Long Day’s Journey into Night

Saw the Citadel’s competent production last night, a long journey unto itself. Each actor did well when it came time to do their various solo speeches which give the audience and the other characters on stage the missing info which ‘explains’ each character–what they once were, what they could have been, and what they now, painfully, are. We are all very much like that–the past haunts our presents and will be there in our futures. And it is only in the honest self-examinations and self-appraisals that we come to know ourselves and potentially communicate that to any others who might be listening, who might understand and, perhaps, appreciate. In that, our necessary redemptions.

But most (for me last night) it was the awareness of the “could haves”. The father who wanted to be a great Shakespearean actor, but ended up selling out for and to the distraction of a money play. The older son who was so traumatized by his mother’s addiction and jealous of his younger brother, the family favorite, that he distracted himself into alcoholism and whoring. The younger son who came closest to living and achieving the father’s artistic dream (and did, by becoming a poet), but ended up a consumptive sailor and sea-lover. Most of all, the play’s main casualty–the mother–who had dreams of becoming a nun or a pianist, but was herself distracted by appearances, and significantly the father as a young, promising, marriageable man.

Eugene O’Neill, the author, often wrote of characters who had dreams that were disappointed, frustrated, and destroyed by contexts, choices, and, finally, time. Again, a topic I’ve written of before–the many limits and limitations we are all subject to and ‘up against’. In this play, more than any other I can think of, except Death of a Salesman and The Cherry Orchard, the atmosphere hangs heavy and character inertia is at a maximum–the unwillingness and inability to change played out in so many ways.

At the end of people’s lives, there is who and what they are–something the people themselves and others closest to them must need to accept. They have all taken long day’s journeys in their earlier life before night. Often there have been flashes of whatever good, beautiful, or true moments (as the younger son-poet recalls to his father; in his case, the blissful solitude and empathy with Nature). Moments of true being, inner peace, and integrity of inner and outer as well as of a life. O’Neill shows us that much hope, that much positiveness. And, as I periodically point out in this blog, that state is finally just a personal thing; it is something we work out and arrive at for ourselves, to understand and articulate ourselves for and to ourselves. And that it is consciousness that makes this positive possibility possible. In that, and through the expressing of it, the emotional release of it–a fundamental redemption.

It all comes down to what we know–which I talked of, also earlier–the information we seek and desire. The information that ‘completes’ us. Despite denying and limiting it–as the play’s family does–as it pertains to each family member. In that choice–theirs–the symbolic fog and failure to achieve most of the family member’s dreams, and the tragedy of this great play.

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