Long Day's Journey Into Night

“We don’t seem to be able to avoid unpleasant topics,” sighs Edmund Tyrone (Aaron Hendry) to his father, James (William Dennis Hunt), in Act 4 of Eugene O’Neill’s genre-creating family melodrama. By then, all the characters are soused, high and self-defensive from a day spent hashing over each other’s weaknesses. Mother Mary (Ellen Geer) is a mercurial morphine addict; older brother Jamie (Jim LeFave) is a boozing whoremonger; Edmund has resigned himself to dying of consumption, and all three chalk up their agonies to James’ clenched purse strings. Seven decades after O’Neill transcribed his family secrets for the stage, the impact of this Pulitzer prize–winning play has been undermined by its legions of imitators; particularly in today’s post-Oprah therapy culture, the Tyrones’ day of revelations can’t help but feel reductive and stale. Still, it’s an actor’s play — turbulent and meaty — which makes it as irresistible as a tender steak. The claustrophobic parlor drama is an odd fit for the Theatricum Botanicum’s forested stage, as the ensemble, when not shouting, are perilously close to being drowned out by crickets. Director Heidi Helen Davis could tamper down her cast, who seem to overcompensate with theatricality, as though from fear of being out-acted by the formidable Geer and Hunt, though Davis capitalizes on O’Neill’s dry comedy, particularly when maid Cathleen (Nina Kurtz) saunters through to take a tipple. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; in rep, call for schedule; thru Sept. 27. (310) 455-3723
Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 1, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m. Starts: July 26. Continues through Sept. 26, 2008

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