WHAT “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”
WHERE American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.
INFO $67-$147; 212-719-1300, roundabouttheatre.org
BOTTOM LINE Wrenching revival, amazing Jessica Lange.
The temptation is to talk all day and into the night about Jessica Lange as Mary Tyrone in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
It’s hard not to dwell on the layers of hard-lived experience that appear and reappear, like a collage of time-lapsed photography, on her handsome face. It is equally difficult to resist trying to describe the vocal range that, scene upon tormented scene, roams astonishingly among the lilts of a smitten young convent girl and the frightening growls of a morphine-addicted woman whose illusions, like those of the three other haunted Tyrones, have been crushed.
In other words, it’s only right that we concentrate instead on the magnificent whole of Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical masterwork and director Jonathan Kent’s wrenching production — a triumphant finale for the Roundabout Theatre Company’s impressive 50th anniversary season.
This really is, with perhaps one miscalculation, a stunning revival of this churning family exorcism. Gabriel Byrne has both the grating self-centeredness and a poignant, vain blindness as Mary’s husband James, the former matinee idol whose career potential was ruined by greed. There are still flickers of love between him and Mary, which just makes their alienation more painful.
Michael Shannon, as the dissipated son Jamie, makes his towering height and lugubrious mask shatter with devastating, piteous rage as the confessions and the recriminations pile up. A problem, and it isn’t a big one, is John Gallagher Jr., a fine actor whose portrayal of the sensitive, consumptive Edmund, O’Neill’s alter-ego, feels a bit too contemporary for 1912. His O’Neill mustache, however, is a nice touch.
Still the news keeps coming back to Lange, whose two previous Broadway appearances — “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1992 and “The Glass Menagerie” in 2005 — were intelligent but timid and small. Here she climbs multiple levels of Mary’s consciousness and oblivion, often using her hands almost like delicate claws as Mary complains that she needs the drugs to kill the pain of rheumatism in her fingers.
This all takes place in the family’s summer cottage, disconcertingly designed here by Tom Pye, who has put the family in an airier, more spacious cottage than the one that traditionally stifles them. But nothing gets in the way of O’Neill’s emotional rhythms, which come in waves and mood swings of lumbering honesty, outbursts and apologies, litanies of accusation and self-recrimination. Everyone has betrayed everyone else in this great play, but O’Neill makes us believe in them all.