Relative orbits

Mad Horse takes a Long Day's Journey
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  April 18, 2007
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FACING AWAY: Family members move in different directions.

The gravities of the family Tyrone are many, and relentless. Each of the clan is haunted by a weight, and together in one house, it makes for some violent forces circling each other. The Earth takes one near-endless turn along with them, in Eugene O’Neill’s exhausting, agonizing drama, Long Day’s Journey into Night, ably directed by Andrew Sokoloff for Mad Horse.

Long a renowned stage actor, father of the family James Tyrone (Chris Horton) has taken his troubled wife Mary (Tootie Van Reenen) to their seaside summer home for a rest between tours. They’re joined by their two grown sons: Jamie (Peter Brown), also an actor, but an indifferent one and a “loafer;” and ailing younger Edmund (Craig Bowden), who’s traveled the world as a merchant seaman and now is a reporter and sometime poet/parodist for a small-town paper. None is happy or whole, and each is both protagonist and antagonist in the revolving cosmology of their family saga.

The discord between the family’s forces of ego, rage, fear, and shame isn’t chaotic. In fact, it is painfully regular. The family refrains certain words, images, and accusations as reliably as a sestina — dazed Mary’s fog and “medicine,” the hotels and one-night theatrical stands that have kept her from having a home; James’s fear of dying in the poorhouse; too many cheap, quack doctors; congenital drunkenness. The Tyrones’ attacks and reprisals on each other — for their various poisons, for miserliness, for ingratitude, for debauchery — arise as dependably as their standard whiskey toasts. Under Sokoloff’s direction, this veteran Mad Horse cast adeptly modulates the pace of their repeated conflicts and entreaties. The actors make the family’s bickering as arduous as it should be, then tease us with loose moments of affection, and suddenly flare up into taut, exceptionally timed aggression. The Tyrones’ cycles are harrowing, but at least democratic: “You’re just as bad as Jamie and Edmund,” Mary snaps at James, but later turns to tell Edmund, “You’re just like your father.”

In their cycles, denials, and self-loathing, they are all very much alike, and all are implicated in the sorrows of the others. But the play revolves such that each of the Tyrones takes a turn being at the center of narrative and empathy, and it’s in these moments that the cast best inhabits O’Neill’s richly drawn characters. Van Reenen has an ethereal volatility in Mary’s jumps from fragile to hard and back, and does wonderful work with her eyes. As her husband, Horton balances James’s actorly bluster with expressions of deep sadness, although the actor in James might be played even bigger, and the man himself, through the cracks, even more broken.

Brown and Bowden, both excellent, share some extremely satisfying scenes of fraternal drinking camaraderie, which are a great relief, while they last, amidst all the anguish. With the parents gone and the whiskey free, Jamie and Edmund loosen their postures, gestures, and tones to talk about whoring and poetry, before upping the emotional ante again. Brown and Bowden both have great range, and embody the brothers with great physical nuance — the ebb and flow of Jamie’s swagger, Edmund’s shoulders boyishly straightened and hunched again. Bowden, particularly, gives a superb and wrenching performance. His Edmund — the writer of the family — doesn’t miss a thing, and lets us see this by subtle changes in his stare or the set of his jaw. When he relaxes enough to give a real laugh, the contrast he presents is both warming and magnificently sad.

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