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Bridge Street Theatre offers brilliant production of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”

Christopher Patrick Mullen as Jamie, Christopher Joel Onken as Edmund, Steven Patterson as James Tyrone, Roxanne Fay as Mary Tyrone.
John Sowle
Christopher Patrick Mullen as Jamie, Christopher Joel Onken as Edmund, Steven Patterson as James Tyrone, Roxanne Fay as Mary Tyrone.

Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is a masterpiece of theater. If you want proof, go to Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill to experience a superior version of this searing drama.

The Bridge Street production also illustrates why the work is rarely produced. One reason is the work has to be perfectly cast and directed. One weak link and this intense, but fragile play is severely weakened. At Bridge Street the professional casting is perfect.

In this effort the focus is more on the mother Mary, who is superbly played by Roxanne Fay. Fay offers a gentle portrayal of a woman who, by passive-aggressive behavior, dominates the family dynamic. She is both a victim and a controlling force.

However, this is not Mary’s play. Indeed, at Bridge Street this is an ensemble production. “Long Day’s Journey…” is a play about a weak and wounded family in which each member constantly hurts another. The father and two sons are never passive - just aggressive as their words devastate each other.

The above description should give another reason as to why the play is rarely produced. It’s filled with pain. It’s played in three acts that take more than three hours ( with two intermissions) to complete, but you anxiously await the next line throughout the performance. It is not a commercial offering and it’s pleasing to me that the opening Sunday matinee had a full house.

Be warned, if you judge a play by its entertainment value this work is not for you. But if you appreciate challenging art where beauty comes through the experience of harsh truth, consider making the 40-minute drive from Albany to see this production, which only runs through Sunday. You will leave the theater drained but thinking and discussing as well.

“Long Day’s Journey…” is about the Tyrone family who are staying at their summer home on the coastline of Connecticut. The men have just discovered that Mary is, after a break, now relapsing into her drug habit. Mary’s choice of addiction is heroin, the men have chosen alcohol. They each are alcoholics. The father is a miser and the two sons live lives of debauchery.

The play makes it clear they sincerely want to care about and love each other, but because none of them love themselves they are forced to substitute anger for affection. Their self-loathing makes them unconsciously cruel to others.

What makes this production unique is that under the wise and gentle direction of John Sowle, the subliminal frustrations of love denied is as hurtful as is the blatant emotional cruelty. This is not a typical loud, shouting match. This is a battle where verbal weapons are unleashed in an almost off-handed way. It is rarely intentional, but rather from a lack of personal control.

The youngest son, Edmund, is dying of tuberculosis, known in 1912 as consumption. Played by Christopher Joel Onken, he is a fatalist, who knows he is going to die young. However, he does hate his land-rich father for his reluctance to pay for quality care that might save his life. It is a performance that shows Edmund to be intelligent, realistic and a failure by choice.

The older brother Jamie is the stand-in for O’Neill. A drunk, neer-do-well, he lives a life dominated by his vices. He knows his brother will be dead in a year, and he also knows he has himself been spiritually dead his entire life. Christopher Patrick Mullen brings a powerful sense of inner torment to Jamie. What makes his character especially sad is that he is the only character in the play who sees the truth of the family and his life - yet is too weak to either change or leave.

Steven Patterson brings a fresh take on the father who is often played as a bombastic bully. Patterson’s split-second mood changes ending in anger are still there, but it is not his dominant trait. His James Tyrone is more bitter than brutal, and Patterson clearly relates his flaws to the poverty of his youth.

You cannot describe James as sympathetic, but Patterson makes him understandable rather than hateful. His fear of returning to poverty and his acting talent squandered by choosing to play one role for an entire career diminishes him. These factors maintained his financial well-being, but destroyed his self-image, and the health of his family.

Indeed, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is a play about weak people making bad choices. We like to believe that no one chooses to be sad or lonely but at the end of this production you realize some people really do exactly that.

“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is not an easy play to sit through, but it is an experience you will always remember. It plays through Sunday at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill. For tickets, information and COVID protocol go to bridgist.org or call 518-943-3818

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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