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'Long Day's Journey Into Night' feels fresh, vital at Palm Beach Dramaworks

Correspondent
Review: Spend 'Long Day's Journey Into Night' with @PBDramaworks.

Eugene O'Neill, Nobel laureate and four-time Pulitzer Prize winner, exhumes a family of ghosts — his family — in his dramatic masterwork, "Long Day's Journey Into Night."

Written in 1941-42 and given to the playwright's third wife, Carlotta, as a 12th anniversary gift, "Long Day's Journey" wasn't produced until 1956, three years after O'Neill's death but 22 years sooner than he intended. His towering, naturalistic dissection of his dysfunctional family has since been brought to life by generations of great actors and directors.

Now, Palm Beach Dramaworks is taking on "Long Day's Journey." The 81st production in the West Palm Beach company's 16-year history, the play has been staged by artistic director William Hayes, who unearths the guilt, recrimination, sorrow and fleeting flashes of humor in O'Neill's four-act script.

The playwright was three decades removed from the world depicted in "Long Day's Journey" when he wrote the play, but the pain experienced by all four members of the barely fictionalized Tyrone family feels as fresh as a new wound. Patriarch James Tyrone (Dennis Creaghan), an Irish immigrant actor who made his fortune playing Edmond Dantes in Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo," has just welcomed his emotionally fragile wife, Mary (Maureen Anderman), back to the family's summer home on a day in August 1912. She has been in treatment for a morphine addiction that began 23 years earlier, after the birth of her youngest son, Edmund (Michael Stewart Allen).

Restless Edmund, who is about to discover whether he has tuberculosis; his decade-older brother, Jamie (John Leonard Thompson), a second-rate actor and alcoholic womanizer; and James Sr., a garrulous tightwad, cast critical eyes on Mary, searching for even the smallest signs of a relapse. Agitated and self-conscious, Mary soon obliges, and in the course of a single day and evening, the family explores ugly truths and enlightening ones.

That the design elements of a Dramaworks production will be first-rate is almost a given, and the work on "Long Day's Journey" is impressive all around. Set designer K. April Soroko creates a waterside summer home reminiscent of the O'Neills' Monte Cristo Cottage in New London, Conn. As night falls, lighting designer Donald Edmund Thomas washes the place in a kind of forlorn gloom that underscores Mary's loneliness.

Costume designer Brian O'Keefe dresses the characters in period summer clothing, and with wig designer Omayra Diaz Rodriguez, he makes Anderman's Mary a luminous older beauty caught somewhere between this world and the next. Sound designer Matt Corey's contribution to the show is vital and haunting, from the solo piano that was part of Mary's past and compromised present to the cries of seagulls and the piercing bellow of a foghorn.

The play's title is an accurate one — the running time is 3 1/2 hours, with an early 7:30 p.m. start time for evening shows and 1 p.m. for matinees — but Hayes and the compelling cast, which includes a playful Carey Urban as the family's Irish maid, Cathleen, create such an involving and well-paced world that the audience never disengages.

As the Tyrones, Creaghan, Thompson, Allen and Anderman navigate a family dynamic awash in damnation, blame, disappointment and rare moments of aching grace. Each wanted much more from life but got less, in part thanks to whiskey, drugs or depression. If only James Sr. had realized the promise the great Edwin Booth saw in him. If only Jamie had the discipline to become a decent actor. If only Edmund — the stand-in for O'Neill — could find his real passion.

And what about Anderman's Mary, who finally slips into a past that is part fact, part delusion? If only the men who ostensibly love her could have made her feel not so terribly alone.

"Long Day's Journey Into Night" will appear through March 6 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., in West Palm Beach. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, 1 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday. Tickets cost $64 (student tickets $10). To order, call 561-514-4042 or go to PalmBeachDramaworks.org

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