Long Night’s Journey Into Theater and Non-Sibilant Consonants
“One could safely make the argument that there wouldn’t be legitimate theater in America were it not for Eugene O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which won both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is his masterwork – an autobiographical work and one of the greatest plays this country has produced. The action covers one heart-rending day in the late summer of 1912 at the family’s seaside Connecticut home. For the Majestic production, noted film and television actor Ken Tigar (The Gin Game, Death of a Salesman, The Sunshine Boys) returns to our stage as James Tyrone, the patriarch of the family.” [SOURCE]
From wikipedia — As to Eugene himself, by 1912 he had attended a renowned university (Princeton), spent several years at sea, and suffered from depression and alcoholism, and did contribute to the local newspaper, the New London Telegraph, writing poetry as well as reporting. He did go to a sanatorium in 1912–13 due to suffering from tuberculosis (consumption), whereupon he devoted himself to play writing. The events in the play are thus set immediately prior to Eugene beginning his career in earnest.
Last weekend I went to Majestic Theater (on their website and literature they don’t call themselves “THE Majestic Theater, so I am leaving off the “the”) to see Long Day’s Journey Into Night with 8 friends, which means there were 9 of us, which is totally irrelevant, after a traditional Irish dinner (corned beef, cabbage, green) and I was pleasantly blown away and even sort of epiphanied (added to dictionary) by this performance. I’d read the play ages ago but had never seen it performed live so I have nothing to compare it to, but you know an actor is GOOD when you forget you are in a seat in a row of seats between other rows of seats.
The role of the father (Kenneth Tigar, as James Sr) is played by an actor with a very impressive Hollywood resume, spanning from playing ‘Steve’ in The Happy Hooker in 1975 to an appearance in Nurse Jackie (2011), with roles in Beverly Hills 90210, The Waltons, Barney Miller, The Man From Atlantis — the list is long and I’m out of gluten-free almond horns, which matters.
Beth Dixon is riveting as the mother, and has Hollywood/IMDb credits running from The Ballad of The Sad Cafe to Game Change (TV movie, 2012), and I noticed that both she and Tigar (first-name basis already) have a number of Law & Order credits at IMDb, which caused me to wonder if they’d ever crossed paths on set and then one got the other into productions at Majestic, or if they both happen to be from here or live here, or if maybe L&O is a really big employer (likely, I hear there are a lot of them), or if theaters send out casting calls far and wide and they came out here just for this show. The Majestic website has little such info, which I think is a shame. A site with fresh and lively content could go far toward nurturing enthusiasm, anticipation, and thus selling tickets. They should hire me to keep it updated daily with snips and snails and theater tales – backstage scenes, stories of how the set was designed, structural and aesthetic hurdles overcome, pictures in progress, in situ. Yes. Definitely.
I’d been meaning to get to the Majestic for years and finally here I was, here we were, spanning a few rows and facing a very simple and yet extremely stunning and authentic-seeming stage design with equally-stunning lighting (Yay Dan Rist! Hi!). It seemed so perfect for a summer cottage in CT with mediocre furnishings and characters in well-worn clothes (I wonder if they shop at Savers too!)playing out all-too-familiar scenes of well-worn, also threadbare, intrinsically and emotionally-interwoven relationships.
I suppose I’d not expected a remarkably high level of acting talent — not because there is not talent in the valley, but, well, I suppose I don’t know what I expected — but I was fully engulfed in the tale from the moment it began. I would love to have seen ushers, for many reasons, if only to be all the more engrossed in the period aspect, or, for the f*cktards (foreshadowing), but that’s a potential distraction so, never mind.
Written in 1956 and comprised of four acts, LDJIN is widely considered to be O’Neill’s masterpiece and indeed it is a phenomenal work, and for which he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1957 — so close, but then death is always so close and success so seemingly far. It is a feat of riveting, complex, and at times tragically convoluted intricacies as co-developed among four very different and all-too-alike individually damaged and developmentally arrested family members; the sort of simultaneously individual and interpersonal wreckage between each and all adding up to many different relationships altogether, lined with a just a whiff of hope and heavy with habit, such that can only develop between families as a result of the inherent hierarchies, shifting roles, and similar-but-different life experiences as borne and honed from within that same family. One gets the sense that not a one of these people is at all self-aware. The era in which it is set has little bearing on the story as each of the intertwined relationships are of the sort that will be familiar to all persons in varying degrees and across eras, yet in this case, of a degree amplified to fascination for the audience. That amplification seems organic, as in they came by it honestly, and does not seem to be a creative trick to ensure that the story is both comprehensible and entertaining — these folks are that far gone and their issues encompass addiction, grief, resentment, regret, delusion, envy, bitterness, passive-aggression and profound defeat. For to be human is to be complicated and to be a member of a family holds the rife potential to be in a simultaneous cluster of relationships so exponentially complex, enduring, and so devastatingly familiar, like a filed of landmines.
Rumored to be largely autobiographical — and thus ever more fascinating, for to have a glimpse into the mind of a creative genius is a rare view — the story is told entirely through dialog with little of great import to be gleaned by way of the physical — the story of this complexly dysfunctional family is peeled away layer by layer, line by line, as amplified by tone, volume, and facial expressions, posture even. Hence, It is a work in which to miss a single line of dialog can mean that so much of the subsequent is missed, as one struggles to grasp that or who which has just been introduced by a brief, casually-tossed line, and for this reason one can be abruptly snapped out of the reverie of enjoyment (we cringed, we laughed, we empathized) as each foible comes to light if there are f*cktards sitting behind you, talking.
Before leaving from dinner for the theater, and saving dessert for later so as to not be late and thus disrupt the performance, all 9 of us used the restroom, turned off our cell phones, and set off to see this famous feat of anthropological wordplay and thespianing (add to dictionary). All through dinner I’d quite consciously limited my usually high water consumption, and I did not get a drink from the lobby concession, no ice cream ‘novelties’ (they don’t have them) or wine (they do). As we took our seats we sort of waved and smiled at each other and then faced forward, prepared for the show, prepared to be quiet. We had seats off to the left so our view was often that of the backs of one or more characters and thus their words were not as loud as those actors facing and projecting their voices toward out seats, so I leaned forward eagerly awaiting a slice of an afternoon of Eugene O’Neill’s dysfunctional and inspirational younger life. I love watching characters unfold, trying to figure out who and how they are, striving to not miss a sigh or an extra step, as if I am uncovering clues to a mystery. There was some VERY fine acting (though I do not agree with the the respective assessments by the author of the sole review I found, as linked above) and I tried to focus more intently on those so as to not be as aware of the acting that had me wondering if an actor was uncomfortable with the role or was, well, possibly an imperfect fit. The mother and father used that funny yet lovely archaic affectation of elocution one finds in old movies and so I wondered if people spoke like that back then or if actors of that era spoke that way. I like it.
All of a sudden I had this crazy overwhelming desire to know what it felt like to be on a stage, under the lights, playing a character, reciting lines I’d painstakingly memorized and practiced, with no ability to stop and laugh or run to the ladies’ room and start over; to be so into a character that it simply flowed out of me, rather than reciting lines and consciously trying to make my marks, or suffering an attack of nerves, wondering if I was doing well or not but not being able to stop; I even had a flashback to the last time I was on stage back in 3rd grade when I had some minor role in a play I cannot recall in which I was one of 3 “kitchen women” or some such thing. I even remembered, where I had not before, actually enjoying that brief minutes-long performance’ and waiting in the wings, feeling a rush when it was “time” and I had to run on stage, though the idea of being on a stage in front of people was not a part of this epiphany-like reverie. No, yes, I was that engrossed in this story, so brilliantly told and deftly portrayed, especially by the character of the father and the mother, that all of a sudden I felt a struggle between this crazy notion and concentrating on the play which, till now, had been an effortless giving over of myself.
And then the f*cktards starting talking. TALKING, not making sibilant consonants, not whispering, talking. While their voices were not street voices, they were absolutely not whispers. I turned around a few times, I leaned as far forward in my seat as I could, I put my hands to my ears to try to block out their sounds and have better reception from the stage, and finally I got up and moved my seat to the farthest left seat in our row. What could be so important? Were they dissecting the play as it went on, or comparing notes, or was one filling in the other as to what was going on? I wanted them to STFU.
So at this point you’d think the couple talking about… whatever the hell they were talking about, it doesn’t matter — it’s no secret that it’s very wrong to talk in a theater — would notice this and stop. I’d not made a big deal about moving my seat, I’d hunched over and quickly and silently slid sideways into it, yet there is no way they could have missed it as I was in their line of vision. But no, they continued for the rest of the first two acts and though it seemed they took it down a notch, it was still by no means whispering and it absolutely meant that I missed lines, approximately 1 in 10 of all lines. That’s a lot of story to miss for such a complex portrait of the collective and respective psyche(s) of a family unit with it’s vastly differing backgrounds and values, hopes and fears, and cohesive… unit-ness(?). I am going to let that stay.
At intermission we regrouped in the row, as people do, before heading out to the lobby, and when asked I explained that I’d moved because I could not concentrate, missing entire lines because of the talking couple behind me. Then I followed the few darting eyes in my friends’ faces and realized the f*cktards were right being me and had heard the entire exchange. They seemed slightly surprised (who US?), and from that brief glance I gleaned that they were not contrite — THAT was why they looked surprised, as I saw it. And so I absolved myself for their overhearing of my unemotional, matter-of-fact explanation, musing that perhaps they needed to be made aware that they were obstructing the auditory view of a fellow theater-goer and perhaps I will now be able to catch ALL of the next two acts. I was sighingly wrong (added to dictionary).
I have been struggling with such situations all of my life, thinking it best to not say anything lest I be misconstrued as confrontational and/or that people do not appreciate frank discussion, — and then you never know if people are that sort who FREAK OUT at any whiff of anything other than approval. we all know those — and it has been my mission for years to learn to politely but firmly address all such ‘Seinfeld moments’. I’m not there yet.
But, anyway? It was a great play and I loved it. I’d like to see it again some day so I can experience ALL of it, and today I googled it to find out what I missed, which was informative and amusing, but I should not have needed to do that. I *think* I started this post with a point in mind but thirty minutes ago so whatever it may have been, if at all, has dissipated and so I am just going to end this. Here.
OH! One last thing… do you think it would work to carry a sign that says SFTU and hold it up, like at an auction, when this shit happens? Just wondering…