Perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay to this production of O'Neill's marathon is to say that it only seems as long as a normal play!
Richard Eyre has called it "the saddest play ever written", which is overdoing things only a little. The Tyrone family comprise a drunken has-been father, an even more drunken no-hoper elder son, his bitter consumptive brother and their half-mad morphine addict mother. It is a testament to O'Neill's greatness that he makes this quartet's interwoven sufferings through the single day of the action at all endurable to an audience.
It is the luminous performances of Charles Dance and Jessica Lange as parents Charles and Mary Tyrone that sustain us through the gruelling journey. At times Lange seems almost to be "doing" Katharine Hepburn, but then her hands begin fluttering as she feels her way through the veil of her opiated reverie thread by thread; Dance plays James Tyrone as one for whom peremptoriness is the only way he knows to stem the rising tide of ugly truth. Their respective memory speeches in the final act are nothing short of astounding.
Written for divento.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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