Geffen Playhouse put a lot of eggs in a basket when they decided to produce Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill – to somewhat mixed results. The run was packed and I’m sure Geffen made money, but the product on stage was not up to par in my opinion. The sets and costumes were magnificent, but the casting was not.
I admire all the actors in this production, but I thought the leads were miscast. Jane Kaczmarek was phenomenal in The House of Blue Leaves (I saw this at CTG a LONG time ago), but she was not right for the role of Mary Tyrone. Maybe it is because she was so iconic as the mom in Malcolm in the Middle, but I think she was acting not within the time period, which is problematic when the rest of the cast is. Alfred Molina is a master of the stage and his acting is excellent in the Geffen production, but he doesn’t come across as a former heartthrob actor. Stephen Louis Grush saved the production of Sex with Strangers last season at the the Geffen, but also felt out of place in this show. I can’t put my finger on it. I don’t know if it is his appearance (shorter than a lot of the cast), the performance being a little one-note (yelling), or that I imagine Michael Shannon in the role. I feel bad for expressing those thoughts, so let me write some positive ones.
The lighting, sound, costumes, and sets were breathtaking, and I heard from multiple people that it blew the Broadway production out of the water in those categories. Colin Woodell who portrayed sickly Edmund, was a shining star. He was patient with the words, looked frail, had a horrifying cough, and was the highlight of the show. Maybe Eugene O’Neill intended for the audience to dislike everyone except for Edmund? This brings me to the script.
Mr. O’Neill didn’t want this play to be released until after he died because it was so personal. Since it was released after his passing, the script is a bit too long because no one could edit it. That being said, his words shine through. This is great American playwriting. The words hit you like a sledgehammer at moments you least expect, and some scenes haunt you well after the show is over (Edmund and James Jr). The audience gasped multiple times, which is astonishing for a play so well known.
If you have never seen the show before, you should brace yourself for a long day or night at the theater, but know that Eugene O’Neill’s words will still resonate regardless of who is on stage.