Long’s Day Journey into Night is an uncomfortable magnetic tour de force
By Ezekiel McAdams
November 25 2022
Theatre Naught’s fifth production, Long Day’s Journey into Night can be best described as a family drama that devolves into a magnificent train wreck.
You may have heard the phrase “train wreck” at some point in the pop culture zeitgeist. Oxford Language Dictionary describes it as a situation, a person’s life, etc. that people find extremely interesting because it lacks order.
This production is directed by Skye Brandon. The ensemble includes Gordon Portman as the family patriarch James Tyrone, Cheryl Jack as matriarch Mary, Tim Bratton as elder son Jamie, Jordan Harvey as youngest son, Edmund and Paige Francoeur as the Irish maid, Cathleen.
Eugene O’Neill wrote the play in 1940-941, and was published posthumously by his widow in 1956. The play is semi-autobiographical based on not only O’Neill himself but his parents and older brother. The play is considered by many to be his magnum opus and one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.
The four act play focuses on a single day at the Tyrone family home in Connecticut, 1912. They are a dysfunctional family desperately wanting affection but unfamiliar with how to display it which results in irascible fits.
James Tyrone is the family patriarch, a well known actor who has faded into obscurity after coasting on his most identified role, now a resentful penny-pincher. His wife, Mary, the matriarch, now clings to a morphine addiction, while slipping in and out of reality. They have two sons, Jamie and Edmund. Jamie, the eldest, is another actor succumbing to his common vices, alcohol and women. Edmund, long suffering from tuberculosis, has the soul of a poet and a morbid realism sparking shock among his family members.
The audience is an unwilling fly on the wall, watching a family squabble soaked in alcohol, drugs and regret.
Watching the events unfold and unravel for the Tyrone family is akin to being told not to stare directly at the sun, and doing so immediately afterwards. The play’s narrative evokes a unwavering, uncomfortable silence that is both haunting yet transfixing.
The play’s ensemble is anchored by the powerhouse performances of Gordon Portman and Cheryl Jack.
Portman’s performance is a shiny train wreck, charming and captivating as he hurls acid laden insults towards his family. Portman utilizes each barb as pointed daggers hurled with precision. He charms you into disarmament until he goes for the jugular.
Jack is an unraveling, heartbreaking scene-stealer. She effortlessly switches from fiery anger to melancholy as if she were putting on a hat. Her character is clearly the tragic heart of the production. Jack lays everything on the table with her performance culminating with a gut wrenching monologue.
Bratton plays Jamie with such ferocity, untamed and wanting acceptance. Despite his combative nature is pained from family trauma and exercises his vices as a coping mechanism. Bratton projects such a raw vulnerability that you root for him despite the misgivings.
Harvey conveys such likability, a lovable rogue among his family. Harvey’s portrayal is so confident; one might think he’s been playing this role for years. His chemistry with each member of the cast lights up the production like unexpected fireworks.
Francoeur is the much needed comic relief. She adds such levity to the intense uncomforting ambience draped over the production. While her role is smaller than the family unit, her dynamic with each member of the cast is the welcome escape that we’re all craving.
Brandon as director is a master conductor, holding a steady hand as he subtly directs allowing the entire ensemble to shine in a symphony of uncomfortable riches. His direction paints an unsettling atmosphere that is impossibly beautiful as it is horrific.
The set design is simple yet effective. Each piece carefully placed like a museum display.
The production’s pace doesn’t drag despite the almost three hour runtime and is efficiently done by stage manager, Sam Fairweather and Brandon.
Simply put this play is a must see. It is theatre at its finest, performed and directed by everyone at the top of their game. The production is an intense radiant star in a sea of isolation, despair and grief. It will punch you in the gut unleashing a myriad of emotions in stunned silence.
Long Day’s Journey into Night is playing at The Refinery from November 25 to December 4. Tickets can be bought online at Ontheboards.ca or at the box-office. This production is done with association by On The Boards Staging Company and SKArts.
WARNING: This play may trigger those dealing with mental health and addiction issues.