If you’re wondering what a Eugene O’Neill play is doing on a blog ostensibly (apparently, but not actually so) about dark and weird stuff, then you haven’t seen or read much O’Neill, because his work is a festering hellhole of self-loathing and family squabbles–the kinds of horror people watch horror movies to escape.
My definition of weirdness extends to those mainstream works that aren’t ‘horror’ genre stuff, i.e. sold as horror. The best art has something strange in it; the art I like frequently has something dark and strange in it.
A play about a family of addicts who lay into each other over a day and a night, LONG DAY’S JOURNEY was only produced after O’Neill’s death. No surprise, as there are parallels to his own family’s life, including the death of a child years in the past that still haunts the survivors, booze, morphine addiction and despair. The thrust of the plot is that Edmund (Dean Stockwell) has been coughing a lot and everyone fears he’s got the consumption. He’s due to see a doctor about it today. Meanwhile, Mom is a hophead who’s descending back into her old ways that foreshadow she’s about to climb back on the dragon.
Dad is a miser and a penny-pincher. He can afford this summer house in Connecticut but he bitches if someone leaves a light on. Everyone gets to take a shot at the old man’s cheapness. Belatedly we learn why he’s this way.
It’s a valid reason, and a common one. It doesn’t move people, though. I’ve never figured out why. Maybe if he had a cool disease, Pop wouldn’t be written off as an absolute villain.
We’re seeing a family that has held it together through some bad times finally coming undone. Edmund is revealed as O’Neill’s stand-in when he talks about his time at sea, when he felt close to some sort of transcendence of his self-pity and despair.
The Tyrone family are believable as a family, even though O’Neill did himself no favors by starting the fighting in the first few minutes and charging ahead in the same direction. We don’t see the nice family, the fronting family, the rich patriarch and his sons and dotting wife.
David Mamet and Paddy Chayefsky must have learned a lot from O’Neill. Like him, they’re not careful, they don’t follow the rules of prepping the audience, cuing them for how to respond. They all just lay it on, and on.
What’s weird and dark about it?
It’s a descent into hell. Not “Hell” or some metaphoric transitioning place. When Mom comes down the stairs trailing her bridal gown, it’s not a Tennessee Williams-esque American Gothic moment, it’s just pathetic and horrible and sad.