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Long Day's Journey into Night

Like Chopin's Nocturnes, which director Ed Baierlein chose for the segues, this masterwork adapts well to different tempos, depending on direction, interpretation, and mood. Its transitory nature is echoed in the weather outside the Connecticut summer cottage on the day of the story, in August 1912, as sunlight turns to fog and hope to despair. Baierlein's effective cross-hatching of the dialogue early in Act I underscores the lack of communication in the familial banter, before gradually giving way to a series of distinct voices, each expressing its own unique cry for help.

Erica Sarzin-Borrillo as Mary and Ed Baierlein as James
Erica Sarzin-Borrillo as Mary
and Ed Baierlein as James
O'Neill finished this play 71 years ago, drawing on people, events, and forces in his life 30 years prior; these ghosts, which haunted him until the end, continue to haunt us 101 years after the fact and fiction.

Although James Tyrone Sr (Baierlein)—a one-time dashing Shakespearean actor of growing fame, who chose to spend his career playing a lucrative commercial role that sapped his potential greatness (much like O'Neill's father did with the title role in The Count of Monte Cristo, which he performed about 6,000 times)—bears primary responsibility for the behaviorial patterns of his family, it is his wife, Mary Tyrone (Erica Sarzin-Borrillo), for whom the play's title is most apt, as she descends into a morphine-induced madness.

James and Mary's sons, Jamie (Stephen R. Kramer) and Edmund (Zachary M. Andrews) were fed teaspoons of liquor for every aberration and ailment since they were babes, so they, like their father (and O'Neill's father), developed into alcoholics; thus, as the day progresses, the three males, each in their own way, like Mary, descend into darkness.

The intensity of O'Neill's characters, amplified from life, demands multi-layered performances, which Baierlein elicits in spades from his ensemble.

The famed actress and drama coach, Stella Adler, asks in America's Master Playwrights, "What makes Mary so shattered? Her sheltered life, her piano career, God—all those things that were taken away from her." There is no doubt, in Sarzin-Borrillo's performance, the force of each of these blows—until, at long last, the pain is numbed by a prescription from a doctor who Jamie and Edumund separately characterize as a cheap substitue for competency—bringing us to flinch at their weight.

(Left to right) Zachary M. Andrews as Edmund and Stephen R. Kramer as Jamie
(L to R) Zachary M. Andrews as Edmund
and Stephen R. Kramer as Jamie
The boys, addled before, during, and after their mother's demise, struggle with their self worth. Kramer, in a career defining performance, embraces the full scope of Jamie's contradictions: epitomized by the love for and jealously of his brother. Andrews' Edmund mines the rich vein of sensitivity established by Sarzin-Borrillos' Mary, leaving us to marvel at his real life model, O'Neill himself, his reisilient recovery from consumpton (pneumonia), and the subsequent development of his gift. Baierlein plays it cool as James, never letting us see the disappointment that drives his drinking and caustic remarks.

Adler goes on to describe Long Day's Journey into Night as a landmark in American theatre, not only in its exploration of personal psychological and collective sociological issues, but specifically the how these forces are related to the materialistic fixations in American culture. "Theater," Adler says, "was the first art form that challenged the "goodness" of the fact Americas is the richest, the most successful, the most powerful country in the world—and that challenge has never stopped since." Indeed, what Ibsen and Chekhov did for European theatre, O'Neill did in the U.S., opening the door for Arthur Miller and other social critics.

In his will, O'Neill directed that the play not be performed until 25 years after his death, but his third and last wife, Carlotta, gave the rights to Yale University, and it was performed three years after O'Neill's death, earning him his fourth Pulitzer Prize, to go with a Nobel Prize is Literature.

This is the next to the last production of Germinal Stage Denver's 39th season, its last at its current location of 25 years, 2450 West 44th Avenue. Since it's inaugural season and initial 14-year run at 1840 Market Street, the company has produced O'Neill nine times, including three productions of Long Day's Journey Into Night, 1975, 1995, and the current production.

In addition to coaxing stellar performances, Baierlein's experience with this play shows in all phases. One of the hallmarks of this, now storied, theatre company is how the small space (form) creates a highly sensitized chessboard, where each move reverberates and unscores the emotional subtext of the action (content), bringing forth another Baierlein hallmark: deconstructive dialogue, by which we are forced to see beyond the words, from which he has pulled back the curtain. We mentioned the cross-hatching. The enduring effectiveness of this approach is, as we see once again in this production, a polished gem that reveals O'Neill's razor sharp insights into personal and collective dysfunction.

Long Day's Journey Into Night runs through June 9th. 303-455-7108.

Bob Bows

 

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