The Tyrones, comprised of mother Mary, father James, and sons Jamie and Edmund, are seemingly a typical early twentieth century American family. In the first scene, they eat together at structured meal-times, the parents are tender towards each other, the sons laugh together (perhaps at their father), and they all join in the parlour for nothing besides each other’s company and conversation. But even in this opening scene, not far beneath the surface, lay the seeds of future discontent.
If the opening of the play is characterized by a sense of love, with suspicion streaming through its cracks, then for the rest of the play, the characters’ attitudes may be summed up by what Edmund says later of his mother: “It’s as if, in spite of loving us, she hated us.” Delicate Mary (played by Nancy Palk) is the centre of the Tyrone family, and her family’s doting on her transforms into suspicion as the reason for the family’s constant questioning of her is revealed. Palk, more than once exhibits the subtleties of her character with unadulterated emotion at her growing uneasiness.
Just as the Tyrone men dote on Mary, they also worry about Edmund (played by Gregory Prest), the youngest son, who is recently stricken with consumption; a disease that ended the life of his mother’s beloved father, which makes it harder for Mary to live in the real world. Prest is convincing as a gravely ill young man dissatisfied with his lot in life, and the relationship he is able to craft between his character and that of Palk’s is one of the finer points of the production.
The set of Long Day’s Journey into Night was also a memorable component, with an unusual design that featured slightly transparent walls. This decision lent an open feel to the staging of the production, and when partnered with the washed-out hues of the remaining set, it was able to translate the drabness of the summer home which Mary found to be no home at all.
Soulpepper does very well with a difficult script: it is long, and from requires from its actors great stamina and an emotional strength capable of constantly battling, of trading shouted, cutting remarks and treading on delicate territory. Ultimately, Soulpepper’s production is successful. The audience could not help but be drawn into the Tyrones’ parlour as witnesses to their betrayals and deceit, their hatred and their love.
But the question became, having involved oneself so intimately in that world and finding sympathy with the characters, whether Long Day’s Journey is a play worth the emotional turmoil it evokes in the viewer. Do we want to join a world mostly bleak, nearly defined by a lack of tenderness and hope? Does it redeem itself in some way--does its small truths and vividness justify themselves? One viewer would say yes; the other, hesitantly, yes. In spite of hating it, we loved it.
Long Day’s Journey into Night will be playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until March 31st. For more information, visit soulpepper.ca.