Addiction and denial are explored in American Stage’s ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’

Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical drama paints an insider’s knowledge about one family’s battle with addiction.
The cast of American Stage’s production of ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ includes Josh Odess-Rubin, James Keegan, Janis Stevens, center, and Billy Finn. [Lisa Presnail]
The cast of American Stage’s production of ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ includes Josh Odess-Rubin, James Keegan, Janis Stevens, center, and Billy Finn. [Lisa Presnail]
Published June 7
Updated June 10

ST. PETERSBURG — There’s an invisible character that pervades Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neil’s semi-autobiographical Pulitzer Prize winning drama about addiction, now at American Stage.

Fog.

And it’s dimensional. The fog is heavy outside of the Tyrone family’s seaside summer home in Connecticut. Sounds of foghorns keep the family awake at night. And as the day goes on, it grows thicker.

But the fog that the Tyrones are in is much more serious. Their addictions keep them in a physical fog and their denial keeps them in a mental fog.

The play is set over the course of one day. At three hours, the play is long. But it moves along quickly due to O’Neill’s compelling dialogue, excellent direction by Brendan Fox and impeccable acting by the entire cast.

The play is set in 1912, when, like today, doctors were overprescribing opiates. Mary Tyrone (Janis Stevens) has been battling an addiction to prescribed morphine. She’s tried to kick it several times and has recently returned home from a sanatorium. In this setting, addiction is largely misunderstood and taboo to talk about.

And that’s a facet of the dysfunction in the Tyrone family; they don’t talk. They tell each other not to talk about uncomfortable subjects and apologize when they do. But as the day drags on, all of their underlying problems come to the surface.

Stevens’ portrayal of Mary is spot-on as a woman trying to hide her addiction. She’s entirely uncomfortable in herself, always fretting and smoothing her intricately coiled, snow-white hair. Suspicious to the point of paranoia, she tries to shield herself from the scrutiny of her husband and sons. She wrings and gazes at her arthritic hands. As she gets stoned throughout the day she becomes more erratic and frail, struggling to get up and down from a rocking chair. When the painful details of her past begin to emerge, she veers from bitter to in denial and back again to bitter.

James Keegan booms as James Tyrone, the overbearing husband and father. His performance as a man steeped in denial about Mary’s sobriety, his own alcoholism and the life he’s provided for his family is nuanced. It’s possible to both hate him and feel sorry for him.

As oldest brother and utter disappointment Jamie, Billy Finn is seething and sarcastic. He’s weary of taking the blame for any poor choices younger brother Edmund (Josh Odess-Rubin) has made. But he’s fiercely protective of him, affectionately calling him “kid.” He sneaks drinks from James’ whiskey bottle, which gets replaced several times throughout the day. And he’s the only one who’s got Mary’s number.

Odsess-Rubin never falters from Edmund’s state of being sick with tuberculosis and mildly drunk all day. He, too has been sneaking nips of whiskey. He refuses to believe that Mary has relapsed, but is bewildered by her rejection that he’s seriously ill.

A refreshing bit of comic relief comes in the form of gossipy servant Cathleen, played by Rose Hahn, who nails an Irish brogue and has great timing.

One of the many disappointments of Mary’s existence is the shabby home they live in because James is so cheap. The set reflects that drabness, with gray wallpaper and unmatched furniture. A bust of Shakespeare sits on a case full of Edmund’s books by authors like Voltaire and Nietzsche, whom James regards as atheists. Partially offstage is a little parlor, unused because the family has no friends to invite over. The light coming through the window changes as the day goes on. The lamps are never all on at once, another symptom of James’ frugality. When Mary keeps retreating upstairs to use, you see her ghostly figure on the obscured staircase.

Long Day’s Journey into Night is grim. But it’s also full of poetry and wit, and from the fog emerges a portrait of a people who clearly love each other but don’t know how to help themselves.

IF YOU GO

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

$44. Runs through June 30. American Stage Theatre Company, 163 Third St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 823-7529. For show times, visit americanstage.org.

Contact Maggie Duffy at [email protected] Follow @maggiedalexis.

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