Few plays from the 20th century are as lauded as Long Day's Journey into Night. The 1956, posthumously released play by Eugene O'Neill has been adapted and restaged countless times since its Tony-winning debut, picking up even more awards along the way.
It's no surprise then that Auckland Theatre Company picked this classic as its great American production for the year. It's a beastly production – dealing with addiction and drug abuse, spread across two and a half hours filled with tension that simmers through the audience – but for those craving a taste of Broadway, there's plenty to satisfy here.
Director Shane Bosher has trimmed down the story of the Tyrone family, cutting out the maid Cathleen and focusing on the family quartet – Mary (Theresa Healey), James (Stephen Lovatt), Edmund (Simon Leary) and Jarod Rawiri (Jamie).
The play picks up at the family home, with mother Mary, who recently returned from hospital where she was treated for addiction, and joyed to have her sons Jamie and Edmund home. Her husband, James, a famous actor, is walking on eggshells around her, cautious of her mental health and how the news that Edmund is also sick could set her off.
Presented in the round in Q's Rangatira theatre, the audience gets a wonderfully intimate view of the sublime acting on show throughout the evening. Healey dominates the first act, striking a fine balance between Mary's motherly instincts, the sickness and addiction she's trying to keep at bay, and her own rage and anguish against the men in her life.
While Healey takes a backseat for most of the second act, Leary and Lovatt are captivating in a long sequence where Edmund and James divulge their respective stories over midnight drinks. The conversation carries on for some time, but their performances are engrossing throughout, the time simply slipping away. Rawiri has less to work with in the end, but still makes his presence known when he does take the stage.
It's easy to see why O'Neill's script has endured for over half a century. The play is an actor's dream, the story absorbing and loaded with meaty monologues and dialogue laden with trauma and pain. Jon Verryt's set is incredibly minimalist, leaving the focus on the cast, who have been guided to perfection by Bosher, alongside performance coach Miranda Harcourt and movement director Lara Fischel-Chisholm.
Your enjoyment of Long Day will ultimately depend though on your penchant for this style of production. The story does at times veer between engaging and exacerbating, the plot remaining at such a high level of drama in such long stretches that arguments frequently reach boiling point before having to be dialled down immediately to keep the scene going.
It's typical though of these mid-century classics, and one of ATC's key selling points is its ability to deliver these Broadway, theatrical classics, a growing rarity in Auckland as more companies focus on modern, local stories.
Whereas plays like this were once the ATC's bread and butter, Long Day is the outlier in this year's programme. The company twisted up its traditional stories with Grand Horizons at the start of the year, followed by the energetic, fresh Scenes from a Yellow Peril - and Witi's Wahine would have gone in between if it weren't for Covid.
Long Day suffers from that lack of necessity in staging it, and it does feel like the antithesis of Yellow Peril and that more modern audience the ATC is starting to appeal to. Yet, for those who long for the classics and enjoy simple yet effective and impeccably acted productions, there's plenty here that will have you hooked throughout.
What: Long Day's Journey into Night
Where: Q Theatre, until July 30