Eugene O’Neill knows a bit about addiction and the havoc it can wreck on a family. His masterpiece, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” reflects all a family experiences when someone struggles with addiction — shame, blame, fear, hope, denial, excuses, accusations, renunciations and recriminations.
Bagaduce Theatre in Brooksville makes this family drama more about addiction than one character’s exploitation of flaws in another. Director Patricia Connolly makes the Tyrones feel like summer neighbors today instead of the ghosts of people who lived a century ago. Everything about this “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is painfully raw and real.
The playwright sets his story in 1912 at the Connecticut seaside in a shabby summer cottage. The way O’Neill’s characters deal with Mary Tyrone’s relapse, reflects what is happening in families in Maine and throughout the nation as the opioid crisis continues. The only difference between then and now is the form of drug used. Mary injects morphine, which she obtains with a doctor’s prescription while most opioid addicts today are using heroin and other painkillers obtained illegally.
The play takes place over the course of one day as Mary’s actor husband, James, and her sons, Jamie and Edmund, watch her relapse after returning from a sanitarium clean and sober. The men confront her, and each other, as she drifts into the past, but to no avail.
Monique Fowler is magnificent as Mary. Her slow slide back to the needle is as painful for the audience to watch as it is for Mary’s family. Fowler expertly wields the dagger sheathed in satin that is O’Neill’s dialogue. One minute she is the loving mother, the next blithely denying her addiction or blaming it on others. She is brilliant.
As James Tyrone, John Wojda, is an equal match for Fowler. Their portrayals make it easy to see what first attracted the matinee idol to the convent school girl and how that early passion evolved into a dangerous waltz. Wojda captures all of Tyrone’s working class roots, his pride at overcoming poverty and his fear of “dying in the poor house” garnering more sympathy than the character probably deserves.
Together, Wojda and Fowler reveal how step by bloody step this couple came to be where they are at the end of this one long day. They also embrace the beauty of O’Neill’s complex language that at the same time soothes and stabs.
Bryan Lescord and Matt Falber portray Jamie and Edmund, respectively. Both actors give sympathetic, yet complex portrayals of characters sometimes overshadowed by their parents.
Lescord makes Jamie more lovable than other actors have. It is impossible to reject him as a drunkard or aging rebellious teenager refusing to take responsibility for his life. Lescord lets the audience see how Mary’s addiction has shaped her elder son and how his own use of alcohol mirrors his mother’s struggle.
Falber portrays Edmund with more innocence and naivete than others have. This stand-in for the playwright O’Neill, who also had consumption, is a keen observer. This Edmund is always watching, always just slightly detached. Falber gives a lovely and layered performance as a young writer who doesn’t understand how love can be so deadly.
The set, designed by Fowler and John Vivian, is shabbily rustic. There are few pictures or posters of James’ stage triumphs on the walls, but the bookshelves are full. Fowler’s costumes are equally well-worn but lovely.
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is transformative theater. O’Neill said that: “The individual life is made significant just by the struggle.” The Tyrone family’s struggle with the impact of addiction is reflective of the struggle Maine families are feeling every day in the 21st century. O’Neill’s insight is timeless and profound and Bagaduce Theatre beautifully illuminates this dark drama.
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” will be performed through Aug. 5 at Bagaduce Theatre at 176 Mills Point Road in Brooksville. For tickets, call 207-801-1536 or visit bagaducetheatre.com.
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