POSTED ON MAY 20, 2009:
The Long and Winding Road
Substance abuse, dysfunctional family dynamic serve as conceptual framework for Theatre Tulsa production
Peas and Carrots. The final scenes of the last act feature remarkable performances from each member of the Tyrone family. But throughout the play, Fairbrothers and McKean stand out as two of the best in show.
Mary Tyrone fidgets, constantly wringing her hands, tapping her fingers. It's a side effect of the dope. The dope she says her doctor prescribed for rheumatism is actually just her escape--from loneliness, guilt, regret.
The rheumatism is in her hands, she says, but her quickly-moving fingers expose her lie.
Mary Tyrone is the matriarch in Eugene O'Neill's autobiographical play Long Day's Journey Into Night. She is its focus and its chief, the primary string in her family's web of deception, accusation, guilt and denial.
In Theatre Tulsa's rendition of the play, the final production of its 2008-09 season, Noel Fairbrothers plays Mary and does so beautifully.
Her character is at once giddy and paranoid, at times attempting normalcy though she is woefully unhappy and addicted to morphine, and at times brutally honest with her husband and sons about her feelings of mistreatment.
She lives in a haze, purposefully ignorant of her husband's and son's alcoholism, their wasted lives, and of her younger son's tuberculosis. She insists Edmund (Gus Haskell) simply has a summer cold.
The play takes place one day in August in 1912 at the family's summer home in seaside Connecticut.
James Tyrone Sr. (Michael Massey), her husband, is a classically-trained actor turned miserly landowner. Her son Jamie (Justin McKean) is a boozer and whoremonger whose cynicism eats at the whole family.
Edmund is the quiet intellectual, 10 years younger than his brother, who has acquired a cough and will soon be diagnosed by his doctor--a quack, really, but an inexpensive one--with consumption. If his mother is the leader of the family's dysfunction, then Edmund, and a strong desire to save Edmund, is the only thing keeping the family together.
Each scene of the slow-paced drama begins after a meal, centering on the health of individual family members. It's heavy on dialogue, most of which is well-timed between actors.
The play opens after breakfast, with the men of the family complimenting Mary on how fat she's become, a positive attribute to them, considering she's just returned from a long stay at the sanitarium where she's supposedly been recovering from her morphine addiction.
Her sons worry, though, when they find her in the guest bedroom, the room in which she used to get high, in the middle of the night. She blames her sleepless wandering on the men's snoring and dismisses their concerns.
Conversation turns to Edmund's failing health, his father's poor choice of a physician and niggardly tendencies, his mother's longing for a home. They regard one another with equal parts disdain and affection, pointing out one another's fatal flaws while feigning concern for their best interests.
The audience also learns that there was a third child, Eugene, who died as a toddler. Mary blames Jamie for his death, saying, when he was seven, he purposefully went into the baby's room when he had the measles and was told not to. She also blames herself, for not being there, and her husband and son Edmund for her failing health following Edmund's birth. She blames them all for her loneliness.
Mary spends a great deal of time searching for her glasses, searching for clarity.
In Act Two, it becomes obvious that Mary is using again and that Edmund is gravely ill. His only hope is a six-month to year-long stay in a sanitarium, but the family, especially Jamie, worries that their father will choose an expensive facility that won't properly care for Edmund.
For Mary, it seems, there is no hope.
Director T.L. Bringle has assembled a fine cast.
Individually, each actor offers a fantastic performance, but occasionally seems to stumble through the ensemble scenes. In some, there is an air of awkwardness, as though someone forgot a line. This could, though, be intentional, further illustrating the family's unusual dynamic.
The final scenes of the last act feature remarkable performances from each member of the Tyrone family, but, throughout the play, Fairbrothers and McKean stand out as two of the best in show.
Both offer such seamless performances, naturally evolving and complex. Both are charming while at the same time aggravating. Both likeable and despicable.
Massey also offers a fine performance as the pompous, detached patriarch, a former actor who could still very well be performing.
And Haskell, who often offers the voice of logic but who isn't without his own issues, shines quietly alongside his co-players. I do think, had he appeared more sickly than he did, the possibly of him dying from tuberculosis would have been more startling.
The set, designed by Bringle, was lovely, but it appeared slightly lavish given James' asserted tendency toward the cheap. Perhaps something a bit more ragged would have had a better impact.
Also, the costumes, while nicely designed, seemed as though they came from different time periods. Mary's white lace gown didn't match Edmund's casual sweater and slacks or James' cardigan. The result was confusion as to what year in which the play was set.
Theatre Tulsa continues its run of Long Day's Journey Into Night this weekend, May 21-23, at 8pm in the John H. Williams Theatre of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. Second St. For tickets and information, call 596-7111 or visit www.tulsapac.com.
Theatre Tulsa is auditioning local talent for its SummerStage productions, Lone Star and Laundry and Bourbon, to be performed July 9-11 in the PAC's Liddy Doenges Theatre. If you're comically inclined or can speak with a Texas twang, call 587-8402 to audition.
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