'Long Day's Journey': epic play comes to the Hilltop

Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2009, 7:05 pm
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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com
Family can be an endless source of support, but also of sorrow.

Perhaps nowhere is that clearer than in the monumental play "Long Day's Journey Into Night" by Eugene O'Neill, which closes out Harrison Hilltop Theatre's first-anniversary summer celebration.

"What I love most is how real this play is; we all have family and we all have problems," director Michal Chasen said. "What O'Neill has done here is phenomenal. By simply extracting a single day, he has shown us how destructive simple moments can be.

"I thank the Hilltop for taking such an epic production and putting it in this space. I always say that a show should always be larger than the theater it is playing in. Good theater should be explosive; an intimate setting provides that feeling."

At its completion in 1942, "Long Day's Journey" was so intensely personal to O"Neill that he sealed the manuscript and stipulated that it not be published until 25 years after his death, according to Hilltop producer Tristan Tapscott. O'Neill's widow contravened the order; the play premiered in Sweden in February 1956 -- three years after his death -- and opened on Broadway that November.

O"Neill (1888-1953), whose other works include "The Iceman Cometh," "Desire Under the Elms" and "The Emperor Jones," was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for this play. He is the only American playwright to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1936.

"Long Day's Journey" is an "agonizingly autobiographical play, one of O'Neill's greatest," says a Web site devoted to the writer, www.eoneill.com. "It is straightforward in style but shattering in its depiction of the agonized relations between father, mother and two sons.

"Spanning one day in the life of a family, the play strips away layer after layer from each of the four central figures, revealing the mother as a defeated drug addict, the father as a man frustrated in his career and failed as a husband and father, the older son as a bitter alcoholic, and the younger son as a tubercular, disillusioned youth with only the slenderest chance for physical and spiritual survival."

The site says O'Neill's tragic view of life was perpetuated in his relationships with the three women he married -- two of whom he divorced -- and with his three children. His elder son, Eugene O'Neill Jr., committed suicide at 40, while his younger son (by his second wife), Shane, drifted into a life of emotional instability. His daughter, Oona, was cut out of his life when, at 18, she infuriated him by marrying film star Charlie Chaplin, who was O'Neill's age.

Despite its autobiographical nature, "Long Day"s Journey Into Night" has been "lauded as a universal play depicting a family that cannot live in the present because its members are mired in the dark recesses of the past," Mr. Tapscott said.

The Hilltop cast is headed by Ray Gabica ("Tuesdays with Morrie" at ComedySportz) and Jackie Madunic ("Angels in America" at The Green Room) as James and Mary Tyrone. Mr. Gabica is a theater professor and head of costume design at Western Illinois University in Macomb.

Also starring in the Hilltop's production are James Bleecker ("The Graduate") as Edmund Tyrone, Jason Platt ("The Boys Next Door") as Jamie Tyrone, and Maggie Wooley ("Othello") as Cathleen. -- If you go -- What: "Long Day"s Journey Into Night."

-- When: 7:30 p.m. today through Sunday and Aug. 27-30, except 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Preshow wine tasting and hors d"oeuvres at 6:45 tonight.

-- Where: Harrison Hilltop Theatre, 1601 Harrison St., Davenport.

-- Tickets: $16 ($14 for matinees). For information, call (309) 235-1654 or visit www.harrisonhilltop.com.


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