Tuesday, April 3, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Hunting O’Neill By Beverly Creasey

            The New Repertory Theatre is tackling a leviathan with their new production of Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (playing through April 22nd). You’ll find a different dynamic at work in this journey, from the usual father as tyrant and mother as victim. Father even calls himself “the hunter” (thereby making his wife the hunted) but director Scott Edmiston views the classic family saga from another perspective altogether.

In New Rep’s subdued, sub rosa production (where everything is either beige or white), Mother and Father are played more naturalistically. No more bellowing for the famous actor whose family was second to his career. No more dreamy morphine reveries for Mother. Karen MacDonald plays Mary Tyrone with a psychotic edge, moving from pitiful regrets to hateful harangues, mostly aimed at her husband. Gone is the pitiable addict whose hazy slips of the tongue reveal her bitterness.

Gone, too, is the bombastic thespian in Will Lyman’s portrayal of James Tyrone. Not even when he’s quoting Shakespeare. (That’s when we could be seeing the great actor). No histrionics at all. He’s more a victim of his wife’s accusations. Why? I think the director is turning our focus to the sons…in particular to the son who grew up to be Eugene O’Neill. He wants us to remember that this is the playwright’s story.

Edmiston has two remarkable actors to warrant the focus. Lewis D. Wheeler as the sniping, disillusioned drunk emanates pain and disappointment from every fiber of his wretched being. Nicholas Dillenburg embodies heartbreak and frailty (except when he bounds up the staircase to the curious outside entrance to the bedrooms) as the poetic younger brother whose energy has been sapped by tuberculosis. (How odd that the rest of the family didn’t catch the highly contagious disease.)

The two brothers are caught in a tragedy of epic proportions where truth hurts even more than deceit. Wheeler makes his “in vino veritas” scene scald so powerfully that you can barely watch him or Dillenburg. It makes you wonder how O’Neill was able to write anything. How ironic that his will was subverted by his last wife and the play he instructed not to be presented until 25 years after his death was produced three years later and posthumously won him the Pulitzer Prize.

Kudos, too, to Melissa Baroni who provides a bit of color in this sad, whitewashed home. She’s a breath of fresh air as the straight talking Irish maid. (Baroni has a little cottage industry going for her playing delightful Irish maids. You may remember her hilarious turn in New Rep’s BOSTON MARRIAGE.) Here she steals the show by almost falling asleep while Mary Tyrone rants about her idyllic childhood. I’ll bet she could have straightened out the lot of them.