a classy opening night in Beverly Hills!!! Where were these people raised?? I would say the cliché of “barn,” but even farm attire would have been better than the majority of outfits I saw that night. I spied only one woman who looked really appropriate, (outside of yours truly, of course,) and a couple of men, (including Mr. X, I’m happy to say.) I seriously don’t get it. Yes, if you’re attending a performance other than the opening, you can go a bit more casual, but even then, why would you want to look like a slob, who’s watching TV at home by yourself, at any time??? Whew. I’m glad I got that off my chest.
Now you’ll have to excuse me while I go work on the mash-up I’d love to see of this play and…well, I think you’ll figure it out when you hear the title: A Long Day’s Journey Into A Hard Day’s Night! You think we can get Lesley Manville and Paul McCartney together for that one? I could sit in the theatre all day to see it!
Long Day’s Journey Into Night running through July 1, 2018
Wallis Annenberg Theater For The Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Boulevard Beverly Hills 310-746-4000 www.thewallis.org