The Pulitzer prize-winning play by Eugene O’Neill – written in 1941, but published in 1956 – dramatises an intense day in the life of one dysfunctional family. It is said to be autobiographical, with O’Neill journeying into his past and reflecting upon his family relationships. The latest show at Home is co-produced with Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre and directed by Dominic Hill.

The heavy fog and sounds of foghorns that the highly strung Mary Tyrone (Bríd Ní Neachtain) chatters on about at the beginning of the play are soon seen as apt recurring metaphors, alluding to her despair, heaviness and fogginess, a state of mind that further emerges as the day progresses. Eventually, we learn more about why she is enveloped in this foggy cloud, and why she seeks sanctuary in fogginess. It’s the “poison” that her family members dread.

Long Day's Journey Into Night - photo by Tim Morozzo

James senior (George Costigan) reprimands his wife: “Mary! For God’s sake, forget the past!”

“Why? How can I?” she replies, “The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future, too. We all try to lie out of that, but life won’t let us.”

The family members might dread the foggy cloud that Mary longs for, but the foggy cloud takes Mary back to a happier time: “The winter of senior year”. A time of youthful dreams to become a nun in the convent, a time when her father pampered and indulged her, a time before she met renowned actor James Tyrone. The wedding dress in the trunk in the attic that Mary reminisces about – on display high up for the audience to see – is a constant reminder of the consequences of marriage for Mary.

The arduous journeys the family members have taken individually and collectively are painstakingly mulled over throughout the play. Their secrets can no longer remain hidden and the ghosts of the past cannot be held back behind a veneer of a family vacationing in a summer house.

The men in Mary’s life – her husband and two sons – also have confusions and conflicts, battling their own demons and addictions. The fear of poverty that results in a miserly attitude towards his family comes to haunt James senior. James junior (Sam Phillips) has become cynical and sneering, too reliant on alcohol as an escape. The poetic Edmund (Lorn Macdonald), who is told by his family to stop reciting “that damned morbid poetry,” is sickly and struggling to stay strong for the sake of his mother. “It’s only a bad cold,” he tells his mother. “I want you to promise me that even if it should turn out to be something worse, you’ll know I’ll soon be all right again, anyway, and you won’t worry yourself sick, and you’ll keep on taking care of yourself.”

Long Day's Journey Into Night - photo by Tim Morozzo

What inevitably erupts is a long and claustrophobic day, when painful life experiences and bitter resentments shatter the façade of family togetherness as night nears. The play holds its own as a psychoanalytical critique of the American family and American Dream. The play contains many literary and cultural references about life and death, helping to understand the reasons why some people end up bitter and lonely, perpetuated by fear and guilt.

Be prepared, audience members, for a long day’s journey into the night. The lengthy classic runs for over three hours, including the interval, but for lovers of intense, dramatic conflict, O’Neill’s masterpiece is no hard feat to watch. The small company of actors successfully present the intensity and conflict of that journey in a way that will stay with you for a long time.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night ran at HOME from Tuesday 22 May to Saturday 26 May. For forthcoming theatre productions at HOME, visit their website.

Photos inset by Tim Morozzo.

Sadia Habib