James O’Neill—Eugene’s father, the prototype for the penny-pinching patriarch in Long Day’s Journey Into Night—was an old-school actor-manager, touring ceaselessly in productions of melodramatic potboilers he organized around himself. Emulating this megalomania, Seth Duerr both directs and plays Jamie the wastrel son in the York Shakespeare Company’s excruciating travesty of Long Day’s Journey—a three-hour-plus master class in masterpiece abuse.
For Eugene O’Neill, writing the autobiographical play was a wrenching benediction—putting memory’s ghosts to rest in art. Through their long day, the members of the tormented Tyrone family—surrogates for the O’Neills—confess secrets and grievances while trying to drink and drug away the unquiet past.
Here, the incompetent cast stumbles over the furniture and their lines. Bill Fairbairn acts James Tyrone like a put-upon sitcom dad. Tone-deaf to Tyrone’s Irish cadences, he vitiates the role’s poetry—performing a famously good actor badly. As dope-addicted Mary Tyrone, Rebecca Street simpers and flounces, more lobotomized than stoned. Playing the Tyrone sons—sodden Jamie and poetic Edmund (Eugene’s doppelgänger)—Duerr and Alexander Harvey swill in self-indulgence, wetting the stage with sobs and spittle.
This misbegotten revival did convey one important aspect of the play: When it was finally over, I ran for the nearest bar—desperate, like the self-medicating Tyrones, to drown painful memories.