Long Day’s Journey into Night

By - Jun 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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Humor can draw anyone into a theatre, but it’s the darkness that really excites the imagination. Eugene O’Neil’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night is one of the great classics of dark American theatre. Under the direction of Heidi Mueller Smith, Cornerstone Theatre Company presents the classic in the basement of the Brumder Mansion. As everyone settles into their seats for the evening, Ruth Williams and Sandy Stehling animate the space with a traditional Irish tune. Gradually, the play settles over the stage. There’s no mistaking that this is going to be a long, dark journey into the inner social dynamics of a particularly dark, iconic American family. Thankfully, with Cornerstone Theatre it’s a trip to the theatre featuring some of the best acting in one of the smallest performances spaces in greater Milwaukee.

Cotter Smith stars as family patriarch James Tyrone – an aging actor past his prime who has made a small fortune for himself, but nonetheless tours during the theatre season. It’s August of 1912 and it would appear to have been a very long summer. Smartly dressed with sharp features and meticulously manicured facial hair, Smith cuts a darkly charismatic figure in the role. There’s a mixture of weariness and restlessness in the way Smith carries himself here.

Smith’s apparent darkness as James is offset by Michelle Waide’s performance as his wife Mary. O’Neil places Mary as something of a central enigma in the script. Waide’s performance here is particularly clever. She seems to hold a great deal of casual poise, but we can tell that somewhere in the background of her apparent stability lies the hazy static of unhealthy disorder. She’s swept it all into the background of her personality, but it gradually comes to prominence as the play progresses. Waide deftly rides the emotional contours of O’Neil’s script, only letting enough emotional distress slip out to make it to the next scene.

Ken T. Williams and Steven Strobel play James and Mary’s sons, Jamie and Edmund. Williams is pleasantly cynical as the older son who has returned home to help out around the house. Being fully aware and at least marginally open about all of the negativity floating around in the family’s closets, Jamie comes across as being one of the darker people in the play. Williams lends a considerable amount of depth and compassion to that darkness, which holds up his end of the play quite well. Edmund, the younger brother, is suffering from a potentially life-threatening ailment. Strobel plays Edmund with the overwhelming presence of a turn of the century slacker. His polite, unassuming presence makes it easy to sympathize with him.

Rachel Williams rounds out the cast as Cathleen, the young, Irish housekeeper with a serviceable Irish accent. She plays off the rest of the family dynamic quite well as a disinterested third party. O’Neil has Cathleen surfacing from the rest of the family on brief occasions. On the whole, the ensemble plays out the emotional landscape of the play with more than enough detail to keep all three acts entertaining through two intermissions. It may be long and dark, but Cornerstone makes O’Neil’s script well worth the time. VS

Cornerstone Theatre Company’s production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night runs now through June 3. Tickets can be purchased by calling 414-342-2951. More information is available online at www.cornerstonetheatre.net.

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