The Good: Excellent Dialog, believable characters, overall powerful writing
The Bad: Slow pace?
The Basics: A wonderful character study and tragedy, Long Day's Journey Into Night is ideal for anyone with a beating heart!
Long Day's Journey Into Night is the finest example of playwriting as literature ever. That includes Shakespeare. Shakespeare's arguable weakness is in direction. Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night is written like a novel in terms of literary depth and its a refreshing breath into theater.
The play is about the Tyrone family, which is a family of alcoholics on the verge of extinction. It's the archetypal Modernist play and it's no mistake that it's being produced somewhere in the world right now - it maintains relevancy.
The play revolves around James Tyrone, a man in deep denial about his family and his stern position in ruling it. Surrounding the overbearing patriarch is a drug-addled wife, Mary who hallucinates and denies her way through the night of the play. Their sons are James Tyrone, Jr. (or Jamie), a young man who is largely regarded as a failure of an older son. The youngest, Edmund, is an acerbic young man who is on the verge of cruel and he's quite ill.
The pace of the play is a little slow in that it occurs all in one evening but it often feels longer as the loaded dialog wends its way with realistic intensity and diversion. The play is, essentially a bunch of people sitting around and talking. There's very little action in this one. It's a Modernist play, what did you expect?
The basic plot of Long Day's Journey Into Night is that a family is coming and going in the house one evening, evaluating each other, playing cards and blaming each other for all of the woes they've experienced. In some ways, it's a rewrite of Hamlet which capitalizes on the themes of loss and madness that Shakespeare tapped into, too. The advantage of this work is that there is no relying on the supernatural, which is arguably a weakness of Hamlet.
My description does the plot little justice, actually it captures it fine. The play is not plot intensive, it's character heavy. The characters are fascinating and that's the focus of the play. Patriarch James Tyrone is living in a serious depression given his two adult sons are both underachieving losers. Matriarch Mary Tyrone lives with a great love for her sons while trying to reconcile that both aren't for one reason or another succeeding. Jamie Tyrone is the depressed older son, clearly plagued by alcoholism as well as being a generally rotten man. Edmund is the family's youngest member and much of the discussion revolves around him. He is ill and weak and how the family deals with him and how he deals with himself make the play poignant and interesting.
Long Day's Journey Into Night is a character piece with a lot going on behind the scenes. It's essentially a psychological exploration and it succeeds admirably at that. It's something that it's easy to appreciate as you're immersed in, if for nothing else than to be glad you're not any of these characters.
For other classic works, please check out my reviews of:
The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare
A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway
The Sound And The Fury - William Faulker
For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.