Movie icon–and lately best known for her role on American Horror Story– Jessica Lange has performed on Broadway only twice before, in two Tennessee Williams masterpieces, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, and now she’s in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. As Mary Tyrone, morphine addled matriarch of the Tyrone family, and wife to James Tyrone (Gabriel Byrne), her presence descending the stairs of the family Connecticut home in the 1920’s, illuminated like a specter in the play’s final moments, is unforgettable. Mother to Jamie and Edmund (Michael Shannon and John Gallagher Jr. respectively), she is frail, a wounded bird, and symbol of shattered hope, loss, loneliness, and heartache.
Last week, as the Tony Awards approach, all four actors attended a luncheon at the Lotos Club; this being a state of the art Peggy Siegal event, guests included theater elite including director Pam MacKinnon, and actors F. Murray Abraham and Patrick Kennedy. Long Day’s Journey into Night is nominated for Best Revival with Lange, Byrne, and Shannon listed for best acting honors. But awards were far from the topic of conversation during a panel discussion. Instead, the actors spoke to the depths of character each one had to reach to perform in this play.
Family is at the play’s center: for O’Neill, love itself will not save you from its terrors. Michael Shannon quoted his friend the playwright and actor Tracy Letts: there is so much love in family, but also the desperate need to get away. Gabriel Byrne noted of the drunken characters, “Alcohol is a way to be ruthlessly honest, an excuse to remove the mask.” Brutal and bare as he rues James Tyrone’s missed chances, Byrne said he looks into the black hole of the audience and imagines he sees O’Neill in the fifth row.
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