I would like to introduce the first installment of a new feature on A Play A Day -- the Guest Post! This is where I ask a friend and colleague to write a post about a play they've read that speaks to them.
Our first guest blogger is Kimberly DiPersia! Enjoy her take on Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill!
Long Day's Journey Into Night: A Woman's Perspective, 100 Years Later
It's actually amazingly well-timed: Eugene O'Neill's classic play, Long Day's Journey Into Night, is set exactly 100 years ago: The summer of 1912.
In spite of countless male actor friends, who fell over themselves in praise of this play (and of course they would, it's got two super-rich, meaty roles for men in their 20s), I never read it until now. Unabashedly, it was because I didn't really feel that jazzed about reading a play that didn't have a role in it that I could play. As a young actress, I wanted to read the meaty parts for me.
Of course, I've eventually grown to read more plays regardless of whether or not I could be cast in them, and now that I'm in my late twenties, older women characters who seemed out of reach suddenly seem approachable some day in the future--far off, but future none-the-less.
So I read the play.
This is O'Neill's autobiographical masterpiece: It was published posthumously (even much earlier than O'Neill had expressed in his will), and it carries the history of his troubled family life. An egotistical, alcoholic actor father (James Tyrone), an older brother who follows rather resentfully and pathetically in his father's footsteps (Jamie), a younger more sensitive son who is darkly poetic and suffering from tuberculosis (Edward, who is O’Neill's depiction of himself)...
...And Mary Tyrone, a mother who, suffering from absolutely devastating depression, has fallen into a downward spiral of morphine addiction and mad hypnotic escapism.
The entire action of the play takes place in the family house over the course of a day, into the lateness of the night. The two major events that occur are Edward getting the official diagnosis of his illness and Mary (no doubt reacting to Edward's sickness) slowly sinking deeper and deeper into her "fog."
What strikes me so much is how the men in the family merely want Mary to just stop her madness, stop it with her own free will. As James pleads, "Dear Mary! For the love of God, for my sake and the boys' sake and your own, won't you stop now?" (As if it was that easy.) So they drink and escape themselves, in complete hypocritical fashion.
Of course, as a modern woman, I see Mary's troubles as a mixture of post-partum depression, grief over the loss of a child, and repressed personal desires of a career and independent life (as either a concert pianist or a nun). Something that clearly some modern therapy, antidepressants, and a dose of feminism could fix.
Or could it?
Would Mary Tyrone in the 1950s be a housewife addicted to Valium and psychotherapy? In modern-day a meth addict? Are her flaws deep down in her head--is she deeply suffering from a mental illness, like schizophrenia or manic-depressive disorder? These are all questions that make this role excitingly intriguing to play, with so many layers to explore.
No doubt this play will continue to be produced, as it is a beautiful yet tragic depiction of a family caught in an endless cycle of neurosis, substance abuse, and pride--and it's Eugene O'Neill for goodness's sake!
But part of me wonders if this seemingly timeless play has begun to lose its ethereal luster, and that in fact, it is a product of its time. A play that shows women that yes, we have come so very far. We are not shoved into tiny boxes of housewives and mothers who simply must make do with their family lives and if they cannot find happiness in that then they are lost. We can make choices. We can be that concert pianist and have a choice to have a family or not. And if nothing else, modern medicine can make a clinical depression something liveable, something to cope with.
I wonder when, twenty-five years down the road, I am finally age-appropriate to portray this role, what this play will be like then? Will it have vanished into being a mere period piece, one that we condescendingly look back upon in our advanced society like we do toward A Doll's House or The Merchant of Venice and say, "Look at the outdated thoughts they had then! What a marvel!"
Or will we always be able to relate to crushing repressed desires, reckless escapism, and devastating regret at what-could-have-been? At how sometimes families just don't connect, just can't seem to get it together. And how denial never seems to get anyone more than just further into a never-ending self-perpetuating cycle of self-neglect and abuse?
I think we will. Even though our approaches to cure the symptoms may change over time, we will always be able to relate to the innermost causes: the human condition, as bottomless as an alcoholic's glass.
Plus, these roles are just too good to keep locked away on the dusty shelf of time.
Interested in writing a guest blog? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!